This is commonly seen when someone shares a story of how difficult things are in their life and we feel the need to top their tale with our own. It quickly becomes a contest to see who can elevate their level of woe above the other. No matter how difficult a present life circumstance might be, we can swing the attention back to ourselves and diminish the other person in just a few sentences. This is not meant to include genuine stories of compassion for the sake of encouragement and reminding people that they are not alone. Sadly, those positive story-tellings are often the exception instead of the norm.
Why do we feel the need to "one-up" somebody? Is it a selfish desire to minimize someones experience and life trials by making our circumstances much worse? Without always recognizing it are we finding ourselves caught in a constant need for inflating our own ego?
Why can't we simply empathize with that person without having to tell our "greater" story? Even if we are wounded from the pain of our own decisions, would it hurt us to focus on the person in front of us? Imagine the difference in our families, workplaces, and community if we cared for the immediate needs of people without having to win the game of "who's situation is worse." Genuine compassion doesn't redirect attention back to ourselves.