So often, I catch myself doing this thing. In fact, just about every woman I know does it. I’m not sure if this is an exclusively female phenomenon or not but I can’t say I know many men who do it with the frequency that the women in my life seem to. It’s like a variant of the fallacy of relative privation.

A fallacy of relative privation is basically the notion that we shouldn’t even care about certain things, because other things are far more concerning. Issue A isn’t as bad as Issue B, so you shouldn’t be concerned over Issue A.

For example:

First world problems

Ahh, the catch-cry of “first world problems“. Sometimes it’s a valid, tongue-in-cheek jab to bring us down to earth. It’s not without it’s place. Often, though, it’s just a way to silence someone.

Stressed about an expensive power bill? Desperate for a break from a demanding job? Yep, first world problems are what you have.

And if you dare to vent about your problems, there will almost always be someone only too willing to use this catchphrase as a way of shutting you down.

It can be a pretty shitty tactic; using shame to silence a person because other people in the world have bigger problems. In reality, we all know that there is almost always someone worse off, no matter how awful the problem.

We do it to ourselves

It’s irritating enough to see someone silenced by another person reminding them that there are worse things in the world than their credit card debt/broken down car/pending eviction/whatever. In fact, it’s something I always try to point out.

We often talk about mental health and well-being in terms of reaching out for support and I’d hate to think of anyone not reaching out because they’re scared of being shamed for it.

And yet, I still find myself applying the relative privation fallacy to myself. It’s like I’m apologising in advance for daring to express my concerns. And I bet you do it, too.

Say what?

We seem to downplay our own worries and concerns before we’ve even voiced them. Think about the last time something had you really stressed or worried. If you reached out for support or even just a good vent, did you find yourself acknowledging that someone else has it worse, beforehand? Is this just a natural tendency, to minimise our own stories and assure people that we aren’t seeking to be the centre of attention? I don’t think it is. It might even be something we’re conditioned to do- to minimise our concerns.

The recent wave of #MeToo posts detailing experiences of sexual harassment and assault come to mind.

Many, many women were brave enough to share their experiences.

Unfortunately, some people missed the point and believed that participants were actually equating things like off-colour jokes with sexual assault or rape. It was repeatedly explained that this was not that case, that #MeToo was about highlighting just how common and widespread sexual harassment and assault is. But the message wasn’t always heard or accepted.

In response, I saw women begin to doubt whether or not their stories were actually important enough to share. They questioned the validity of their own participation in the #MeToo movement. Was their experience of sexual harassment or assault “serious” enough to share? If they did dare to share, they re-framed their stories with sentences like “I know it’s not as bad as what others have experienced, but…”

That’s just one example.

We do this all the time

For some reason, I see women do this over so many things. Just recently, a friend was sharing the problems she was experiencing with her child. She caught herself and quickly assured me that she knew she didn’t have it as bad as another mother we both know, whose child has a very serious health condition. Another friend shared her mortgage stress, while being quick to acknowledge that she had no doubt that renting (which is what I do) was also financially stressful. Yet another was talking about the heavy traffic on the way to work, but added that she knew I and others had further to drive to our jobs.

Maybe we should stop

If something is stressful, worrying, irritating, frustrating or otherwise bothersome, we should be able to say so. It’s okay to vent and more than okay to seek the support of our friends. We don’t have to apologise for it. We don’t always need acknowledge that our problem is not the worst problem in existence.  It’s almost like we seek support (even if it’s just a minor vent) while wanting to reassure the world that we know how unimportant we actually are. That’s got to add to the difficulties of prioritising ourselves- something many women are notoriously bad at.

I know that “self-care” conjures up images of day spas and massages for many people (and who has time for that, amirite?!) but maybe this could be another way to look after yourself. To give yourself a break.

Don’t apply the fallacy of relative privation to yourself.Don’t compare and minimise your problems.

If you’re feeling stressed or worried about something, take yourself seriously. As seriously as you’d take your best friend if they had a problem. Express your concerns, have your vent, seek some support- without apology. Because your stresses, your worries and concerns are valid. And you deserve to raise them.

We all know that other people in the world have problems; that doesn’t make yours go away; it doesn’t make them unimportant or less stressful.

Like it? Share it!
  • I remember being job hunting & getting interviews, but always bring choice number two in the end. It was frustrating. Then someone told me to be grateful I was getting interviews as many didn’t. It just frustrated me more. The point of interviews is to get a job to pay the bills. Coming second is actually quite an expensive and stressful place to be in!

    • Oh how thoughtless- what a thing to say!

      • Yeah, it was a weird one for sure. Or maybe they needed to look up what motivation is lol.

  • I wholeheartedly agree. When it comes to problems, it’s always better out than in!

  • I am so guilty of this, I’ve done it before and I need to stop!

  • The guilt that can come from voicing your concerns can be enormous.

  • I agree that we should treat ourselves as we would our bestie. “As seriously as you’d take your best friend if they had a problem.”

  • I read your post last night and thought about it too. I have felt this about ‘my’ cancer as it seems like mine has gone and other people have cancer that stays. I’ve had surgery to get rid of the cancer which seems like it has all gone. I ‘feel guilty’ that I don’t need radiotherapy or chemo. I know it’s ridiculous and I wonder if it is a female mostly thing. Great post!! Denyse #teamIBOT

  • Whenever some tries to downplay their issues while complaining my go to response is “Yes, but it’s all relative”. What is shit for us is all relative to our life and it’s ok if my shit thing makes your day look shiny. It is what it is. I’m allowed to have shit days that someone else would be grateful for. Life is life. You do you, let me do me. All good.

  • I love a good ‘first world problems’ reference as much as another and do think it’s important to consider others when taking to the streets to share our woes. That said, I totally agree that minimising someone’s situations is never helpful, and always hurtful. This is a great article, thanks for sharing.