5 Ways to Help Friends and Family Manage Chronic Pain

By: Loolwa Khazzoom, Founder, Dancing with Pain

April 30th, 2010 • Living with Chronic PainPrint Print

Friends and family of those with chronic pain often feel helpless, as they watch the lives of their loved one fall apart. But even if you are not a doctor or holistic health guru, and even though you may not be able to make your friend or family member recover spontaneously, you can still help those in chronic pain feel healthier and happier. Here are five ways to help friends and family manage chronic pain:

1. Be flexible.
Those of us with chronic pain can be super flaky. Not becuase we want to be, but becuase the devil pain makes us. Body feels good, we move forward as planned. Body doesn’t feel good, we cancel. Everything. By offering compassion and understanding, instead of anger and judgment, you will help keep our anxiety and distress levels to a minimum. The lower those toxic emotions are, the lower our pain levels are. In other words, your kindness acts like a pain med dispenser.

2. Believe us.
According to pain patient advocacates, not being believed is the #1 cause of distress among chronic pain patients. We live in a world where most people need to see something so as to believe it. But most pain conditions are not detectable — by the most sophisticated diagnostic machines, never mind by the human eye. So if we tell you something hurts, trust us. It hurts.

3. Hand over your shoulder and a set of ears.
No matter how fierce and fiesty we are, those of us in pain lead very challenging lives — physically, emotionally, financially, spiritually, you name it. A loving shoulder to rest our weary heads and a caring set of ears to share our fear and grief, can make a world of difference. Of course, there is a fine line between healthy self-expression and unhealthy wallowing. Make sure you don’t cross into the territory of becoming an enabler for everybody drowning.

4. Be gentle.
Many people in pain, especially those with conditions like fibromyalgia, also have delicate nervous systems. Our pain levels can skyrocket at the drop of a hat, by causes that seem benign to most. So move slowly and gently around us, and give us an extra bubble of body space. If we even think you might bump against us, our bodies can react as if you just did. Yup! We’re that sensitive.

5. Ask what we need. And deliver it (within reason).
Chronic pain peeps are a diverse bunch and so are our needs. So ask how your friends and family can use your support – cooking dinner one night a week, doing an errand, or just calling each day for moral support. Make sure your request is genuine and that your body language reflects that genuine care. It’s hard enough for us to ask for support, much less from someone we’re not entirely convinced wants to give it! And remember to make sure your support of someone else does not cross your own boundaries. Resentment and overwhelm are toxic for all parties involved in the exchange.

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