Big Pain, Little Pain

There is no "Big Pain or Small Pain". There's just pain. It's all about compassion and boundaries.


Let’s say you have a pain of indeterminate size.
It could be something raging from “I just stubbed my toe” to “I just lost a loved one”.

And you take your pain to 2 different people: Person A and Person B.

Person A is not very compassionate. Person B is.
(Let’s not dwell into why this is the case, they just are)

You go to Person A with your pain. And you say “I have pain”. Those are the only words you say.
And they reply with “Whatcha complaining about, it’s not so bad, suck it up and keep on going”. Or even “better”, they give you some variation of “you must have brought it on yourself” or “don’t worry, everything happens for a reason”.

Then you go to Person B with your pain. And you say “I have pain”.
And they reply with “I’m so sorry”. Then they listen.
You share with them your pain and they listen. Compassionately.

Let’s unpack this

First, let’s notice that you have said the exact same thing to both people. The only words out of your mouth where “I have pain”.
Person A, who is not very compassionate; they cannot deal with your pain.
And because they cannot deal with your pain, they make no space for it. You show up to them holding your pain in your hands and say “look, I have this pain”, and they raise their hand in your face, a big sign of “stop right there”. They bounce your pain back.
From their perspective, your pain isn’t all that “big”.

Person B, however, is compassionate, and they listen to your pain. You show up to them with their pain and they make space for it. They listen, you share.
From their perspective, your pain is… “big”. It matters. It’s a big deal.

And now, the lesson:

There is no such thing as “Big” pain, or “Small” pain

All pain is legitimate always.

And the perceived “size” of pain has to do with the other Person’s capacity for compassion.

You get me?

If the other Person’s capacity for compassion is tiny, they won’t be able to deal with your pain, and they won’t make space for it. Then they won’t listen to your pain, regardless of what kind of pain it is.
To them, your pain will be very small. Not because your pain IS small, but because *they* can’t deal with *any* pain. They have no capacity to hold it.

And if the other Person’s capacity for compassion is greater, they will be able to make space for your pain, they will listen to it. You will be able to share more and more of your pain with them.

To them your pain will be a big deal. Regardless of whether it is “big” or not, to them, in that moment, it will be a big deal. They have made space for it.

I’ve learned this lesson through many interactions with Person A and Person B

Because I struggle with boundaries, I tend to take the other person’s perspective as “Truth”.
And having grown up with the mantra of “endure more”, raised by people with limited capacity for “making space for pain”, I grew up thinking that my pain was never a “big enough” deal.

I got older, and pain got worse.
Eventually I began to practice self-compassion, and making space for my pain.
Now I have people in my life who are compassionate, and who listen to my pain. Go figure.

And yet, it amazes me, when they listen, truly listen, and my pain comes out, taking up more and more space. They make space for my pain and it means I can expand on it. I share more of my pain with them.
And the other person goes “Cheesus H Christ on a cracker!”.

And I am amazed by how much pain I’ve been carrying all on my own.

When I spend time with people who cannot make space for my pain, I end up thinking my pain isn’t that big a deal.
And that is painful for me, because it throws me into my old pattern of “endure more”. Which never served me.

It’s one of the reasons why I’m so wary of sharing my pain on the blog. What if people say to me “Mary, that’s not all that big a deal, endure more”?
What if I believe them?!

“Trending upwards”

It’s an expression I got from Havi.

I am moving forward slowly. Ever so slowly.
Setting boundaries between my Truth and other people’s Truth.
Giving myself compassion, making space for my pain, and giving it legitimacy.
And learning with whom I can share what.

Some people cannot make space for my pain.
Or at least some kinds of pain.
So I don’t try to share it, because they will bounce it back and that will hurt.
Whenever pain isn’t acknowledged and seen and legitimized, it hurts.

Some people can make space for my pain. I learn to recognise it, be grateful, and watch my pain being witnessed.


Here’s Brene Brown’s take on what “Person A” looks like, ie: the person you shouldn’t share your pain with.

And here she is on the difference between Empathy and Sympathy.

NOTE: Brene Brown uses the word “empathy”, whereas I use “compassion”. It’s the same thing.

And here’s a post where I practice self-compassion “live”.

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