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Comparative Suffering & Grief

“Grief is the normal and natural emotional reaction to loss or change of any kind. Of itself, grief is neither a pathological condition nor a personality disorder.”

While this definition is accurate, it doesn’t really explain what grief is. So here’s another one we use to give a better idea of what grief is, beyond the fact that it’s normal:

“Grief is the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behaviour.” - Russell Friedman

We're in a season of grief right now, globally.

There are people grieving for those who've died, but there's also grief for loss of jobs and security, loss of social life and freedom of movement (my poor extrovert husband is trapped at home with three introverts), loss of structure, loss of physical connection, loss of plans... just loss.

We're also seeing a lot of the British 'stiff upper lip'. As much as I agree with counting your blessings and the importance of gratitude, appreciation of what you have doesn't mean you have to minimise or ignore your loss.

This week I was listening to Brene Brown's podcast and she was talking about comparative suffering. Comparative suffering is when people feel the need to assess grief or suffering in comparison to another's suffering, and it goes something like this:

'Hey, how are you feeling?'

'I'm okay, I guess. My boss has been a bit unkind this week and I have a difficult deadline at work, but I'm so lucky to have my job and there are so many struggling to find employment."

Do you see what happened?

The fear of sounding negative, or looking like we're complaining, makes us disconnect from telling others how we truly feel. We deny our pain because we don't want to look petty or selfish - because we're measuring our grief against others.

Why is it a problem?

Well, firstly because when we assign a value to grief, we aren't able to allow ourselves to connect with our emotions when we're having a terrible day, because 'there are starving children in Africa!'; but if we can't connect with our own painful emotions, then we can't truly empathise with others.

Relentless positivity drives away people who are struggling and prevents authentic and honest, vulnerable connection.

Comparative suffering assumes that there is finite empathy and compassion resources available and that we can't 'waste' our empathy on people who's grief doesn't earn as many 'suffering points' as the absolute worst things we can think of. In a world where the media is reporting global catastrophe, it's hard to empathise with the waitress who just spilled hot coffee on her shirt, but connection requires us to recognise others pain.

When we can't speak our suffering with those who we feel closest to, we start a negative inner monologue that says we're a terrible person for feeling bad over something that 'isn't as bad as <insert whatever catastrophe your brain just came up with>'. It makes us bitter and disconnects us from those who would normally be able to speak comfort.

Does this all sound painfully familiar? If so, here are some of the ways I try to support my emotions through difficult times.


Console is one of my favourite essential oil blends for grief, and I use it regularly to help my children with big emotions over transitions, but I've found myself recently reaching for it more and more for me. It's a gorgeous blend containing Frankincense, Patchouli, Amyris, Osmanthus, Rose and Sandalwood.

This oil helps to put you on a path of hope, and start moving towards emotional healing. We diffuse it, we put it on clothes and scarves, and I have the touch blend to apply whenever I'm needing comfort.

I love to diffuse console and put on this beautiful playlist that a friend made me when I was battling depression.

My second choice is forgive. Forgiving yourself for feeling unworthy of self-empathy or compassion is huge. I have a little forgiveness ritual that I teach in Oil Camp III, but it doesn't have to be saved just for forgiving others. You may also need to forgive others, but I suspect if you're like me you need to forgive yourself too.

Forgive is designed to help release feelings your harbouring of anger or guilt. It's woody and grounding, and I may have stealthily diffused it when I was meeting someone who was stuck with bitterness or resentment, and the breakthrough we made was astounding.

Finally I recommend Bergamot oil. Bergamot helps to reduce feelings of needing validation for your character, actions or expressions. It relieves feelings of despair and self-judgement.

Bergamot invites optimism and hopefulness, and promotes courage to pursue authentic connection and share your inner self.

I hope these oils bless you in this difficult time.

Remember: gratitude is being thankful for your blessings, not pretending that your struggles don’t exist.
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