Disruption - 10th Annual Honi Soit Writing Competition

Check Your Sadness Privilege

Olivia Rowe isn’t so keen on comparing tragedies.

Heartbreak of all forms is an inevitable, albeit tragic part of life that all of us will experience to different degrees.

For me heartbreak was when I was seven and my dad washed my favourite white t-shirt in a load of reds, changing the colour entirely.

It was when the many boys I’d fawned over didn’t like me back.

It was the time my orthodontist said my braces were coming off far later than anticipated.

It was the death of my cat, it was my primary school BFF finding a better option and it was a brutal period where my family lost an uncle, a grandmother and my father.

This range of intense emotional experiences obviously influenced the person I am now. Whilst I wish maybe my life-shaping events hadn’t been so drastic, they’ve moulded my perspective on individual emotions in a unique way. I remember quite vividly, the first day back at school after my dad passed away and people flocking to me as a victim of emotional heartache. I was therefore someone who had adequate experience in the field of sadness to ‘get’ whatever else was going on in someone’s personal life. Enter the concept of sadness privilege; my sympathy became a validation card to those around me.

Sadness privilege, so to speak, is the idea that an individual who has been through a lot of shitty stuff is allowed to judge another person’s reaction to an event because the individual had been through more.

These privileged encounters would take form with other people coming to me to judge another person’s reaction to a seemingly superficial tragedy in comparison to what I, as the authority of all things sad had been through.

Person A broke up with her boyfriend, tough luck I watched my dad die. Person B’s parents were getting divorced; sucks to be you but at least your parents are alive. Person C’s grandma died, sorry but you literally never mentioned you were close to your grandma so build a bridge and get over it.

The sadness privilege attitude comes from a genuine lack of empathy and a build up of resentment. It eventually led to me getting angry at myself for crying over a boy because I’d been through worse. Or validating my tears over a missed bus because it was just “typical of my all too disastrous life.” It was hypocritical and dumb but needed to happen to get me where I am.

The main issue is that this attitude implies that all of the little things in life that cause us various levels of pain don’t require the same nurturing as you would allow for a death, or the end of a long relationship. The fact of the matter is that if something is a problem enough for you to grieve and be sad or cope in whatever way you see fit, it is in fact a problem and should be viewed as such. While it isn’t the end of the world when you miss the bus, you’re still allowed to be upset if that’s genuinely how you feel.

Everyone has different levels of sensitivity and therefore, different ways in which they deal with particular adversities. In light of this, people around you are in no position at all to judge or comment on how you’re coping, nor should anyone feel guilty or as if they have to justify whatever they’re going through.

It’s undoubtedly very easy to jump on the sadness privilege bandwagon once things become rough and you’re struggling to cope with how it’s unfolding yourself. But investing time and energy into the judgement of other people’s lives and emotions is arguably the most toxic and counterproductive measure anybody can do in the quest for a peaceful life.

While you may have felt what seems like all of the sadness in the world, someone else might be feeling the same way over a different kind of tragedy. Understanding perspective and how yours is potentially very different to someone else’s is also an invaluable thing to remember in relation to being empathetic and understanding. Never feel as though you or anyone around you is more or less worthy of feeling sad. Just because you might have been dealt a particularly bad card and someone else is depressed despite coming from a stable and secure background, does not mean that you in anyway are the judge of whether or not they have the supposed ‘right’ to be upset.

Moreover, don’t compare your life to anyone else’s in relation to grief and coping and being resilient because sometimes everything just sucks for different people at a time. It’s hard enough navigating these unfortunate situations without other people’s judgement. Building up resentment and anger over something as personal and private as emotions and grief seems like a large waste of resentment—especially given that we never got a definitive answer as to whether Lorelai ended up with Luke in Gilmore Girls.