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Sensitive Care from Others Makes Pain Easier to Bear

by Ken Potts

Posted: June 21, 2021

Even persons suffering from severe physical trauma or illness have been shown to suffer less pain if medical treatment is accompanied by emotionally sensitive care…

Editor's Note: When searching for photos to illustrate Ken's article, rather than showing seniors as you might expect, I chose this image of two boys, suggesting as Ken does that lessons of compassion taught early can help us to be sensitive to others throughout life.

"Make it all better?"

My then 2-year-old pleaded, crawling up into my lap after her latest bout of knee scrapping.

And I did. Not that I miraculously healed her wound -- it would take some Bactine, a few Band-Aids, and time to do that. I just held her close, rocked back and forth a bit, whispered a word of comfort and wiped the tears from her face. That was enough.

Actually, there is good clinical research that suggests that such emotional "medicine" plays a large part in our recovering from any wounds -- physical, emotional, spiritual. We feel less pain when someone is there to speak a caring word, hold our hand, and wipe away our tears.

Even persons suffering from severe physical trauma or illness have been shown to suffer less pain if medical treatment is accompanied by such emotionally sensitive care.

Intentionally or unintentionally, we parents teach our children this.

My daughter learned "make it all better" because I've used these words as I've tried to comfort her in her various daily mishaps and crises. Of course, as she got older she learned that not even Dad can really make it all better.

In fact, we parents often can't make things much better at all. We can, though, stand by our children's sides and continue to offer them the caring that can make life hurt a little less.

We can also do that for each other.

Somehow we adults seem to have lost track of that basic truth. Those of us who were fortunate enough learned it as children while sitting on the laps of our own parents. And most of us have tried to pass it on to our own children.

Yet we so seldom give such caring to the men and women we encounter on a daily basis in our "grown?up" lives.

One of my best friends massages my shoulders when he senses my frustration or anxiety.

My youngest sister will give me a hug and whisper an "I love you" when she sees me troubled or in pain. My oldest daughter will suggest "let me drive, Dad ..." when she senses I'm particularly tired.

I used to resist such care taking. I ought to be able to take care of myself.

Then I realized I had been teaching my children -- and my counseling clients -- just the opposite. So I started listening to myself, and letting other people comfort me every now and then.

I can't say I have fewer problems. Or even that I solve them any more easily.

I simply hurt a little less when I let the people who care about me do just that -- care. Oh, I know, it won't really 'make it all better.' But, friends, it sure does make it a bit better.

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Dr. Ken Potts is on the staff of SamaraCare Counseling Center in Naperville and Downers Grove, Illinois.

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Posted: June 21, 2021

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