10 Things to Say–and Avoid–When a Loved One’s in Pain

by Vicki Rackner MD

Have you ever wondered what to say to your aging parents or partner or child in pain?

Words are powerful medicine that can help–or harm. Words and actions that say, “You are not alone. I’m here.” are helpful. Words that minimize or negate the experience of the person in pain make things worse.

Here are some caregiver  “pain scripts”–words to say and things to avoid for common situations.

Situation: You don’t know what to say.

Harmful: Avoid the person in pain.

Helpful: “I don’t know what to say.”

Situation: The person in pain has a bad day.

Harmful: “I know just how you feel.”

Helpful: “I’m here and we’ll get through this together.”

Situation: Your mother tells you a procedure hurt.

Harmful: “It’s not that bad. I had it myself.”

Helpful: “You were very brave.”

Situation: The doctor cannot explain the source of the pain.

Harmful: “See, it’s all in your head.”

Helpful: “That must be frustrating.”

Situation: Your dad wants to leave your child’s birthday party early because his back is acting up.

Harmful: “You look fine to me.”

Helpful: “Sounds like you’re making a good choice.”

The helpful words and actions say, “You’re not alone.  I’m here and we’ll get through this together.”  Your major job is just is to listen and be able to say, “I get what this pain is like for you.” You don’t have to fix things to make things better; you’re best off leaving the fixing to the doctor.  You can help just by being there.

These ideas work whether your loved one has physical or emotional or even financial pain.

Remember the ABC’s of the Connection Prescription: Turn your ATTENTION to the person in pain with the BELIEF you can make a positive difference with a CARING HUMAN CONNECTION.

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