What was the saddest, most soul-crushing experience you ever had? Do you remember how you felt? And what was the saddest experience you had before that? Do you remember what that felt like?
If the worst thing that ever happened to you was losing your favorite toy then your emotional response to it will be the saddest you ever experienced. In other words, your “emotional pain meter” will have reached its peak. Unfortunately, at some point in your life, something worse than losing a toy will probably happen to you, thus, making the previous loss a less dramatic occasion. As we grow up and life takes its course, most of us experience many sad, disheartening, soul-crushing and devastating moments. Our emotional pain meter reaches new peaks every time a bigger tragedy strikes us. We lose our favorite toy. We lose our first girlfriend. We lose our parents. We lose our lifelong companion. As we reach new pain thresholds our peak is pushed higher each time. Perhaps what once was a 10 now only qualifies as a 5 in our personal scale.
Have you ever seen -and heard- a baby who has just lost his/her favorite toy? That cry is certainly going for a 10. If you look at it closely, you´ll realize that the grief expressed by the baby is huge. How often do you see grown ups crying like that? The fact that the toddler stops crying the very second the beloved possession is retrieved doesn´t mean that the grief he/she was enduring wasn´t deep. If the reasons why adults grieve where as easily solvable then adults would stop mourning just as fast. That huge grief over something so small does not mean that the baby is a superficial bastard. It means that the baby is suffering just as much as an old man who has just lost its lifelong companion because at that point in his/her life, the worst thing that ever happened to the baby is losing the toy just as the worst thing that ever happened to the old man was losing his wife.
We are quick to dismiss the grief of a teenage boy who has lost his first real girlfriend because, eventually, he will have it worse. Because we have experienced that and worse things as well. Because we now know that there are much worse things in life than losing your first love. But, emotional pain is directly relative to personal experience. We can never relate to a person who has just lost his/her entire family in an accident unless the exact same thing happened to us. Just the same as the teenage boy cannot relate to us when we tell him that losing your 10 year marriage is more painful than what he is experiencing. That kind of upward empathy is not really possible. Just like the baby who lost his toy, he is suffering as much as an old man who has lost his wife. He will grow up to experience worst things and then he will be able to see his past sorrow in perspective. But right now, he is coping with the worst thing that ever happened to him, just like the old man, because they both are reaching their emotional pain thresholds. They both are hitting a 10 on that scale. And, no matter what, a 10 is always a 10.