Pain is an interesting phenomenon to me. Isn’t it a fascinating self-protection measure that we cannot truly recall extreme pain once it has abated? From the raw pain of recovery from a surgery to cut a bone out of my wrist to natural childbirth, once the event has passed I will only know that it hurt, and badly, but to try to remember how it felt or even to compare the two or other experiences would be truly difficult, if not impossible.
Further, you can’t know someone else’s pain. That’s the thing about pain – it’s almost impossible to describe. You can give it a color or a number, a personality or a mood, but you can never make someone else feel the way you feel. And in that way, you will also have difficulty describing your pain to someone, and they’ll have difficulty understanding it. Knowing this and accepting it can prevent a lot of disappointment from someone failing to meet your expectations of how to respond to your pain.
Theoretically I understand that my husband’s pulled muscle hurts a lot, and I am pretty sure that it hurts a lot less than the dislocated knuckles of my hands when I try to open a tight jar, but so many factors play into our perception of pain that as it turns out, I might actually be feeling better than him…but we cannot know.
Everyone’s pain is his or her own.
Not only that, there’s very likely someone worse off than you, no matter how much pain you are in. That has never been much of a consolation to me – I’ve never wished pain on anyone else – but the lesson here is that no matter what your malady, there’s probably something much worse that you can be thankful you don’t have.
My recommendation for when you’re feeling like people don’t understand your pain, is to just work to understand it well yourself. I try to listen to what my pain is telling me, not let it become background noise. Pain is usually a signal that I ought to be protecting a joint, not pushing it, and this is why I rarely take painkillers. I am not advocating stopping pain medication to anyone, but for me it feels like shooting the messenger.
When I understand this, I’m more okay with the fact that others don’t. I’d really rather know myself well than have others know me.
Get Dr. Greene's Wellness Recommendations
Sign up now for a delightful weekly email with insights for the whole family.