by Stephanie Stern, LCSW
Communication is so important, but communicating your level of pain is not always an easy thing to do. Pain is invisible and only you know how you’re feeling. Some people are naturally good at expressing their emotions and open to talking about their pain. But for many of us, this can feel uncomfortable and, at times, even awkward. Common questions that I hear people ask in my support groups are: what do I say?; how much do I share (especially when I still don’t know a lot myself)?; how will others react? Many people with pain worry that they will be looked at differently, not as capable or strong as they were before. Others worry about scaring the people they love and would rather not share or say too much for fear that they will upset family members and/or friends. For all these reasons, it’s not uncommon for people living with pain to feel isolated and alone.
As a social worker, I have seen the benefits of open communication with family and loved ones. It is natural to want to protect the people we love from sadness, worry and fear. This is often why people do not keep the lines of communication open when they are dealing with a difficult situation. Whether you are the person living with pain or a family member/friend of someone in pain, it’s likely, at some point, that you have kept your thoughts, feelings and emotions to yourself… or you may still be. In most cases (and there are always exceptions), people cope better when they don’t have to hide their thoughts/feelings/situations. It takes a lot of time and energy to keep information and emotions to yourself. When family members and friends know what you are going through, they also cope better. They feel more included and connected, and they’re more likely to be available to provide needed support. As a result, open communication often leads to stronger, more connected and more supportive relationships.
Here are some helpful tips to talking to family members and friends about your pain.
- What do I say/How much do I share?
You do not have to share everything with every person. Sometimes just saying, “I’m dealing with pain”; “I’m struggling with pain” or “I have pain” out loud feels like enough. With others, you may want to share more about your situation/thoughts/feelings/emotions.
- How will others react?
While we never can know exactly how people will react, we usually have a sense. Has this person been supportive before or with others who have gone through a difficult situation? Many times, I hear people talk about family members and/or friends who are disappointing, especially because they were thought of as close and supportive. Often, these people retreat because they do not know what to say or do to be helpful. As a result, communication breaks down which leaves us feeling badly. On the other hand, there are people we might not have known as well, who are extremely caring and kind. When you’re going through a difficult situation, you find out pretty quickly who you can turn to for support.
- Will I be looked at differently by others (less capable and strong)?
This is possible, but with open communication you can let the people in your life know how you’re feeling and what you can and cannot do. It is important for them to know how you would like to be treated.
How do you feel about sharing your level of pain?
Is this something easy or hard for you and why?
What are some techniques that have been helpful when talking to family and friends?
I invite you to share your thoughts on our discussion board. I would love to know your questions, concerns, tips or experiences.
I look forward to hearing from you and to sharing.
I find no one wants to hear about my pain. They would rather I just get better. They think they had pain or even the same condition and they dealt with it. So they just think I’m a pathetic person who can’t deal with pain at all and deserves no sympathy. They have no idea what my pain feels like or that I can compare it to other conditions myself that I did deal with (like migraines). So I have to hide it now and that’s so hard. I feel I can’t do this indefinitely without accidentally revealing it. And then I’ll be made to feel worse. I have no one to confide in at all. I feel so alone.
I find it very difficult to express when I am struggling with pain. Partly because every day I put on a brave face and hide it when I’m with people. Partly because I know most people are stressed from having to work full time and everyone has there own problems.
I find it especially difficult when people who do not have chronic pain complain about their pain, I understand they are in pain but I try very hard not to focus on my physical discomfort and would rather not be reminded. I am lucky for the support I have, I just wish people could understand how much I hide and how hard it is.