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The Subtle Difference Between Saying “Think Positive” and “Stay Positive” to Someone with Chronic Pain

The Subtle Difference Between Saying “Think Positive” and “Stay Positive” to Someone with Chronic Pain |

I don’t know about you but for me, there is a difference when someone tells me to ‘think positive’ as opposed to ‘stay positive’. The former implies an undermining of suffering, while the latter tells me that you’re on my team. Perhaps I have a case of word oversensitivity, but I’ll go ahead and tell you more.

The Evolution of Thought When in Pain

When I’m in the grips of pain, all I want is freedom from it. When you suffer from pain over a prolonged period, the idea of freedom evolves along with it. Perhaps it began with “I need some painkillers”, to “I need surgery”, to finally become “I want to die”. Every action is a compromise with yourself. Another keyword difference here is “I want” versus “I wish” to die. I have no desire for death, but at this point it seems like a better option than suffering. If there’s a hell, might as well get on with it.

Encouragement to Stay on Course

When you ask me to stay positive, it almost feels like you’re a teammate who’s reminding me to stay focussed. To keep my eyes on the ‘lifetime’ destination, and to stay on course. There is a subtle acknowledgement that you believe in my pain, and that you’re encouraging me to remain positive despite it. “Stay, don’t go” versus “You’re being negative which isn’t good. Think better thoughts”.

Belief in someone else’s pain is very important; it provides them with a sense of relief because it acknowledges the reality of it. It’s not in their heads, it really is that bad. You can only go about solving a problem when you realise that it exists, and isn’t a fiction of imagination.

Beyond Words

Most people don’t mean you harm when they send their regards. They may not know how to respond because they’ve never had to go through anything like it, and therefore are unable to relate. Perhaps this word difference doesn’t mean anything to you – maybe they both invoke anger or sadness, or you like using them interchangeably.

But my intention for today is simply to bring about an awareness that what you say has power; it can lift a person up, or cut pretty deep. And perhaps more than what you say, how you say it and where it’s coming from matters most at the end of the day. So if you’re trying to comfort a friend for whatever reason and don’t know what to say, you can’t go too wrong with a sprinkle of empathy and sincerity.

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    For More Insight:

  1. Why Phrases Like ‘Stay Positive’ Don’t Help My Life With Chronic Illness (article on The Mighty):
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I don’t know about you but for me, there is a subtle difference. 'Stay, don’t go' versus 'You’re being negative which isn’t good. Think better thoughts'. Click to read or pin to save for later. |  | #chronicpain #chronicillness #spoonie #spoonieproblems #chroniclife #staypositive #thinkpositive #positivethinking #society #humanity #awareness #wordsmatter #positivethoughts

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Katie Clark
May 1, 2021 21:26

I can feel so helpless when I have a friend who is truly suffering. I don’t know what to do or say. But, I do feel that just being there, checking in, letting them know that they are not forgotten. It’s hard because they have to get through it on their own, but we can be there letting them know that we are witnessing what they’re going through and that we care ever so much.

November 4, 2017 17:45

Yes! I feel like “think positive” is so often used in mainstream media and by people who aren’t close to me within a “think positive and you’ll improve” kind of way. As though it’s a mindset keeping people ill rather than physical problems with our bodies. I’ve not seen “stay positive” used before, but I much prefer it to “think positive” for the reasons you’ve given. Xx

Tania | When Tania Talks

November 3, 2017 04:26

Not sure I like either. Because I can’t stay positive. I have bad days and I am aware on bad days my thoughts are not positive at all. On those days I have to try to just control those thoughts I guess. Or distract myself. But I certainly don’t like ‘think positive’ like if I just thought more positive that would just resolve all my problems. It is funny in a sense. I don’t like it when people tell me to think positive or Be positive but I do a lot of things to try and help myself stay that way myself. And to boost my mood. I am well aware it helps with the pain and my negative thoughts are spurred by high pain. Just don’t like people telling me to, because it isn’t as simple as they think. Especially with major depressive disorder. My brain doesn’t really go positive first, sort of have to steer it that way!

Emma England
October 31, 2017 19:39

This is so true. There’s a massive difference between “think positive” and “stay positive.” Glad you picked up on (and wrote about!) how a subtle change in the way we say things can make such a big difference. You hit the nail on the head when you say how belief in someone’s pain is so important. It really does bring such relief. Thanks for writing this ?

October 30, 2017 21:42

You taught me something important. I have RA and will now encourage my fellow autoimmune friends the way you so eloquently suggested. Stay positive has a warmer, more comforting vibe. Thanks for writing this post!

October 29, 2017 21:26

I agree with you. The difference of how you say it means everything. I also try to remember that they don’t realize how it sounds and that I’m probably guilty of the same thing sometimes. This is a great post. I hope it will help others understand the difference.

October 30, 2017 11:16

Agreed, great post as it does highlight ignorance (whether intentional or not) and how sometimes we need to think about why people say the things they do too (I think sometimes it’s said because people don’t know what else to say, feel they need to say something and this ends up coming out…) x