Hello everybody, welcome to Episode 60 of Optimal Living Advice, the podcast where we take your life questions and answer them on the show.
I’m your host, certified life coach Greg Audino.
We’ve got a good question about guilt and pain, how it can exist to different degrees, and just how tough we should expect ourselves and others to be. Sounds like good stuff to me, so without further ado, let’s check it out and see if we can help…
QUESTION: “I sometimes feel bad about having what people call ‘first world problems'. I feel like my problems aren’t taken seriously due to other bigger problems in the world. I do sympathize with what other people less fortunate have to go through, is this a sign that I should toughen up? “
Feelings of Guilt and Shame
It's a very appropriate question right now given the mass hysteria going every which way. I can only imagine your feelings of guilt have recently spiked because of that, and for that I’m sorry.
It’s pretty easy to start feeling guilt and shaming ourselves especially once we’ve been shamed by enough other people, and that definitely goes for the degree of the problems we face among other things.
Let’s break this thing down, and I’m going to start with an objectively true statement.
The truth is you could take three people: You could place one of those people in the middle of a large crowd. You could place another one of those people in a closed room with a tarantula. And you could place the last person in front of someone who’s aiming a loaded gun at them. And depending on the three people you choose and the experiences they’ve had in the past or their genetic composition, all three of them could be experiencing the exact same level of fear. Hell, the person who’s being held at gunpoint may very well be the most relaxed of the three. But it would take some real ignorance to start telling someone with severe social anxiety or arachnophobia to simply “get over it” or “toughen up.”
You're Not Wrong for Having Your Feelings
And this is one example out of billions of scenarios that would have the same message. We’re all fragile to different things in different ways. Period. There’s no arguing with that.
We have different levels of fragility to different triggers and different levels of fragility to the work necessary to overcome these triggers, as well.
So there would be a lot to sift through here if we were to get everyone on the same level, so to speak.
The takeaway is that you do not need to apologize for OR minimize your problems. Given your unique history and chemistry, the problems you face make perfect sense. You are certainly not wrong for having your feelings.
And those who say you ARE wrong for having your feelings are clearly not being respectful to why you have them. They’re instead being respectful to why they have THEIR problems or why others have more presumably severe problems, and the fact that they feel themselves and others would be unaffected by the stressors you face. They’re trying to open your mind to what problems really look like, but they’re in fact closing their own minds as to what problems really look like.
That ignorance and refusal to understand is very much an error of theirs, not of yours.
Toughening Up the Right Way
Based on your question, however, it seems like you’re ready or willing to put more seemingly detrimental problems into perspective. It seems maybe you do wish you had a little bit “thicker skin” we’ll call it. And that’s good for all of us, to not be so overwhelmed by the problems we face.
Should that be the case, then to answer your question, yes, you should “toughen up.” BUT you should toughen up the RIGHT way, and I have a feeling people haven’t encouraged toughening up the right way.
Toughening up the right way is not about shaming yourself. It’s not about saying that your problems don’t matter. It’s not about trying not to have feelings.
When people tell others to toughen up, this is what they mean a lot of the time and…I want to say they’re morons, but realistically they’re just misinformed and probably from a place that didn’t encourage anything healthier. You can only throw so much blame around until you’re doing the exact same thing.
Toughening up the right way is instead about taking ownership over your fears, understanding that they’re entirely justifiable given who you are at this point in time, and not apologizing for them. That’s the first step, the step upon which you can start to rebuild and create new experiences for yourself that potentially change what you’re fearful of.
Guilt and Confronting Your Fears
Once you’re accepting of your fears, you do the self-work necessary that actually “toughens you up.”
You confront your fears head on. You discover where they came from. You discover how you’re projecting the past onto the unrelated present. You put them into perspective for yourself, not for others. This means learning how these fears realistically could or could not harm you. Most of the time, the ways in which they could harm us should they come true are quite minimal given what we’re capable of overcoming.
And through all of this, a lot of magic can happen even if you still have residual guilt or fear left over.
You will have been one of the people who was brave enough to look fear in the eye and take control of your life back. You’ll be able to see how pain affects different people in different ways. You’ll be able to understand why people judge the pain of others and not judge those people yourself. You’ll understand that pain is bred of experience.
And best of all, you’ll have the humility to say to yourself, “I’m allowed to struggle with my pain, and also feel sympathy for those who have it much worse.”
And that’ll do it, folks.
In conclusion, yes, we should all toughen up. We owe it to ourselves to toughen up. But toughening up and not showing yourself sympathy or understanding are definitely not the same thing, nor should they be.
I hope everyone took something from this episode. If you have a question you’d like answered, keep them coming. You can email us your questions at email@example.com
I’ll talk to you guys next time, thank you for stopping in, and have a great rest of your day.