How To Use Language To Describe Your Pain

March 13, 2013 Michele Rosenthal

Have you ever noticed that the more pain you feel the more isolated you become in it? Have you noticed that when you try to explain how your pain feels words just don’t seem to suffice? Do friends, families and professional practitioners zone, check out when you try to describe the pain you are now or have been in?

It’s very tough to translate your personal experience into words others can understand. There are, however, ways to make it easier.

Transforming Pain into Language

During my own trauma I didn’t use many words. I screamed mostly, long and loud. I screamed so much, in fact, that afterward when I thought about what had happened to me there were no words. There was just one long scream. This was such a problem for me that when I finally did find words, I wrote a whole chapter in my book about trauma and recovery entitled, ‘No Words.’

The crazy thing is that when I began my recovery process I desperately wanted to explain (to myself even more than anyone else) what I had been through. This lack of words held me back and brought on enormous frustration. It was as if in that wordless I was trapped in the past. I thought if I could find words I might be able to free myself.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, I was on to something. While it isn’t necessary to tell your story to heal, finding words so that you can express and communicate (to yourself as well as others) what you survived allows you to make meaning, which can be critical in the healing process.

Communicate With the Language of Pain

Last week on my radio show, I interviewed Dr. David Biro, one of my favorite colleagues because he has been both a patient and a doctor and because he is so vocal about recognizing the impact of trauma. The topic of last week’s show was ‘The Language of Pain,’ the title of Dr. Biro’s latest book.

The survivor of a bone marrow transplant for a rare blood disorder, Dr. Biro knows what it means to feel pain. During his own trauma he also learned what it means to be surrounded by a loving family, medically educated and still feel completely isolated in your experience. During our interview Dr. Biro explained that the isolation pain causes as it disconnects us from others actually increases the pain we feel. Beginning with the physical pain, the emotional pain of isolation amplifies the intensity of pain in general.

In our hour-long interview I asked Dr. Biro what tips he now offers chronic and acute pain patients that help them to find effective ways to communicate their pain. He offered three ideas:

1 – Use a scale to convey intensity: Locate your pain 1-10 (10 being the most intense).

2 – Explain specific ways the pain impacts your life: What does it make you do or not do?

3 – Use metaphors and similes: Find universal experiences to explain your individual pain. i.e. “It feels like my skin is on fire.” Or, “The pain is as angry as a raging bull.” Or, “The pain is an ocean constantly crashing in my head.”

Yes, pain disconnects you from yourself, others, language and even the rest of the world. Yes, too, you can find new and creative ways to use language to facilitate connection, which will be important in allowing you to access the courage, strength, support and information that will allow you to heal.

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APA Reference
Rosenthal, M. (2013, March 13). How To Use Language To Describe Your Pain, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 24 from

Author: Michele Rosenthal

Tatyana Vandy
June, 6 2013 at 8:27 pm

Acute pain might be mild and last just a moment, or it might be severe and last for weeks or months. In most cases, acute pain does not last longer than six months, and it disappears when the underlying cause of pain has been treated or has healed. Unrelieved acute pain, however, might lead to chronic pain.

Mark cheney
May, 9 2013 at 10:00 pm

This has been an eye opener. Yes I was bullied yet I knew they had the problems not me it did wear me down.
Then I went into the military to make up for the skills I didnt develop while in high school.
Very rude awakening I had my lieutenant commit suicide less than 80ft from me. Then I was in an MVA injury that still haunts me. I definitely experienced more bullying while in the military but I wouldnt fold for them. Then I got physically sick and they really put the screws to me and I still didnt fold. I am now hypervigilant I startle horribly easy. Very intolerant of people but I manage to keep that in check. Had a job but at 16 years corporate decided to fudge paperwork to get rid of me. I went to an airshow in 2011 I will never do that again that night I had a stress reaction that I almost pushed myself outta my bed.
. This has reaffirmed some insights I have learned over the last 20 years. Thank You

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Michele Rosenthal
May, 14 2013 at 10:52 am

@Mark -- Isn't it amazing to discover that we have insights on our own and we don't know if they're accurate.... and then we find validation in the outside world and realize we really have been the expert in ourselves all along. You know, there are lots of ways to reduce and even eliminate what you experience. For recovery options check out this page:

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