How many times have you held back from opening up to someone else because you felt “their problems are so much bigger than mine.” Or, “yeah I’m going through a tough time, but I’m sure they’re already stressed as it is”?
Essentially forfeiting the opportunity to receive support in fear of being a burden, or like your issues just don’t measure up. It’s what I’ve coined as developing a Hardship Hierarchy. This is when we listen to that inner critic that tells us our problems aren’t important. As though there’s an unspoken rank in who’s issues are most relevant, which absolutely isn’t the case.
I often find myself in this predicament, especially recently. Now that I’ve chosen to live life as an entrepreneur, I worry that by opening up about my tough times people won’t be as invested. After all, I could have stuck to a more certain path, but chose to take a leap of faith. So why should anyone feel sympathy for me? I have friends who are juggling being parents, trying to be parents, prepping for weddings, dealing with manipulative bosses, starting new jobs, or trying to figure out what they even want to do in life. I often feel my problems don’t “measure up.”
Well, the truth is, each and every one of us is on our own unique walk of life. No two issues will ever be the same. And depending on our journey, something that may not be a concern for another can be a complete burden for someone else.
It’s time we let go of that imaginary hardship hierarchy and choose to open up. Valuing your friend’s issues over your own only leads to resentment, loneliness, and feelings of inadequacy.
As humans, we’re hardwired for connection and community. Isolating ourselves with our problems is only doing us a disservice. So, how do you begin to open up without feeling guilty?
First, acknowledge that your feelings are valid.
We sometimes struggle within ourselves with the idea that our feelings don’t matter and project that onto those around us. Without even opening up, we tell ourselves that what we think and feel isn’t important, so why should others find it to be?
It’s important to first acknowledge that you, your feelings and concerns matter. Big or small, you deserve to feel peace from uncertainty.
If something goes wrong and your mind automatically goes to putting yourself down about it. Counter those thoughts with something like, “it’s O.K. for me to feel this way, this is a tough circumstance and I’m allowed to feel upset or hurt by it.”
Once you’ve begun to recognize the validity of your emotions, you’ll feel more confident about opening up.
Next, be intentional with who you decide to open up to.
Not everyone deserves access to your heart and life. It’s okay to be selective about who you decide to open up to in these situations. Lean on someone who you know has your best interest in mind.
Opening up to someone who takes your emotions for granted can leave you discouraged and more unwilling to do so in the future.
Also, think about what you want out of opening up. Do you want advice or do you just want a sounding board? If you just want to vent, it may be best to talk to that friend who may not say the most, but is an impeccable listener. Though well-intentioned, the friend who always gives advice may not work in that situation.
Lean into vulnerability, and be specific.
When you choose to open up, truly open up. Don’t go into it saying things like “I know this is so annoying but..” or “I am so sorry to even be talking about this but..” these statements will automatically make the other person feel uncomfortable before you’ve even begun.
Lean into vulnerability and let them know that you are hurting, stressed, worried, anxious, tired, upset, or lost.
Also, be specific about why this particular situation is making you feel that way. We’re all going through different walks of life, and what may be clearly an issue for you–may not be so obvious to someone else. Use statements like, “I feel anxious because…”, “Now that this has happened it means that…”, or “When this happens it has this effect…”
Help the other person, help you.
Finally, this isn’t a one-way street.
Now that you’ve mustered up the courage to find support from those around you–be of support to them. Listen, help, be a shoulder when necessary. Not only will you feel good afterward, but it’ll make the lines of communication more fluid.
Next time you give yourself an unspoken hardship hierarchy, remember that everyone (even you) deserves to be heard.