Supporting the ones you love who have chronic pain
September 16, 2020
Chronic pain is pain that lasts more than six months despite treating the underlying injury or condition if one exists. The lack of reprieve from pain can be exasperating and exhausting for the one suffering from the pain and loved ones.
If you are a family member or loved one of someone suffering from chronic pain, you may feel stress, frustration, and even anger. These are common emotions when dealing with the significant impact of chronic pain. However, supporting someone with chronic pain is extremely important. If you have never experienced anything similar yourself, you may have difficulty understanding the complexity of it.
People with chronic pain tend to communicate differently with those who are well. They may be reluctant or unable to talk about their pain and their feelings. They may tell you they are fine when they are not, and it may simply be that they don’t have the right words to describe how they feel. This can lead to a breakdown in communication.
Understanding someone with chronic pain
First, it’s crucial to let go of some common misconceptions about what chronic pain actually is. The concept of pain has undergone considerable revision in recent decades. While once thought of in purely physical terms, we now know that it is made up of physical, psychological, and neurological factors. But many people still treat those suffering from pain as though it’s only a sign of physical injury.
Pain sufferers may be met with disbelief if they do not have a visible injury. We now realize that the involvement of neurological factors explains why pain can occur in the absence of external causes. Oftentimes, when pain persists, part of that pain turns into anxiety and depression.
Whether physical or emotional, pain is very difficult to convey in language, making it even harder to understand what the pain sufferer is experiencing. So to understand a person in pain, you have to remember that pain is a highly complex and individual thing. Pain is different for everybody, depending on personality and past experiences. You will never truly understand another person’s pain, but you can do your best to try.
Listen to what is said…and what isn’t
Truly listening is one of the most helpful things you can do for a person in pain. To be a good listener, you must let go of any preconceived notions or assumptions. Listening also involves more than just hearing what is being said. You may need to read between the lines and interpret unspoken non-verbal cues. Pay attention to how they are saying something as much as what they are saying.
While listening, look for signs of severe or inadequately controlled pain, including sweating, irritability, sleep disturbances, restlessness, difficulty concentrating, decreased activity, and suicidal thoughts. Many chronic pain sufferers are so accustomed to these negative feelings they do not recognize their significance.
Believe what you hear and see
Unfortunately, those suffering from pain are sometimes not believed when they do open up about their pain. There are many reasons for this, including a myth that chronic pain sufferers exaggerate their pain in order to gain sympathy or avoid responsibilities. Research has shown that exaggerating pain to get sympathy is very rare. You love the person who is in pain, so make sure you have an open mind about what they are telling you and believe what they say.
Learn more about pain and symptoms
Every person with chronic pain has a unique, individual experience. People that live with chronic pain do not always show any visible symptoms, so it is helpful to be knowledgeable about their condition. If they are having treatments done, look those up as well. The Southside Pain Specialists website provides a wealth of information about pain conditions, treatment options, and more.
Understand the pain scale
The pain scale is a tool we use to measure and describe the intensity of the pain an individual feels at any given moment. This includes values from 1 to 10 to describe levels of pain. A rating of 1 indicates “free of pain and feeling wonderful,” while a rating of 10 indicates the “most horrible pain ever experienced.” If you are familiar with the pain scale, it can be a useful, objective tool at home in identifying and understanding pain levels.
Respect physical limitations
As a support person or caregiver, there is no way for you to know how the pain sufferer feels. You must believe them when they say they need a break or a day off. It is important to respect their physical capabilities. When the person in chronic pain says that they need to lie down, sit down, or take medication immediately, listen to them without judgment. Also, understand that just because the individual with chronic pain was able to walk around the neighborhood yesterday does not mean they can do it again today.
Continue to include them
Don’t ever give up on someone with chronic pain. Even if they have canceled the last three times you invited them to an event or social engagement, invite them again. They may feel up to going next time. Chronic pain can be very isolating, and sometimes just being asked or invited is the most important thing.
Watch out for depression symptoms
Chronic pain is often accompanied by secondary depression. Depression can lead to the individual hiding their pain, masking their emotions, and isolating themselves. Be sure to discuss any depression symptoms you notice and offer love, support, and understanding. Gently suggest that they bring it up to their doctor, or if you are going to the next appointment, ask for permission to bring it up on their behalf.
Chronic pain is very difficult to deal with for the one going through it and for the ones who love that person. While most people mean well, being smart about how you help and how you provide support is very important. Sometimes listening well, providing encouragement, and never giving up can make all the difference in the world.