When is Pain Good?

In the physical fitness arena, the phrase “No pain, no gain,” is quite common. For your emotional “fitness” in relationships and boundary setting, “No pain, no gain” is also a necessary practice.

People who repeatedly allow themselves to be hurt or harmed by others, physically or emotionally, have difficulty setting boundaries. They bring a continual flow of harm into their lives due to not setting boundaries, or not making clear what is acceptable and what is not acceptable behavior mainly due to a fear of the other person’s response. They fear the other person’s anger or they even fear hurting the other person’s feelings. Often, the boundaryless person fears hurting the controlling person because of an “over-identification with loss.” He or she hasn’t dealt with their own personal losses, especially those caused by the harmful relationship, so there is an unrealistic, over-emotional response to the thought of hurting the other person. It is a tragic thing to see destruction rule throughout a person’s whole life when restoration and abundance is attainable — all because he or she fears boundary setting will hurt the other person’s feelings. In such cases, pain is a good thing!

First, realize that it is possible to hurt someone’s feelings by “doing what needs to be done” to be responsible with your gift of life.

I’ve referred before to the Boundaries book by Cloud and Townsend when discussing relationship issues of this type. You do what you need to do to be responsible with the gift of your life though it may hurt the other person’s feelings. This is not a matter of being inconsiderate. You think through and evaluate how the boundary will likely hurt the other person’s feelings; that’s being empathetic and “taking into account” the other person’s feelings. But you still set the boundaries to stop the harm to your life; otherwise, you are being irresponsible to the gift of your own life. The other person will likely insult you, saying that you are cruel or unforgiving. To purposely hurt someone’s feelings without giving any consideration to the fact that the person will hurt would be wrong (Keep in mind this is exactly what the controlling person is doing when violating your boundaries.), but it is also wrong to not set the boundaries necessary for you to fulfill your God-given destiny with the precious gift of your own life!

In boundary setting, we must recognize there is a clear difference between hurt and harm!

Here is the most wonderfully wise example provided by Cloud and Townsend, pp. 93-94, of the difference between hurt and harm:

When a dentist drilled into your tooth to remove a cavity, did it hurt you? Yes. Did he harm you? No, he improved your health and life. Hurt and harm are different. Did the sugar that gave you the cavity hurt? No, it was enjoyable. Did the sugar harm you? Yes.

Things [such as boundary setting] can hurt a person but not harm them. It is actually good and healthy for the controlling person. On the other hand, things that feel good can be very harmful. (1)

In Scripture, Jesus refers to this as the broad and narrow gate to life principle. The broad gate is the easiest one to go through but it is always the path to sure destruction. You do not avoid setting boundaries because someone responds with hurt or anger. Setting boundaries is crucial to living a purpose-filled life.


No one likes to be made aware of their faults, but a wise person, a loving person learns from it.

Proverbs of the wise refer to this, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful (Pr. 27:6).” A friend will “wound” a person he or she loves or cares about when it is necessary for healing and restoration-just like the dentist. On the opposite side, the harmful person pretending that the “pleasantness” —  the easier route of allowing him or her to violate the boundaries of your life — should continue is just like deceitful kisses of an enemy; the seemingly pleasant actions truly hide the destructive purposes and results of those actions. God also urges that we “speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15).” For you to continue to allow the harm, to not to set boundaries and restore a daily, progressive pattern of wellness to your life is to not speak the truth, to not act in love. Avoiding the truth of the situation is possibly just as deceitful to yourself as the other person’s actions — as those “kisses of an enemy” are toward you.

Like a good dentist removing a cavity or a quality surgeon removing a cancer, pain can be a positive thing when it is a temporary step to a restored life!

Yes, pain can be good when it is a step in the process of your restoration. Keep in mind the temporary pain you cause the controlling person or yourself in the process is minute in contrast to the never-ending pain of a destructive, boundaryless life. I’m going to end with this quote from p. 95:“

We need to evaluate the pain our confrontation causes other people. We need to see how this hurt is helpful to others and sometimes the best thing we can do for them and the relationship. We need to evaluate the pain in a positive light.” (1)

(1) Boundaries: When to Say, “Yes,” When to Say, “No,” to Take Control of Your Life by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. ISBN # is 0-310-24745-4.

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