28 Jan It wasn’t that bad, but what if it was?
It wasn’t that bad. Four words that make a story small and minimize an experience. It can be helpful in the moment and hurtful in the long run.
It wasn’t that bad
We reduce an experience when we say, “It wasn’t that bad.” I’m not talking about little things like walking in 5 minutes late to a meeting. That’s not that bad and it’s not damaging to your psyche long term.
I’m talking about big things that we try to make small to protect ourselves and our listeners from pain and discomfort. I’ve certainly used it.
In therapy, I hear clients use it all the time. Often after heartbreaking stories of abuse I hear the refrain, “but, you know, it wasn’t that bad. Others have it way worse than I did.”
Honestly, what I hear is never “not that bad.” If something feels bad, it’s bad. Comparison and minimizing are generally in action when we deem our challenging or traumatic experiences as “not that bad.”
Comparison is certainly the thief of joy. As in I should be smarter, stronger, work harder because someone else seems to be able to manage better – have more.
Comparison is also the thief of authentic feelings around grief and trauma. Such as, I may have been hit sometimes, but I never had to go to the hospital for my injuries like the person in the true crime show I watched last night.
Face it, we live in a world with lots of content. Big headlines of tragedy come into our vision daily. There is lots of suffering in this world to consume.
It’s easy to think that what we experienced was not that bad when we compare our life to stories of war torn countries or women who were murdered by their partners. Suffering is not a competition.
Minimizing takes an event or action of any size and makes the event smaller, less of an issue, and projects the issue onto another individual in the incident or situation. This shows up as reducing our own experience and giving someone else a more legitimate reason to be traumatized or in pain.
For example, being in a car accident and experiencing a broken arm then saying, “well, it wasn’t so bad because I didn’t die.” Or perhaps your father hit you regularly in childhood, yet you focus on how awful it was for your mother ignoring your own abuse.
Minimizing often develops because a parent or partner minimized your experience. In this case, we learn to question what we saw, heard, or felt. Sometimes we’re exposed to this from a very young age. Was it really that bad? Did disturbing or overwhelming events really happen or are we overreacting based on our own faulty perceptions?
What if it was that bad?
Comparison and minimizing can be learned behavior too. For example, parents may have done it when talking about their childhoods so we do it too. It seems normal to gloss over tough times.
Both comparison and minimizing are protective to an extent. If we reduce what we experience down to it wasn’t that bad, we don’t have to sit with the pain. We also don’t have to examine how someone close to us let us down or betrayed our trust.
However, we don’t really experience healing or fully process what we went through. Our bodies still know it – stomach aches, migraines, fatigue – but our minds are still clinging to a watered down version of the truth.
To heal from the “it wasn’t so bad” habit try some of the following:
- Let your story stand as is without minimizing or comparing and see how it feels.
- Own your story and allow yourself to feel pain and grieve.
- Allow family or friends to express concern or sorrow over what you may have experienced.
- Honor your experience and respect the resilience that grew from challenging times.
Working with a therapist is a good place to receive validation that it – whatever your “it” is – was probably that bad. Acknowledging your lived experiences and processing the feelings attached to disturbing or overwhelming events is an important part of healing.
Your story is worth exploring. Celebrate and cherish the good stuff. Grant yourself respect for the fact that you made it through bad stuff. If you’d like to get started or have questions you’d like to discuss about therapy, call or email me.
Kate Murphy, LCSW
Kate Murphy, a therapist in Chamblee, GA, specializes in helping you decrease stress and anxiety. You can live a more balanced, connected, and meaningful life. Kate works with individuals and couples over the age of 18 to support healing, communicating, and experiencing joy more often.