The Hierarchy of Problems Principle – Just How Miserable Are You?

More than a few decades ago, as a newlywed, I was complaining to my mother about a situation that felt important to me.

After only a brief period of the ear-bending, Mom abruptly shut me down by reminding me of a family member with a much greater problem. She ended with a comment along the lines of how (in contrast to our relative), I didn’t know what a problem was.


It’s true, my worries were merely emotional and mental, unlike the physical health crisis to which my mother referred. Nevertheless, it was my introduction to the hierarchy of problems principle. Very similar to the adage, “I cried because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet,” there was an order of importance and degree of difficulty, so to speak, before one could qualify for sympathy in my family. I am sure I always resented the requirement to compete for compassion. Unfortunately, to some extent, I think I carried on the tradition. As a young mother, when my five-year-old daughter was whining to me about something (on the eve of her older cousin’s open heart surgery), I was probably too quick to throw that at her, “How do you think your cousin feels, in a hospital room tonight?”

Actually, I truly understood (as I know my mom did) that sympathy was not a prize to be won or earned by having the saddest situation. And despite my regret for imposing even a small degree of the hierarchy of problems principle on my children, to this day, I continually question my own concerns.

Is this crisis big enough to share with others?

Yes, I will pray about it. But, is it crucial enough to ask for others’ prayers?

Could personal problems be measured by something like the medical pain scale (1 – 10)? Probably not. Because, by their very nature, personal problems are subjective to the individual, but objective to others.

Ultimately, compassion borne of competition is not a contest you want to win. I don’t think most people are eager to accept an award for “most suffering by an individual.”


About nancsue

Writer - Former newspaper columnist - lover of all things nostalgic, collies, music, humor, and ever grateful to those who defend American citizens at home and abroad.
This entry was posted in Adulthood, Baby Boomers, Broken heart, Depression, emotions, family, health, Humor, Love, Prayer, Psychology, Relationships, Success/Failure and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Hierarchy of Problems Principle – Just How Miserable Are You?

  1. Amanda Ricks says:

    This topic reminds me of how we, (counsellors etc in the mental health field) are always saying you can’t compare traumas. Everyone’s situation has to be honoured but unfortunately in our society today the problem hierarchy is all too prevalent.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s