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What You Should Never Say When Someone Tells You They're in Pain

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As a person who lives with chronic pain from fibromyalgia, I ask you: please stop comparing your pain. Stop it. It doesn’t matter who it is or what their situation is, because their situation is different from yours. You can’t compare your situation to that of another because there is simply no comparison to be made. People are not experiments in a controlled environment where everybody is exposed to the same experiences throughout their lives. Everyone has a different story to tell, different genetics or a different home environment that simply cannot be compared. There are too many variables to make such comparisons.

Life can be messy, complicated, ugly and sometimes completely horrible and unjustified. Or, life can be bliss, wonderful, amazing and full of joy. More often than not life is unpredictable and confusing, and you can’t have the sun without a little bit of rain. The point is, every person has a different life journey with different experiences and different pain.

I get it. You’re hurting, you’re in pain, you’re upset about it and there’s nothing you can do to fix it. You might be angry at the universe, feel like your life is unfair or that you’ve been dealt a bad hand. All that may be true, but if someone says to you, “I’m hurting,” don’t then respond with, “your pain is nothing compared to mine.” How would you feel if someone said that to you?

Perhaps you’ve found yourself responding that way because this is how people have responded to you. If that is the case, hurting someone else’s feelings will not prove your point. Invalidating other people’s pain will not result in them validating yours. If someone is invalidating your pain, or not believing you when you talk about your pain, that is not OK. Try having a conversation with this person about how the things they say make you feel. If their actions don’t change, they are not worth your time or energy.

Your pain is valid. Everyone’s pain is valid. Remember that. If a healthy person complains to you about a sore limb, acknowledge and validate their complaints. Treat other people the way you want to be treated. Instead of saying, “Oh that’s nothing, mine feels like that all the time,” you could say something like, “Oh that’s a shame, I understand how you feel and it’s not very nice.”

It’s important to remember that so-called healthy people usually deal with acute pain from time to time — as in pain that goes away. It is difficult for healthy people to relate to people like us, who experience chronic pain, because they may have never lived through it. All they can do is relate to the few times they’ve felt pain in their lives, and try to put themselves in your shoes to gather an understanding of how you may be feeling. It is possible for healthy people to be empathetic towards people with chronic pain, or at the very least to validate the pain we feel, even if they’ve never been in our situation.

Many of you will know how difficult it can be to disclose your condition to others, and understandably sometimes we choose not to mention it. If you’re like me, working in a full-time job amongst other seemingly healthy people, you might refrain from disclosing a condition like fibromyalgia. It’s almost like being a superhero with a secret identity. Then you might be having an off day where you mention you’re not feeling very well, and an older coworker might say to you, “you’re too young to be feeling like that. Try being my age!” It doesn’t feel very good, does it? But you refrained from disclosing your condition so you laugh it off and say, “tell me about it!” And what if this older coworker is in a situation just like you, struggling with a secret illness?

The point is, you never know a person’s situation. Just because a person seems healthy, it doesn’t mean they are. This coworker of mine has no idea of my illness because that’s the way I wanted it to be. There could be many more people just like me, keeping their chronic illness a secret and talking about their pain in a more casual way just to fit in with the rest of the crowd.

So if someone ever tells you they’re hurting or in pain in some way, don’t tell them, “it’s nothing compared to mine,” because you never truly know the pain of another person, and everybody’s pain is valid.


Originally published: October 27, 2020
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