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When Words of Encouragement Discourage


I'm lying

It is with a very heavy heart that I dedicate this post to my Uncle Fran, a man who lived his life in the most Christian way possible, who lived it to the fullest, who laughed often, loved much and was taken much too soon.

I spent the past two weeks in doctor’s offices.  I had about 8 appointments, including 4 dental visits in the past two weeks.  My whole body is tense and in pain, my mouth is throbbing and pain wise, I am at the end of my rope.  In addition to dealing with the dental stuff (turns out narcotics destroy your teeth, as does weight loss, but that is a whole other post), and the whiplash-from-hell that will not only not get better, but it keeps getting worse, I am also grieving the loss of someone very close to me, my Uncle Fran.  I can tell you, never having experienced the loss of someone close to me who died so young and unexpected, that the grief has made the pain even more unbearable.

In any case, when I was at one of my MANY doctor appointments this week, I was having my vitals checked for the 10th time this month and the nurse, who is a very sweet woman, was giving me what I am sure she thought were words of encouragement and it brought to mind an idea for this post.

I am sure many of you in chronic pain have been in a similar position:

I was sitting there, overly-emotional but pretending to be strong and acting as if the intense pain, grief, pending divorce and financial issues (including an overdue bill they just had me pay the minimum on that I couldn’t afford) were no big deal, when the nurse decides to give me a “pep talk.”  She proceeded to tell me that I just “need to be strong” and that “this will pass” and that “one day I will realize that I am stronger for this.”  She also told me how she works three jobs and how I need to just work really hard and just keep working to get my mind off things and get my bills straight and how she is exhausted but she keeps working and works out to keep her health and I just need to keep working out to keep the weight loss up and if she can do it so can I.  The more she is speaking the more I can feel my blood pressure rising, the tears, and the lump rising in my throat.

I wanted to scream- “you have no idea what my life is like, you don’t know what I ‘need to do’ or what will make me stronger.”  I tried to explain that I see a pain management specialist because I live with pain that interrupts my life and that, for that reason, working is difficult, but her words of encouragement were just getting stronger and I figured it was easier to shut up.  I find in cases where people are giving you these pep talks, it’s just easier to tune them out.

The bottom line was, those words that were supposed to encourage me to keep going, be strong and work hard, made me feel like an even bigger failure. Most people see getting past things, like injury, divorce, grief, etc. as “buck up and work through it.”  For someone who lives with chronic, debilitating pain that affects their quality of life, this is difficult to do.  Her good-hearted attempt to make me feel better only brought to light my limited abilities to take care of myself and get past what seems like an ever-growing hurdle.

Maybe it is a testament to my strength that I cover the pain well enough that people think I can handle all that, for that I am glad.  But, one wonderful reader also pointed out that those who make these comments see a little of us in themselves.  This woman had a health problem, since resolved.  I’m sure she looks at me and thinks, I don’t every want to be like her, so maybe a pep talk will get her back on track.  If you see yourself in me, in my situation, in all likelihood, it probably scares the shit out of you.  If the situation were reversed I might give a “buck up” pep talk too.

I think people see someone in pain, going through a difficult time and want to help, but sometimes “pep talks” are anything but.  I have had many of these in the past few years where people tell me what I “need to do” to get better and I have learned to ignore them.  I appreciate when anyone takes the time to try to encourage me, I just wish people would realize (especially those who work in an office where every patient is in pain) that those words need to be chosen carefully because if not, those words of encouragement can easily discourage.

Has this ever happened to you?

Photo courtesy of Taylor Dawn Fortune via Compfight

When Words of Encouragement Discourage

Tracy Rydzy MSW, LSW

My name is Tracy and I am a licensed social worker. I was working as a Social Worker, when an emergency spinal surgery 2 years ago changed my life and my career. I live with chronic pain and, as a result, I have taken my social work and writing skills, and made them into this blog. This blog is a humorous, informative, no-holds barred honest look at life with chronic pain, depression and disability.”

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APA Reference
Rydzy MSW, T. (2013). When Words of Encouragement Discourage. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 29 Sep 2013
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