Why Do People Feel The Need To Make "Pain Comparisons”
artwork by Simona De Leo
For many people living with chronic pain, one of the most frustrating things is people’s tendency to make pain comparisons. You might find yourself wondering, ‘what exactly is a pain comparison’? This is when, upon hearing of your struggle, someone feels compelled to compare their own aches and pains with yours.
Why do people feel compelled to do this? There are a few possibilities to explore.
They don’t understand chronic pain
In many cases people do this simply because they don’t understand chronic pain. When they hear that you are living with fibromyalgia or migraines or arthritis, in their minds they think of their own experiences with muscle pain or headaches.
They make this connection without understanding what chronic pain is and how debilitating it can be.
It’s the only way they can relate to your pain
In other cases, people might make pain comparisons because it is the only way they can relate to your pain. Instead of a simple “I’m sorry to hear that” or “that must be difficult” they try to find a way to relate. The simplest path is to talk about their own experiences with pain.
They don’t know what else to say
Life with chronic pain can be incredibly difficult. When someone hears that you are living with such a large burden they might fumble for the right words. So they fill in the silence with comparisons to their own pain. While it might seem offensive to you, it’s possible they don’t know what else to say.
How to handle pain comparisons
Each person living with chronic pain will deal with these uncomfortable interactions in their own way. A few helpful tips to keep in mind:
Don’t assume that the person is trying to minimize your pain, chances are they just don’t understand
These are great opportunities to educate others about your disorder
When someone compares their own pain comparison with yours, model appropriate language by saying what you would like to hear from them (things like “that must have been very difficult”)
While you might feel defensive or even upset, try to use the moment to your advantage
Many people struggle to find the right way to connect with you about your pain so they might unwittingly jump to making comparisons to their own. While they probably have no idea what pain like yours feels like, it’s all they know. Don’t let pain comparisons complicate your relationships or friendships.
If you or someone you love is living with chronic pain, check us out at Flowly for more information and support. You are not in it alone.