How to make brokenness feel even worse

Image credit: © 2010 Earthsea Pottery, from Flickr | used by CC-BY-ND licensing

We all know what it is like to be skating along with life when BOOM! something happens, and it feels like our whole world breaks into little pieces. It happens in so many forms all the time—the death of someone dear to us, a divorce or breakup, the loss of a job, an experience of violence or trauma, an accident or illness that devastates our health, and so many more.

Whatever the cause, we find ourselves with our hearts shattered and our lives forever changed. This is invariably a brutally painful experience, but we often make it even harder on ourselves through one of our most common pastimes: comparing ourselves to others.

When we are feeling broken, there are three common ways we do this and the reasons why it makes us feel worse.

Comparing our brokenness to another’s wholeness

One of the most common things we do is to compare the parts of our lives that are broken to the parts of another person’s life who has not experienced the same brokenness.

For example, in the middle of a divorce or break-up, I might compare my life to those of others who are married, particularly those who seem to be happily married. In the same way, someone who has just experienced a miscarriage now sees healthy babies everywhere she looks.

It’s hard during times of grief to not notice all of the people who still have that thing we have lost, and each time we see it, it becomes another stab of pain to our broken hearts.

To some degree, this noticing is inevitable and is part of the grieving process, but it is easy to fall into the trap of glamorizing what another person still has in ways that make our loss feel even more painful.

Yes, the other person may still be married (and may even appear to be happily married), but it’s often hard to know the reality of that relationship or the trials or challenges the relationship has experienced over time from the outside.

Comparing our current reality of grief to an imagined version of their reality as uninterrupted bliss increases our own pain by imagining a greater gap than actually exists.

When we find ourselves making this kind of comparison and experiencing the exaggerated pain that accompanies it, the best gift we can give ourselves is stepping back from the comparison and recognizing that we can’t really know another person’s reality.

This allows us to better face and deal with our own situation and grief without contaminating it with a comparison to another’s supposed perfect life.

Comparing brokenness

Another common mistake during times like this is to compare our reaction or pain to the reaction or (perceived) pain of someone else we know who has experienced something similar.

In the midst of my own grief over the loss of a loved one, I may compare my grieving process to that of someone who has faced a similar death. How did they react? How did they cope?

In this case, we often wind up comparing our inner realities to other people’s outer images and find ourselves falling short.

We are fully aware of how lost and broken and hurting we feel, but most of us do a very good job of hiding that on the surface. We may appear to function as usual on the job or in other everyday surface encounters.

When we compare our inside to another’s outside, we are making a false and unequal comparison that will invariably leave us feeling worse.

The truth is that even if we could compare our inside to their inside (and we never fully can), every situation is different and every person is different. Our experience of brokenness is colored so strongly by our own history, personality, and perspective on life that it can never match someone else’s no matter how similar the inciting incident may seem.

We often engage in this behavior in the hopes that someone else’s experience with brokenness will validate our own, but it’s important to recognize that it’s equally likely to leave you feeling invalidated when it doesn’t match.

It is a greater gift to yourself to embrace your own experience and let everyone else have their own without any need to compare or contrast them.

Comparing healing

The last common way we make ourselves feel worse is by comparing our healing process to that of another. Are we recovering as quickly as they did? Are we using the same tools or processes in our healing?

In the same way that our brokenness is going to be experienced very differently from those around us, our healing will also follow its own pathway that may or may not resemble another person’s in any way.

While we can sometimes gain ideas about healing approaches to try from the experience of others, a comparison of the impact (or speed of impact) of those approaches never helps.

Each person’s way of grieving and of healing is an individual one and trying to hold ourselves to matching someone else’s process gets in the way of our own healing.

Doing what works for you at your own pace in our way will nurture your healing process more than any attempt to match another’s way of doing things.

Resisting the comparison of others

Of course, even when we manage to resist all temptations to compare ourselves to those around us, others will step in to do the comparing for us.

People can be quick to tell us stories of their own brokenness (or of those they know) that they think match our own in the hopes of offering comfort or solidarity to our experience.

Done in the right spirit, this can be helpful in letting us know that we are not alone, but it all too often devolves into comparing our situation, reaction, process, or feelings to another’s with the subtle pressure to make ours match with theirs.

This can’t always be avoided, but being aware of the tendency can help us to gently resist the applied pressure and added temptation to jump on the comparison bandwagon.

Take whatever comfort or solidarity you may find and let the rest go.

The individuality of kintsugi

The more we are able to move through our brokenness and the resulting healing without feeling a need for comparing ourselves to others, the greater freedom we will have to heal into ever more authentic versions of ourselves.

As I work with my kintsugi pieces, no two stones ever look the same after the kintsugi repair is done. No matter how identical the stones were before I started, they break differently (even though the tools and conditions that break them are the same) and the kintsugi repair is unique for every single one.

This is even more the case for us. Consider the two pots in the image above. Both are exquisite, but they are different. If they were to be broken and repaired, they would still be different. Comparing one to the other does nothing to enhance either one; it only tears them down.

As each of us continues to live ever more deeply into our own healing and our gold increasingly shines forth from our lives, this will only increase our individuality, not make us more uniformly like others.

Give yourself the best shot at becoming as beautifully unique you can be by allowing your process to be wholly your own all along the way without comparing it to others.

It’s a priceless gift to yourself!

Questions to consider

Which forms of comparison are you most prone to? How do those comparisons make you feel when you engage in them?

How can you catch yourself comparing your situation or process more quickly? What will help you let go of those comparisons when you notice them?

How can you more fully embrace your own individual pathway through the kintsugi process and the uniqueness of your own golden repair?

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