4 distilld lessons from "On Comparative Suffering, the 50/50 Myth, and Settling the Ball"

Here are the distilld lessons (extended) inspired by Episode #4, "On Comparative Suffering, the 50/50 Myth, and Settling the Ball", of Unlocking Us with Brené Brown.

4 distilld lessons from "On Comparative Suffering, the 50/50 Myth, and Settling the Ball"

Here are the distilld lessons (extended) inspired by Episode #4, "On Comparative Suffering, the 50/50 Myth, and Settling the Ball", of Unlocking Us with Brené Brown.


The episode, “On Comparative Suffering, the 50/50 Myth, and Settling the Ball” of Unlocking Us with Brené Browndiscusses strategies that we can use to cope with the pandemic in the long term. She talks about moving to a personal place of clarity instead of anxiety, cultivating a healing home environment, and empathizing with others as well as ourselves.

Read this if...

  • You feel emotionally overwhelmed by the pandemic
  • You want to strengthen your relationship with your family
  • You feel guilty about your problems because other people have it worse

About the Host

Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston. She is the Endowed Chair of the Huffington Foundation at The Graduate College of Social Work. She is also the author of five #1 New York Times bestsellers and the first researcher to have a filmed lecture (The Call to Courage) streaming on Netflix.

the distilld lessons

People are approaching a collective weariness. The coronavirus pandemic is throwing the world for a loop. Changes happening on a near-daily basis are making it difficult for us to settle into a new normal. We are now running low on the initial adrenaline caused by the crisis and coming to the realization that our ways of life have changed.

With no clear end for the pandemic in sight, it’s time to think long term. On this episode of Unlocking Us, Brené offers strategies to navigate the pandemic by addressing gaps in relationships and addressing comparative suffering.

Here are the distilld lessons inspired by the “on Comparative Suffering, the 50/50 Myth, and Settling the Ball” episode of the Unlocking Us with Brené Brown podcast:

1. Moving away from fear and anxiety to a place of clarity.

Brené likens our pandemic response to kids playing soccer. They don’t read the field, reposition themselves, or settle the ball to score a goal. There’s no real plan for the gameplay. They just kick around to keep the ball in the air.

That’s where we’re at right now with the pandemic. It’s a whole lot of kicking but not a whole lot of planning. We’re reacting as events unfold with no real plan on how to move forward. Brené suggests that we should first settle the ball, move slowly from a place of fear and anxiety to a place of clarity.

We can “settle the ball” by being mindful of how much news consume. Reading everything we come across can cause news overload. When we’re bombarded with news, we actually find it more difficult to process all the information. It drains us of the energy we need to deal with the pandemic.

What we can do is filter our news sources and limit the time we spend on reading about the news. We can also do deep breathing exercises to help reduce the anxiety we feel after being exposed to the news.

2. People aren’t built to have one consistent energy level.

During these times, it’s important to see how we can strengthen our relationships at home. For Brené, it starts with understanding that strong and long lasting relationships actually do not require a 50/50 contribution from all parties.

People aren’t built to have one consistent energy level. We can’t always be up to our 50% of our emotional contribution. This is also true for our partner. It’s unrealistic to expect everyone to contribute the same share when it comes to relationships.

Instead, our efforts or contributions should complement each other. There may be times where we need to contribute more. There are also other times where it’s ok to contribute less. Relationships that last are those where one partner is willing to be at 80% when the other is only at 20%.

When we complement each other in relationships, we can cooperate and get to 100%.

3. We can address relationship gaps with a Family Gap Plan.

What happens when our energies and efforts can’t go up to 100%? Brené suggests the Family Gap Plan. It’s a set of rules where we systematize how we resolve conflicts and make each other feel better.

Whenever Brené’s family is collectively below 100%, they immediately refer to their Gap Plan. They have rules like, “mo harsh words,” “say you’re sorry,” and “accept apologies with ‘thank you’.”

We can create Gap Plans together with our family and openly communicate what will make us feel better and help us get to 100%. This can also be a way to check in with each other and address current gaps in relationships when there are any. It can be a helpful way to make sure everyone is heard and everyone can depend on each other.

4. Comparing our suffering with others keeps us from true empathy.

People have a tendency to compare their suffering with others. We deny or permit ourselves to feel pain or fear based on how our problems measure up to others. This is comparative suffering. We do this because we buy into the myth that empathy is finite. We reserve our empathy for those we think deserve it more, even at our own expense.

Brené believes that empathy is infinite. We have enough empathy for the suffering of others without having to deny our own right to be sad or afraid. Empathy multiplies the more we use our empathy. When we are empathetic to our own experiences, we become empathetic to others.

If we deny ourselves empathy, we instead breed feelings of shame. We become ashamed of our feelings. We try to shut down our emotions because we think that other people have it so much worse. This breaks our connection with others. We become too wrapped up in our shame that we actually stop focusing on others.

Empathy is outward, even when we direct empathy towards ourselves. To empathize means we’re coming from a place of understanding and not judgment. We understand what we, and others, are going through. We develop compassion for ourselves and others.

It’s a trying time for everybody. We can cope by respecting our capacity to absorb information. We can help our families by being aware of how they’re doing, and stepping up or stepping back depending on their needs and our own. We can help our communities by showing ourselves empathy and extending that empathy to others.

For a shorter conversation, the distilld lessons summary are here.


Unlocking Us

Hosted by Brené Brown, Unlocking Us, features both interviews and discussions centered on vulnerability, empathy, social issues—and all there is about being human. The distilld lessons are here.

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