People with chronic pain often say that their partner, family, friends, co-workers, or boss don’t seem to understand their pain problem or what it is like to live with pain. You may wonder if others understand the impact of chronic pain on daily life, whether they can truly appreciate what you are going through, or if they are able to “get” your needs and fears. Lack of understanding may trigger feelings of invalidation or discounting. Most likely the people in your life differ in how well they comprehend what living with pain is like. Spouses are reasonably accurate in judging patients’ health status; it may be more difficult for those who don’t live with you. What can you do to deal with this difficult issue?
Need to Know
Institute a “need to know” policy. Different people need different levels of information about your pain. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Who? Make a list of who needs to know about your pain: your doctor, your partner, a small group of friends and family, your employer? Keep your list short. Not everyone needs to know.
- Why? Look at each person on your list and ask yourself why you think they should know about your pain. What is the goal of providing information to that person? This is a very important question. Next to each person’s name, list why he or she needs to know about your pain. Once you identify the reason, then you can better determine what the person needs to know.
- What? People need to know different types of information and may vary in the level of detail.Your doctor may want different details than your spouse or your employer. What you tell your children will depend on their ages. Having a conversation with the important people in your life about what they need to know can be very helpful. Remember that what they need to know depends a lot on why you think they need to know.
- How often? One of the most natural reactions to pain is to tell someone about it. In acute pain, telling someone that you are hurt plays an important role in obtaining help. When pain is chronic, how often should you share that your back is hurting or that your neck pain has gotten worse? One question to ask your self is “Am I providing new information?” If the information is not new, then what is the purpose of sharing it? This may sound harsh, but sharing too often may reduce the impact of the information, making it less likely that people will respond in a way that is helpful or satisfying to you. This is especially true for family and friends.
Accept Others’ Limitations
An important additional step in coping with others’ inability to understand what you live with, is to accept that they can’t know. Reduce your own frustration by recognizing that only you live in your body.
About the Author. Dr. Linda Ruehlman is a social/health psychologist and researcher, co-founder of Goalistics, and director of the Chronic Pain Management Program, an interactive site that helps people with chronic pain to manage their pain and live richer, more effective lives as well as Think Clearly about Depression, a self-management program for depression.
DISCLAIMER: This blog is provided as an educational and informational resource only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional psychological or medical advice.