7 Things Not to Say to Someone in Pain (and 1 Thing You Should Say)

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 backrub. Let the person know you care and want to help alleviate the pain in any way possible.