Degree Year


Document Type

Thesis - Oberlin Community Only

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts




Christine Wu
Cindy Frantz

Committee Member(s)

Travis Wilson


Competitive suffering, High school, Reflexive thematic analysis, Reddit, Suffering, Academic stress


“Competitive suffering” describes a situation in which one student shares their suffering with a peer and instead of being met with compassion, advice, or just listening, that peer decides to one-up their peer’s suffering by claiming that they suffer more. Though talked about extensively on social media, in blogs, and conversationally, competitive suffering has not been defined or studied scientifically. The goal of this thesis was to conduct exploratory research on competitive suffering using a qualitative approach. To get a broad spectrum of participants, I collected data through the Reddit forum “r/highschool” and used reflexive thematic analysis to analyze the text of 32 posts. Through this, suffering in a high school context was operationalized and four themes were identified and discussed: Quantifiable Reason for Suffering, Helplessness, Attribution, and Motivation for Posting. From there, a theoretical model for competitive suffering was created. Implications include working towards providing school counselors and teachers a greater understanding of competition culture, a deeper understanding of the suffering of high school students, communication to students that mistakes are recoverable, high school students opting for compassion, not competition, between each other, and conducting further research on competitive suffering.