When Explaining Our Chronic Pain Leads to More Harm Than Good

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Welcome to the 4th post in my Explain Your Pain Series. Feel free to catch up on earlier posts before you get started. 

Post 1 – The Communication Dilemma

Post 2 – Is Explaining Our Pain Even Worth It?

Post 3 – How to Have Conversations About Chronic Pain

So far, I have tried to convince you that explaining our pain is worth it. Explaining our pain is difficult and takes a great deal of energy, but it is worth it when we do so for the following purposes:

  1. Expressing the type of help we need
  2. Being known by those around us and knowing them in return
  3. Seeking to be honest and transparent about who we are that we might have authentic and flourishing relationships.

But, I believe there are also times when explaining our pain is not worth it. Sometimes explaining our pain leads to more harm than good.

Explaining our pain becomes damaging when we base our worth on the response of those we explain to. Explaining our pain becomes damaging when we feel that we must have the affirmation of everyone that we meet to be “ok” with who we are and who God created us to be.

When we explain our pain, the only obligation we hold is to speak the truth in love about our pain. We have zero obligation when it comes to how people respond to this truth. Our responsibility is to be patient, persevering, and steadfast in explaining our pain, but sometimes we explain our pain in all the right ways and people respond in all of the wrong ways.

We have no control over how people respond to our pain. And we must remember this most important truth. The way people respond to our pain has little to do with us and everything to do about them. When we explain our pain in loving and truthful ways, the manner in which people respond to our pain says everything about them and their character, integrity, and sin, and nothing about our value, character, or worth.

People respond poorly to our pain for many reasons. Sometimes it comes out of a lack of compassion and empathy or an ignorance of how bad the daily reality of pain can become. Often people respond poorly because they don’t want to complicate their own lives with someone else’s hardships. Other times people are unable to comprehend a struggle that does not go away, so if it is still present after months and years, it must be our fault. Sometimes people do not want to face the reality of the frailty of life and the possibility that hardship might fall on them.

And this is why we cannot explain our pain for the purposes of affirming our own worth. Our worth cannot rest in the responses of those around us.  We have no obligation to explain ourselves to those who berate us for not having jobs, criminalize our pain medications, or buy into the lie that our pain is a mark of shame. Although many people with pain feel called to educate and bring awareness to those who hold these ignorant views – and this does a great service to all of us – none of us are obligated to do this if it is too much to handle in the midst of our pain.

Sometimes we waste precious energy seeking to explain ourselves to people who really don’t need our explanation because deep down inside we wonder if they are right about all the horrible things they are saying about us.

Seeking to prove our pain out of our own shame will fail because we are not really speaking and responding to the doubts of others but to our own doubt. We have to believe our own selves before we can convince others of the truth.

Seeking to explain our pain to those who have no interest or desire to understand will fail because they have already made up their minds, and we will waste precious energy explaining what they have already decided not to believe.

When we explain our pain, we must not give up too easily, but we must also know when to stop.

The first half of the battle is being patient and persistent with those who are well-intentioned but, understandably, struggle to comprehend what we are describing. The other half of the battle is building a thick skin and recognizing that no one will understand us completely, and some people won’t understand us at all. And to the people who are ill-intentioned, we have nothing to prove.

It is ok if people believe that we are lazy, crazy, or lying. We know the truth. There will always be individuals in life who don’t want to understand, are unable to understand, or truly believe we are making up our pain. And this is ok.

In the midst of chronic misunderstanding, we take on the stance of Paul when he says, “But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord” (I Corinthians 4:3).

Seeking affirmation from other people cannot be the goal of explaining our pain. Those who listen to us should make it their goal to affirm our pain as real, but the goal of those of us who speak should not be to receive affirmation. I hope the difference is clear. Affirmation is wonderful, and I believe that more people should affirm us and our pain, but this should not be our main goal, because we will never receive enough affirmations to be satisfied, and too often people will respond in hurtful ways.

Even the best people with the best intentions can’t see our pain or understand it completely. The responses people give to our pain are so often clouded by sin, misunderstanding, and human limitation and shortsightedness. Their responses will feed into our own self-doubt and shame so that we are unable to see ourselves rightly.

We explain our pain that we might receive help, be known, and that our relationships might grow, but when we crave affirmation for our pain, we must know and believe the truth spoken by the Lord who examines our hearts.

And He knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows that we are in pain.  He sees and knows us when we suffer, struggle, and feel ashamed. Our mother and father, sister, brother, church, and friends may forsake us, disbelieve us, blame us, but He will receive us every single time (Psalm 27:10).

Explaining our pain to those around us must come out of right motives, or it will fail every time.

****Shout out to my wonderful reader who inspired this post! (You know who you are 😉 )

4 responses

  1. Seeking affirmation from people is dangerous no matter what, but especially when it comes to them believing and accepting your pain. It’s been hard for me to realize that even though other people may think I’m lazy, over-exaggerating, or whiny, I’m not- I’m just in pain and I have to live with it! They don’t have to live with it so they don’t know what it’s like.

  2. I’ve only had it done to me once, but it was annoying when I had someone say “at least you don’t have (fill in the blank)”. Worse, it was a family member. I don’t like minimizing my pain by comparing it to someone else’s. I don’t believe anyone should do that.

    Thank you for sharing your post at #ChronicFridayLinkup! I pinned your post to the Chronic Friday Linkup board at http://www.Pinterest.com/beingfibromom

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