Downward Social Comparison – When It’s Good That Someone Has it Worse Than You
There’s a Psychological thing called “Downward Social Comparison”, it’s a little thing that we all do but it seems that those of us in the chronic illness community debate whether it’s a good thing. And, I think I’ve finally figured out the answer.
What is Downward Social Comparison?
Downward Social Comparison is basically when we look around for the people who are doing worse than us (in whatever form that may take), we compare ourselves to them and we say “Hey, seeing that person doing worse than me makes me feel a little better about my situation.”
Living with chronic illness we often hear that we shouldn’t feel bad because someone does have it worse than us. Remember the old “I was sad I had no shoes until I saw the man with no feet…” This is one of those situations where it’s ok for us to think it (or even say it) but it’s not ok for someone else to say it to us or tell us to think it. It’s something we have to decide to do for ourselves.
If we choose to look around and compare ourselves to someone who has it worse, we can often feel better. We can smile a bit and say “whew, I’m glad that’s not me, maybe my pain isn’t so bad.” Or, “I can’t imagine having to endure the pain that they endure, so maybe I can handle what I’m dealing with.” Things like that help us feel better. But, looking around on our own and thinking those thoughts is very different from having someone else tell us we should think that way. Why is that?
Pretty simple. When someone else says “others have it worse” or something like us, it feels like that person is dismissing our situation and our pain. It feels like they don’t feel that what we are going through is enough. Yes, we know it could be worse, but we don’t need someone else to tell us that. When others tell us that it could be worse it’s like throwing gas on the fire that we already feel, and the fire that explodes is aimed at the person who tells us to think that way. Instead of feeling better, we look at that person and think “Wow. You really don’t get it!” Why is that? It’s because that person actually has no idea how we feel, or how bad our situation is. They don’t know what they are comparing, and instead of accepting and understanding that we are hurting and that we are facing pain of our own, they disregard it and tell us it’s nothing. At least that’s how it feels.
Is Downward Social Comparison a Good Thing?
Yes, it’s a great thing when we do it ourselves because we choose to do it. However, it’s not a good thing to force on others. Yes, it does make us feel better to know that others have it worse than we do. And, it’s good for our self-esteem and self-view to look around and find those people. But, it’s terrible for our self-esteem when those who claim to love us point those people out to us and not just providing a shoulder and being understanding that no matter how many people have it worse, we are having a rough time, too.