Don’t Tell Me How I Feel

Photo by  Alex Holyoake  on  Unsplash

There is this phenomenon wherein Person A tells Person B what Person B is feeling. For instance:

“I need to use the restroom.”

“Sit down, Earl. You don’t need to use the restroom.”

This was a common conversation between my 90-year-old grandparents. It was both highly entertaining and baffling. How could my grandmother possibly know whether or not my grandfather needed to use the restroom? She couldn’t! And yet she continued to insist that she knew how he felt.

This same phenomenon occurred when I counseled couples. Spouse A always knew what Spouse B was feeling. “You hate when I do this…. You never loved me….”

So, you can see where this is going, yes? The same phenomenon happens with chronic pain sufferers. Caretakers, family, friends, doctors, acquaintances, and complete strangers will decide they know how you are feeling. This can often take the form of dismissing your pain, dismissing your boundaries, and just, well, being dismissive.

“The pain can’t be that bad.”

“You’re just making it up.”

“Oh, come on! I can’t possibly be hurting you!”

“You can’t be sick. You don’t look sick!”

There is a danger to people telling you how you feel. You are more likely to accept their words as truth, to doubt yourself, and to ignore the pain warnings, ultimately leading to self-shame and severe pain later on. If someone you know dismisses your pain and tries to tell you how you feel, don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself. A polite, but firm: “Don’t tell me how I feel,” will usually bring awareness to the situation, and often to the absurdity of it.

If you prefer to avoid confrontation, then the easiest thing to do is to walk away. That’s it! Get to your feet, turn around, and walk away. No words needed. Your actions will speak loud enough. This also has the further effect of protecting you by removing you from the situation.

Caretakers, family members, friends…if you tend to tell your loved ones how they feel, don’t do it. You want them to feel better. You want their pain to be less sensitive. Unfortunately, wanting something and saying it repeatedly does not change reality. (If it did, my clients would be happily paying me a million dollars per session and I would be ready to retire!) The most helpful thing you can do in this situation is to respect your loved ones’ reality and acknowledge their pain. Hugs are always nice too.