7 Things Not to Say to Someone in Pain

It can be difficult to see someone you care about suffering from pain. You want to help, but you’re not sure how. So you cast about for something to say…and you end up making your loved one more upset than before. How did your comment get taken so wrongly? And what should you have said instead?

  1. It can’t be that bad.” But if the pain is yours, then you know it is that bad. By saying this to someone in pain, you’re minimizing what she’s experiencing—and adding to her frustration and distress.
  2. Don’t think about it.” Why don’t you do the dishes/vacuum/take a walk?” For someone in pain, not thinking about the pain is very difficult. It’s like trying to ignore a pink elephant in the middle of a room. And not thinking about it is no guarantee that it won’t still be bothersome. One pain sufferer commented on a message board: “I would really like a gentle hug and a little extra love instead of being told I should clean the house.”
  3. I know how you feel.” My [fill in the blank] hurts, too. Maybe your back is bothering you today, or your knee. But your temporary discomfort is not the same as the constant pain experienced by chronic pain sufferers. Bringing up your own list of pains is not going to alleviate your loved one’s pain.
  4. It’s all in your head.” Not only friends and family but doctors have been known to tell this to pain sufferers. No one would make up pain that didn’t exist. Dismissing the pain as imaginary is insulting.
  5. Why don’t you see a doctor?” Your loved one has undoubtedly consulted with more than one doctor about his pain. A better tactic would be to ask what doctors have recommended to deal with the pain.
  6. You’re just trying to get out of work.” Most chronic pain sufferers would love nothing more than to be able to do their jobs pain free.
  7. How could you be in pain?” You’re here at work, aren’t you?” Pain sufferers learn to suffer silently so as not to put any additional burdens on their bosses and coworkers.

Want to give a little relief to someone suffering from pain? Try asking one simple question:

What can I do to help you?” Sometimes simply having someone acknowledge the pain can do wonders. Offer to take on a chore or work assignment, fetch pain medication, whip up a meal, run a warm bath, or give a back rub. Let the person know you care and want to help alleviate the pain in any way possible.

By Laurie Saloman

Reviewed by QualityHealth’s Medical Advisory Board

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32 comments on “7 Things Not to Say to Someone in Pain

  1. Oh Paulette, thank you so much. God is helping those with pain and those who love someone in pain, through you. Some days my momma just can’t talk too much. . .doesn’t have much to say. (I try to call her everyday, so no wonder.) Your list of things not to say is perfect and I need to understand that when she’s in pain, she just might not feel good enough to talk much either. God bless you as you keep reaching out in your pain, to make other lives better. You bless us!

    • Hi Debbie,

      ” Some days my momma just can’t talk too much. . .doesn’t have much to say.” Yesterday, was one of those days for me. I was suffering from the emotional pain that comes with suffering from chronic pain. I’m sure your mother appreciates you calling, but at times it does become very difficult to carry on a conversation. Sometimes just telling her you love her, is more than enough. It makes my heart glad to know that I am helping in some small way! To God be the glory.

      God bless you Debbie!

      Love,

      Paulette

  2. Thank you so much for this post Paulette. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people use the statements mentioned at funerals, hospitals, etc. You are right on! A big Amen to you!

    • Hi Mike,

      I appreciate you adding this comment to the stream, because it is so so true! In so many instances, when individuals are in dire need of comfort because of pain, be it emotional, physical, or otherwise, family and friends really need to understand that it is about helping that individual who is hurting, to feel comforted, to feel compassion, and to feel that their pain is acknowledged. What you shared is so very important, and for that I do thank you. God bless!

  3. Thank you, Minister

    Your willing student continues to learn. Thank you for all you share. 🙂 I keep having to remind myself that some people just don’t know better. I am not a chronic pain sufferer, but I have other health issues I have to deal with. It bothers me greatly when people tell me ” I know how you feel”… You do? Really?! Annoys me to the core! ( There, I have confessed it.)

