Watching someone we care about deal with pain caused by a chronic or life-limiting illness is one of the most difficult things we will ever have to do. Understanding how to properly communicate with them in a sensitive and effective manner is difficult. Your intentions may be good but they may be taken the wrong way. Here are some key points to remember when communicating with someone in pain.
Remember it is not your pain
When you take it upon yourself to offer your advice to someone about managing pain levels, it’s as if you are saying, “I know your body better than you do and I know what’s best.” No matter how much you care about that person or what kind of knowledge you may have, you have not walked in that person’s shoes. You do not know what it feels like to be a victim of an individual’s pain. When you are dealing with someone else’s chronic pain, remember that the pain belongs to that individual. A person who deals with pain on a daily basis is the only one who really knows that pain.
Don’t offer solutions.
When someone struggles with chronic pain, you need to let them express their pain without instantly trying to give them solutions. Living with chronic pain is a crushing burden and a never-ending battle. Recognize that there are times when a person in pain simply needs to say, “I’m hurting.” Give them a moment to take a break and let down their guard until they are ready to take up the fight again
Ask what a person has already tried before when looking for strategies.
If someone asks you for help, don’t insult them by inundating them with ideas that have been tried before. Find out what they are doing and what alternatives failed in the past. For example, I have stomach issues. When someone tells me to use Probiotics, I get aggravated because I’ve been there, done that. I know all about them and they didn’t work for me. You need to empathize with friends and recognize the fact that they’ve been trying to deal with their pain. When they reach out for help, they’re looking for new solutions. Once you’ve known where they’ve already been, you can help them to find their way to where they’re going in the battle against chronic pain.
You can’t force a person to be healthy.
When you try and tell people what to do to handle their pain, it’s as if you’re suggesting that they can control it and they’re to blame for the situation. Chronic pain is a demon that no one wants to face. The last thing you want to do is make a person feel like he or she is a failure because chronic pain is a struggle. In our society, we look at strong, healthy people as the ideal, while those who are ill or unhealthy in some way as in the wrong. We set high standards and want everyone to fit inside the same box. When someone doesn’t conform because they’re bodies are failing them in some way, our first instinct is to try and fix it.
When you try to “fix” someone, you suggest that a chronic person is broken and does not meet the expectations of society. It’s hard enough to deal with a body that is wracked with pain. You’re only adding insult to injury when you make a person feel like a failure because of an illness or chronic condition. You need to be a part of the solution for your friend, not a part of the problem.
Be accepting of them.
The most important thing you can do is accept your friend or loved one and try to understand what it means to face day in and day out with pain as a constant companion. Instead of trying to arm your friend with strategies to deal with the pain, offer a shoulder to lean on and a listening ear. Be a support system that is unfailing. When your friend isn’t strong enough to deal with the pain, you can help that person back up. Offer suggestions only when asked. Otherwise, you just need to be there and be a friend.