4 Things You Should Never Say to Someone With Chronic Pain

Whenever I mention my chronic pain in a conversation, I hold my breath and wait for the inevitable to happen. Immediately some people attempt to bond with you by telling their tragic story or they start naming clinics, doctors and exotic treatment plans I must try. Most of the time, people get extremely uncomfortable and switch topics. In general, people have no idea what is and isn’t appropriate when talking to someone with chronic pain. More than that, people usually have no idea how their words make me feel. Therefore, I thought it would be prudent to explain things you should never say to anyone living with chronic pain.

1. “Suck it up!”

Every time someone tells me to “suck it up” or “push through it” I’m tempted to slap him or her. Those with chronic pain “suck it up” every single day. We struggle to do daily tasks like showering, working a full day and managing to have some type of social life. Chances are, if we’re telling you about our pain, we’re beyond the point of “sucking it up.” Please don’t make us feel guilty for vocalizing our pain.

2. “I know just how you feel! I’ve got…”

No, you don’t. While you may have some type of back problem or other ongoing health issue, you can never possibly understand living with chronic pain because it’s not the same. I think people do this so often because they don’t want people struggling with chronic pain to feel alone; in reality, when someone assumes they know how I’m feeling, I’m instantly irritated because I constantly feel misunderstood. Instead, I recommend saying, “I’ve struggled with _____. How does that compare to your experience?” Or you could just say, “I’m sorry you’re going through that.” Either way, never utter the words, “I know how you feel.”

3. “You look fine…”

Looks are deceiving, especially with an invisible illness. My chronic nerve pain is imperceptible to the naked eye; yes, occasionally you can see the side effects of my pain — messy hair, being extremely tired or moody, moving slowly (I refer to this as my sore swag) — but you can’t see pain. When you tell me I “look fine,” I hear you challenging me. I feel attacked, like you think I’m faking it. When someone you love is already in pain or at a low point, the last thing they need to worry about is what you think. Don’t make us feel this way.

4. “You should try…”

When I share with someone that I have chronic pain, they sometimes automatically think and act like they have a medical degree. They start recommending treatments, doctors and cures. I recognize that this unwanted advice comes from a kind place, but it doesn’t make it any easier to explain that my illness or pain is chronic and will likely never go away.  Telling my story again and again is so hard because even though I’ve accepted the “chronic” part of chronic pain, every time I have to re-explain it I am right back to square one, searching for answers in the middle of pain. Instead of trying to fix me, I’d prefer people say, “I’m sorry you’re feeling this way now — is there anything I can do?”

When engaging with people living with chronic pain, listen more than you speak. If we’re sharing our pain with you, it’s because we feel comfortable. Don’t abuse that vulnerability. Acknowledge that we’re letting you into our little world because we view you as a support system.

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