English is my second language and I was wondering if there is a proverb/idiom/phrase for this proverb/idiom in my language which directly translates to:

"Only who suffers can understand that suffering"

  • It's close, but no cigar: when you laugh, the world laughs with you, when you cry, you cry alone.
    – Dan Bron
    Jun 14, 2018 at 17:50
  • 2
    There is an idiomatic expression using blues music. I cannot recall the exact phrasing, but it is something like "you can't play the blues if you haven't had the blues".
    – epsilon
    Jun 14, 2018 at 18:30
  • @UserEpsilon: That is an on-point suggestion. The man most frequently credited with the observation is Huddie Ledbetter (aka Lead Belly), back in the 1930s or 1940s. One publication that cites him uses this wording: "It takes a man that have the blues to sing the blues."
    – Sven Yargs
    Jun 15, 2018 at 6:51

3 Answers 3


I don't think either of these fit the description either.

I complained my shoes were too tight, until I met a man with no feet


TFD walk a mile in (someone's) shoes "To spend time trying to consider or understand another person's perspectives, experiences, or motivations before making a judgment about them. I know that certain people can come across as selfish or mean-spirited, but you should try walking a mile in their shoes before you dismiss them too quickly."


learn (something) the hard way TFD

To learn or discover something through personal experience, especially that which is difficult, painful, or unpleasant.


A general saying is you had to be there:

used to say that people cannot understand something because they did not experience it or see it themselves · I know it sounds weird, but it was so funny. I guess you had to be there.

I can't think of an idiom that expresses the same thing but is specific to suffering.

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