Person 1: “Sorry, I have to cancel plans tonight. I’m not feeling very well.”
Person 2: “That’s okay. But one time, I had the flu and a cold and I still came in 5th in a 5k.”
Person 1: “Could you do _____ for me? I have a horrible stomach ache.”
Person 2: “Fine. but come on! I have horrible stomach aches every single day, and I still do stuff.”
“Ow! I just got a flu shot and it hurts sooo bad!”
“Seriously! I give myself shots, like, twice a week, and I don’t even flinch!
or, my personal favorite:
Person 1: “Ouch! My knee hurts so bad! I don’t think I can keep running.”
Person 2: “Same! But I have, like, a suuuper high pain tolerance, so I’m totally fine.”
The above conversations represent something we all know is wrong, but nearly impossible to avoid: competitive pain. While the above scenarios are made up stories, these types of thing happen all the time in the real world, and I have to say I have been on both sides of the conversation a fair number of times. Although context varies and the words used are different, one thing stays the same: Person 1 is experessing pain and asking for help. And, rather than be supportive and understanding, Person 2 comes in gearing everything towards his/herself and makes Person 1 feel badly for not being “tough” enough.
Often times, no matter how hard we try to be understanding of someone who is hurt and/or sick, we end up telling them about our own struggles instead. We act as if our pain is more “real,” more “valuable,” more “painful” than theirs. So, rather than empathize with them, ask what we can do, or provide support, we make their pain seem fake and call them an overreacting wimp.
But why do we do this? Why, the moment someone else mentions their physical or emotional struggles, do we feel the need to step in and disregard their pain, as if our own is more important? Why, rather than say “I’m sorry, how can I help?,” do we blabber on and on about how we are so much tougher? Because, technically, pain equals pain, no matter how major or minor the illness/injury may be. Sure, there is shooting pain, pinching pain, dull pain, throbbing pain, deep pain, stinging pain, burning pain, and freezing pain. But in the end, it’s all pain.
And pain is relative (and all of it sucks).
What hurts one person might not bother another. A flu shot may be unbearable for one, while others can laugh through broken bones. There really isn’t a true “pain spectrum,” because pain isn’t the same for everyone. One person might say that a broken thumb is the worst pain they’ve ever felt, while another lives every day with debilitating arthritis. But even though a broken thumb is not nearly as severe as chronic illness, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. Just because you have “been through” more sturggles than others doesn’t mean their pain, whether it be physical or emotional, hurts them any less.
So, the next time a friend, classmate, coworker, relative, or random stranger you’ve just met on the street expresses any sort of pain, stop and think. Take a momemt to think about how you could support, encourage, and help that person deal with whatever they may be feeling. Don’t start talking about your own pain and how you are so much tougher and stronger than that person. Because while it may be true, telling someone who is in pain that their pain isn’t real, or isn’t “that bad” is a lie. You don’t know how someone else is feeling, and you don’t know how their body reacts to certain things. Putting the spotlight on your own issues, even if done without realizing it, is still unhelpful and rude to the other person, because theseactions turn pain into a competition.
But being sicker or more injured doesn’t make you cooler than someone else. (It doesn’t make you less cool, either 😀 .) Having more blood drawn, going to more appointments, taking more pills, have worse test results, fighting more illnesses, and feelings sicker/in more pain than another person doesn’t make you stronger, or braver, or better than anyone else. But showing empathy, understanding, and support at a time when they need it most does. Because most of the time, you are forced to endure these procedures and the pain that comes with ilness/disease. With conditions like IBD, you often don’t get to choose how your body feels. But you aren’t forced to be there for others when they are in pain, and doing this truly shows that you are kind, compassionate, and most importantly, empathetic.
So, while we all know that flu shots aren’t expected to be as painful as broken bones, for some people, it might feel like it. You don’t know how someone else is feeling, but it shouldn’t matter. If someone is in pain, they are in pain. Pain equals pain, and pain sucks. Most importantly, you cannot feel another person’s pain. But you can, and you should, help them through it.