I Reject the Mantra that ‘Pain Is Weakness Leaving the Body’

Kellie McRae avatar

by Kellie McRae |

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childhood abuse, SLE



It’s printed on T-shirts. It’s something we teach little boys when they fall and get the first scrape that brings tears to their eyes. It’s certainly something you learn if you join the military. I’m referring to the saying, “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” Well, I must have the weakest little body ever because pain is always present, and if I subscribe to this theory, my body is continually doing its best to eliminate weakness.

This saying has been on my mind a lot lately. I left the military with medical issues, and for years, I sucked it up. I didn’t complain. I dismissed my body because I had learned that to think of pain as a sign of weakness. I believe now that this is the dumbest saying ever! It encourages us to make excuses not to take care of ourselves. If we complain, we are weak and unable to compete, and then we are set aside. Women are considered dramatic if we attend the doctor often, leaving a stigma that we are not only weak but mentally incapable of dealing with life as well. Men, in particular, are taught this from a very young age.

I am guilty of teaching this to my son. I recall telling him when he was a kid, that if it isn’t bleeding or falling off, you will be fine. Then I would add, if it’s falling off because you did something silly, we won’t go to the doctor, I’ll just get the duct tape. If you took a poll, I think you would find that men do not visit the doctor as frequently as women do, even when they have pain. While lupus affects women at a higher rate, men also get lupus. I believe there are many men out there who are undiagnosed, but they haven’t consulted a doctor about their symptoms.

We equate joint pain with age and digestive problems as merely a sensitive stomach or something we ate. We associate fatigue with being too busy. These are symptoms of lupus. Instead of going to the doctor, we self-diagnose. And even when we receive a diagnosis, we still fight our bodies to keep pushing as hard as before because we don’t want to be perceived as weak.

Pain is not weakness leaving the body; it’s a signal that something is wrong in the body. The only time this saying is not insane is if you have been working out at the gym and you have “normal” muscle soreness. Sadly, many of us have taken this saying from a T-shirt and made it a mantra for any type of pain.

By dismissing your pain, you are blatantly disregarding your health and well-being. If you have unexplained pain, your body is signaling to you to pay attention. Chronic pain should not be ignored or equated with being weak; we should not be ashamed that we experience pain. Lupus has had me curled up in a ball in the ER on more occasions than I care to speak about, has had me lying in bed barely able to move in tears and sometimes, it has hurt to cry. But I need to remember that pain and express my rejection of the view that it is the same as being weak. To admit that there is something wrong and to seek help are signs of strength. Learn to listen to your body; it wants to be happy and healthy. If you ignore its signals and make excuses you are not making things better; you are allowing the problem to continue unchecked which could cause it to worsen. Pain is your body saying “Hey! Something is wrong.” It has nothing to do with being weak.


Note: Lupus News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Lupus News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to lupus.


Ilya Glazunov avatar

Ilya Glazunov

I do not think you have ever performed at a high physical level based on your article here. “Pain is weakness leaving the body” is a mental rhetoric to push harder run further jump higher etc. Many athletes have their own take on this. Emotional pain, physical injury, and or mental illness; are not examples of weakness leaving the body.

Kellie McRae avatar

Kellie McRae

Hello Ilya, I am not sure if your "you" is in general or personal. If it's personal, this article is certainly not indicative of my physical wins or loses so those were details not shared but the point of the article is not my personal physical feats but the point of the article is that we should stop telling ourselves to ignore our natural protection mechanisms when it comes to our health. Pain should never make people think they are weak for experiencing it, we can surely agree on that, it's a terrible thing to teach people. Thank you for your thoughts, I wish you love and light.

Jesse Harshbarger avatar

Jesse Harshbarger

I concur with Ilya's entire comment. And, reading your reply to Ilya's comment, it seems you still fail to understand it. Maybe read it again? The aforementioned phrase is meant as an encouragement to embrace the grind and push yourself to accomplish.

Kellie McRae avatar

Kellie McRae

Hi Jesse, I fully understood the comments. I was in the military and when you are in pain, any pain, you are looked at as weak. Many military members do not go to the doctor during their tours because they are taught to push through it regardless of what the foundation of the pain. If this is encouraging to some, great but it is something that has caused me to ignore things in my body. I have told myself it was me not having the right mindset. In my opinion, pain is not weakness leaving the body, it's your body letting you know you are taking it to places that are uncomfortable. If those places are due to you exercising or being athletic, we see them ignore their injuries all the time. Why? Because they too have been taught to push through no matter what. I'm sure athletes who ignored injuries that eventually ended their careers wish that they had taken the time to honor that pain instead of looking at it as a weakness. There is nothing wrong with sheer determination but to ignore our pain because we bought into it being a sign of weakness is not something I choose to do. Muscle soreness or being winded and pushing yourself to finish the race is not what this article has ever been about.


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