Top 10 Messages to Say and Avoid

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

Here are some pain scripts 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: “Tell me more.”

Situation: Your sister tells you a procedure hurt.

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

Helpful: “Your courage is inspiring.”

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.”

Your major job is just 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.

#*$&^%!:  Why Even Proper People in Pain Swear

Have you ever wondered why you swear when you stub your toe or smash your finger in the car door?  It’s the same reason your cat yelps when you step on her tail.  Emotionally charged vocalizations offer pain relief.

Your brain has an amazing ability to regulate your conscious experience of pain.  In a life-or-death situation, you don’t feel pain.  The fight-or-flight response sprinkles your spinal cord with your body’s own pain-relieving molecules so you can run away from the saber-tooth tiger after he took a piece of your thigh.

Shouted forbidden words activate the fight-or-flight response and trigger the release of pain-blocking substances.  If your kids are around you may resort to a whispered, “Oh, fudge!” It’s just not the same; neutral words don’t activate the fight-or-flight response.

Incidentally, the presence of two language centers in the brain explains why people in later stages of dementia swear.  The neutral words stored in the thinking brain’s language center are lost earlier than the forbidden words stored in the language center in the feeling brain.  

© 2015. Vicki Rackner MD.  All rights reserved.