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You Cannot Reason a Person Out of Pain: Lessons from a Child

This weekend I learned something that I already knew:  If a person is in pain simple words don’t take the pain away.

The incident in question is fairly common around my house.    The children are engaged in rough housing and suddenly one of the younger boys gets hurt.  Now the oldest child- almost always the direct cause- steps in and shouts, “Soooorrrry!  I said I’m sooooorrry!”  The louder the other boy cries the more insistent and argumentative the older one becomes, “SOOOOORRRRYY!”

By this point a parent is involved, sorting out the various assertions, triaging the bodies, etc.  Again, we must explain to the oldest that there is no sense getting mad that your apology isn’t being accepted since the other is still in pain and saying your sorry doesn’t make the pain go away.  “I know,” he says curtly, only to replay the event an hour later.

I think there are a lot of people on the Internet on both sides of this anecdote.  Some people are trying to talk people out of their pain.  Some people are in pain talking as though they are not.  Of course, I here refer mainly to psychological pain rather than physical pain, but I think the principle still holds.  Words won’t take away psychological pain just as they don’t stop physical pain.

The principle raises all sorts of interesting scenarios.  What about people whose pain was caused by words?  What about people who perpetuate their pain by cultivating a thought life which feeds a vicious cycle of self-pity?  Clearly, ‘words’ are more effective after the wound has been tended to.  For a cut you slap a bandaid on it and wait a few minutes.  If the wound is in the mind and heart what do you have, then?  Do you slap ‘time’ on it?   It would seem that at least in some cases, ‘words’ are the only help (at least to a degree), if there is to be help at all.

Various readers will see this post and think I’m talking about them.   Perhaps.  But I am speaking from my own experience of ‘psychological pain.’  I don’t know how an outsider heals such a wound but I do know that trying to talk me out of it is the wrong approach.  You may as well expect soothing words to set a broken bone… and are the words always soothing?

It seems to me like some approach the scenario by aiming to make one feel guilty for the pain that they are in- as though that alone will make the pain go away.

A lesson for the wise, distilled for me into usuable form by a child.

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