Your Pain is NOT Your Fault

It has taken me a long time to realize that the two statements that I want to hear the most when I’m in pain are also the hardest for people to say. As someone whose life has been shaped to a great degree by pain for the past three years, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on how I personally relate to and cope with my own pain. I’ve also had a great deal of experience with how other people (from family members to strangers to teachers) react to my pain.

Here are the two statements that I’ve wanted to hear and why I think it is so hard for people to say these words:

#1 “It’s going to be okay”

I am not naïve enough to think that at some point in my life, if I play my cards right, everything will be roses. I’m not asking for false hope. The reassurance that I’m looking for from others is more of the “You can do it. No matter what happens, we’ll find a way to make it okay. You are okay.” To me, that’s what “it’s going to be okay,” really means when spoken in a loving manner.

Even though this is what I want to hear from others, I am just learning that I can be the one to offer this comfort too. I always thought that this sort of sage statement could only come from those older than me and with more substance and faith. But, I realize now that when I think about others and some of the situations they are struggling with, I do believe these words are true, and I shouldn’t keep that to myself. As I’ve navigated through this discovery, I understand why these words are hard. At first glance, on the surface, it seems like if you say this and things don’t go well then you were wrong. What I’ve learned is that, “It’s going to be okay,” is not a promise of ease for the future. Instead, it is comfort for the present.

#2 “It’s not your fault”

This phrase stands out for me because I used to feel achingly responsible for my pain. Also, people too often have treated me like I am guilty of making a bad choice at some point that led to this. The tough lesson that I have learned here is that we all want to feel in control of our lives. To believe that I haven’t caused my pain (or had some choice in the matter) is in a sense to relinquish this control.

This realization is also scary to other people. I will say it again: we want to believe that we are in control of our lives. So, for you to believe that my pain is outside of my control, you might have to believe that you could experience pain like this and not be able to predict its outcome. That is a scary prospect. I get that and so it makes more sense to me why people react the way they do to pain sufferers. I’ve seen this most commonly in 2 ways: people become a problem solver (the, “have you tried                    ” approach) or they pretend your pain doesn’t exist (the denial and/or ignore it and it will go away approach).

The words, “it’s not your fault,” to me, mean an acknowledgement of the honest place of suffering that someone in pain experiences. To sit with somebody in pain and hold space for that person; to hug him or to talk about how she experiences the pain; to ask about when it is the worst and what helps it ease up a bit. These are all ways to say, “I see you. I am here for you. It’s not your fault.”

Lastly, the part that I like the most about this statement is how it empowers the person in pain to take control of the situation. Hear me out on this. The idea is to create agency (a belief in self to change the situation) without blame. Basically, “it’s not your fault, but there may be things that you can do to make it better.” The idea is that removing blame doesn’t give us a magical power to get rid of our pain, but what it does do is give us the power to experiment with new behaviors and attitudes. It gives us the power to try potential solutions without being judged for the outcome. It is hard, I know, but this belief that if we get everything ‘right’ in our life we can avoid pain is simply not true. Your pain is not your fault.

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