    Thank you for helping us deal with those who can’t express what they feel. May God continue to give you grace as you walk through this valley.

    Blessings,
    ann

    • Hi Ann,

      “I keep having to remind myself that some people just don’t know better.” This is something we definitely have in common. Yesterday, one of my cousins telephoned. He asked how I felt, and I told him. Then he went on to tell me that I sounded well, as if to say, “You don’t sound sick.” This occurs over and over again. That could have been item number eight on the list for me. 🙂 Again, it all goes back to educating people about chronic pain.

      At times, it’s quite difficult to write about suffering from chronic pain as an “insider.” However, I believe it’s making a difference in the lives of others when I see the many page views coming in from the various search engines, because so many are looking for help in this area.

      “May God continue to give you grace as you walk through this valley.” Thank you, Ann. I pray that the Lord would touch your body, and deliver you from the health issues you are suffering from, as well!

      Paulette

  4. I battle recurring back pain and I’ve gotten the following from people:

    *If you think you’re hurting now, just wait until you get to be my age–yeah, but the pain that I feel NOW is painful and VERY real!! I need help for dealing with NOW!!
    *Have you been to the doctor?–as if I haven’t been to half a dozen doctors and people are implying that I’m whining about the problem and doing nothing about it!
    *What did you do to your back?–Ummm, nothing!! I feel like people imply it’s my fault that I have back pain.

    • Hi Forgiven girl,

      I’m sorry you are suffering from chronic back pain. I will be praying for you.

      Thank you so much for stopping by, and for sharing some of what you deal with as a chronic pain sufferer. It’s unfortunate that so many say things, without even realizing their words cause even more pain. “I feel like people imply it’s my fault that I have back pain.” You are not the cause of your suffering. It’s difficult to find excellent pain management doctors. Don’t give up. I pray you will find a Physician, who will be able to help you to effectively manage your pain. If you’d like to, please stay in touch. I’d like to know how you are getting along. God bless you!

      Paulette

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  7. Pbus, great advice! People in pain simply need someone who can listen, help in any way, and just be present. Giving advice, judging, or ignoring does not help at all.

    • Hi Noel,

      Thanks so much for adding your comment to the stream today! Such good advice from you, as well.

      I visited your blog just a while ago. Sometimes I think of you and your brother. I’ll be praying for you and your brother, as well. God bless!

      Paulette

        • Yes, I read the entry you posted about your brother. I remember leaving a comment. I remember that particular post, because it truly touched my heart. It is something that has stayed with me since that time. Take care. 🙂

          Paulette

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  9. Thank you for this wonderful list–you wouldn’t think you’d have to spell it out for folks, but ignorance seems to be a disease/condition all on its own. Thank you–I’m sorry for your pain, will add my prayers. I too have chronic pain, and have learned to just “deal with it” quietly–I say this with a bit of a smirk, lest you think I’m being melodramatic! God bless you richly.

    • Hi Caddo,

      So very well said! Unfortunately, for so many it does have to be spelled out, because they simply do not get it! I do appreciate the thoughts you added to the comment stream! Thanks again for your words of kindness! God bless!

  10. Excellent article and great advice! The hardest thing for others to understand is how I “am fine” one day, but limping/in pain the next. Those who do not live with chronic pain have more difficulty understanding. Would it be okay if I re-blogged this post?

