This entry is for people who are living with someone—or care for someone—who is suffering with a chronic pain condition and they are having a hard time coping because they’re not sure how to help. Unless someone’s been in your place they have no idea how challenging this can really be.
I’ve seen many marriages and partnerships end due to one of the partners living with an under-treated or mistreated chronic pain condition. Sometimes family members and significant others develop their own healthcare problems while trying to help someone they love cope with chronic pain. Family and significant others often get burned out, or they become frustrated and resentful towards the person living with chronic pain. A spouse can become just as hopeless and helpless as their family member who is suffering with pain and may even develop a severe depression or sleep problem.
For those of you helping someone living with a chronic pain condition who don’t have a personal experience of living with chronic pain I want to ask you to follow the steps below to see if you can develop a better understanding of what it must be like to live with chronic pain. To get the most out of this following exercise please make sure to do it when you have the time and space where you won’t be interrupted. It’s also helpful if you journal your reactions to this as soon as you’ve completed the four steps below.
Step One: Think back to a time when you hurt yourself or had a painful condition such as a surgery, toothache, broken bone, or headache etc.
Step Two: Try to remember what that felt like and what you wanted to do to stop the pain.
Step Three: Now imagine that you have that level of pain right now and have had it for the past six months without any relief. Every day when you woke up it was there. Every night you wonder if you’ll be able to sleep because the pain is so disturbing.
Step Four: Now imagine trying to explain this to your family and friends or your healthcare provider. What would you say? What would you want from them? Please make sure write down your reactions to this brief exercise.
What kind of healthy support can friends and family provide if a loved one is undergoing chronic pain management, experiencing significant quality of life problems and a decreased level of functioning? The most important thing is to understand what it must be like; if you answered the four questions above and reflected on what you learned, you should have a much better idea. Here are six additional starting points.
1. Make sure that you are practicing good self-care; take time to relax, sleep, play, eat healthy, etc.
2. Develop compassion and even empathy for your significant other—but never sympathy as that can cause even more problems. Remember the old saying “Sympathy Kills” that is often heard at Al-Anon meetings.
3. Do NOT do things for your significant other that they can and should be doing for themselves.
4. Don’t keep secrets from your significant other. This is especially true concerning medication use or abuse issues.
5. Remember the three (3) Cs of Al-Anon: You didn’t CAUSE it, you can’t CONTROL it, and you can’t CURE it.
6. Seek out a professional with experience in pain and any coexisting problems for you and your family.
However, these are just starting points. In order to help someone else, you first must make sure to take care of yourself. You also need to be aware of the two major traps—enabling and resentment. Enabling is when you find yourself doing something for your friend or loved one that they can and should be doing for themselves.
Please check out my video below.