  11. It’s 3 in the morning–the second night in the row I have been wide awake at this time. Exhausted, mentally worn out, sad, hurt. I have an auto immune disorder and keep being diagnosed with more and more “tag a long” illnesses that go along with that kind of condition. They all cause me severe chronic pain and sleep problems, depression, and yes, physical and mental exhaustion. I am also grieving the death of my oldest son who passed away suddenly in Feb. of 2011. I do what I can every single day but what I accomplish never equals the list I have in my head that I want to do each day. I try not to act like I am in pain so that I can have some sort of life and people will not think I am a hypochrondiac. However, pretending I can do more than i can leads to more pain and exhaustion, so I often I have to say “uncle”, I can’t pretend today—-I can’t act like I am ok because I am NOT ok. I was told by my sister today that she has never heard of anyone with as many illnesses as I have. (shaming me?) I told her that the autoimmunie disorder I have causes the other illnesses and they are all painful. She told me that it is mind over matter–. I told her it was not mind over matter. (If it was I would have done it long ago. Do people think this is FUN to live this way? What is the payoff? I don’t get to go on vacations or lavish shopping sprees because I am sick. I don’t get disability. I miss out on a lot of life. WHAT exactly is my payoff if I am doing this instead of using mind over matter to not feel physical pain?) She then told me I had bad charma and have a lot of negativity. OMG, I give up. I have no idea of what to say to her, and this is someone who had painful conditions also, who complains when it hurts, and whom I always try to give empathetic comments to. I then made a list of all of hers and my diagnosed illness. She had the same amount as me and most of them were the same. When I handed her the list she said, Well, I don’t talk about mine. I just ignore them. AHHHHHH, I just have no idea what else to say, She does talk about them. She may ignore taking care of herself medically, but that is out of fear of the treatments being painful, not because she is braver or stronger than me. This really hurts me. I don’t understand why anyone would think this is made up, that it can all go away with positive thoughts, or insinuating that I bring this on myself through bad charma. I do not even know what to say to her now, but she is single and calls me 2-3 times a day to talk about herself, so it would not be easy to detach from her without a confrontational conversation, and I just don’t have the emotional or physical energy right now to do that. All of my energy goes to getting out of bed and getting through the day, to grieving the loss of my son, to trying my best to accept the chronic nature of my illnesses without growing bittter. I am venting and appreciate the chance to do so but any advice would be much appreciated.

    • Hello Nanamom,

      I’m so sorry that you are having such a terrible time of it. A lot of what you said in your comment, is very familiar to me. It’s unfortunate, that more is not known or shared about chronically painful and debilitating disorders….I am so sorry that you are also grieving the loss of your son. I cannot imagine the pain you are in, but I know who does understand it all, God Almighty. I will definitely keep you in prayer, as you go through this very difficult time…I’m glad you are no longer attempting to mask the pain that you are in. Telling your sister about the pain, and the illnesses that you suffer from was huge! It’s very difficult when physicians, family members, and friends do not validate our pain! In fact, it is just the opposite of that. Our loved ones do not want to see us in pain, and very often find it difficult to find the right words. It’s unfortunate that the words that some use cause more pain and stress, rather than help. When you speak with your sister, perhaps you could steer all conversations away from your illnesses and sickness in general, because discussing it at this time seems to cause more stress, which in turn can lead to more physical and mental pain. Sometimes we must divert our attention away from those loved ones who struggle to understand, and focus on getting help in order to feel better. May I ask if you are being seen by doctors who understand the illnesses you suffer from? That makes a very big difference in your level of care….Yes, chronically painful and debilitating illnesses are extraordinarily life-changing! I am so glad you were able to come here, and to say everything that you were carrying around inside. Sometimes venting is wonderful therapy! Very often, I take things one day at a time, sometimes one hour at a time, and sometimes a few minutes at a time. It just depends on what I’m going through on a given day. Also, I know that it is my relationship with the Lord that carries me through, when the load seems much more than I am able to bear. Sometimes I just need to talk to Him, because I know He knows all about it, and He is in control. Again, I will lift your name in prayer, that the Lord would strengthen you and keep you. If you would like to communicate via e-mail, that would be fine. Just let me know. Please stop by anytime, because I do care. Living in chronic pain can be very debilitating, isolating, and depressing, so please do not suffer alone, or in silence. God bless you!

      Love,

      Paulette

    • Thank you so much for dropping that “pearl of wisdom” in the comment box! Thanks for stopping by! May the Lord bless you, abundantly! Feel free to visit again, and share your thoughts! 🙂

      Paulette

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