When someone you love lives with chronic pain, the most important things you can do are provide support, understanding, and empathy.
Surprisingly, this doesn't always come easy.
People, by nature, like to be able to 'fix' things for others and offer solutions to problems.
They might end up talking down to others with chronic pain and try to 'manage' them or tell them what to do.
Sure, their intentions are good but this closes the conversation and might insult the person in pain.
Above all, a person in pain just wants to be heard and listened to.
Here are some statements you might want to think twice about when spending time with someone in chronic pain and ideas of what to say instead.
1. You don't look sick to me
When you say this, it sounds as though you are insinuating that the person is faking their pain or putting on a show.
Chronic pain is usually invisible. In fact, people with chronic pain often go to great lengths to appear 'normal' so as not to draw attention to themselves.
They might take their pain medication at the optimal time or be sure to get plenty of rest before going out of the house.
Instead say: "How are you feeling today? I know sometimes you appear to be well when really you feel pretty terrible."
2. Just focus on the positive
For a lot of people in pain, if positive thoughts made it go away, they would already be pain-free.
Sure, positive thinking is a good coping mechanism for someone suffering from chronic pain but it is not a cure. Pain, unfortunately, cannot be controlled with the mind.
Also, it's perfectly okay for people to have an occasional grieving period.
Instead say: "It looks like you've been faced with [difficult situation] today. How do you think you'll hold up the rest of the day?"
3. It could always be worse
Has this statement ever made anybody feel better about themselves? I think not.
Saying things like "At least it's not cancer" to try and give perspective really undermines the pain and suffering that the person with chronic pain is going through. It's just not helpful.
Rather than these types of statements, try to focus on the positive aspects of that person and your relationship.
Instead say: "I am proud of the effort you put in to take charge of your health. I am grateful we are able to spend time together today."
4. Have you tried ____? (eliminating gluten, acupuncture, yoga, drinking tiger's blood, etc.)
People in pain hear these types of statements a lot, whether it is a lifestyle change or some "miracle cure."
I know that these suggestions come from genuine concern but it's very likely that the person in pain has already investigated every possible option. They have also probably seen multiple specialists in order to explore all of their options for treatment.
Not to mention, a lot of these crazy "cures" are not substantiated by medical research and could potentially be detrimental to one's condition.
Instead say: "I'm sure you have heard all about this (insert intervention), but I thought of you when I found out about it."
5. I feel so sorry for you
Trust me, people with chronic pain do not want your pity. There is a big difference between pity and empathy. Also, condolences seem kind of out of place anyway. It's not a death sentence.
Sure, pity might be a knee-jerk response when you don't know what else to say. Don't feel sorry for those suffering from pain.
Instead say: "I love you and I'm here for you."
6. Let me know if I can do anything
This is another statement that really does come from a good place but it's kind of an empty promise.
The person on the receiving end of this statement might not feel comfortable speaking up and asking for help.
Instead say: Offer something specific. "Let me do a few loads of laundry for you." or "I'm heading to the grocery store, what do you need?" If you already know of something nice you can do without needing the person's permission or participation, just do it. Actions speak louder than words.
7. You're too young to be tired/sick/in pain
Many young people face this kind of discrimination on the regular. Imagine some of the sneers some younger people probably get when they park in a handicap parking spot.
It's easy to pass judgment when someone appears to be young, vibrant, and healthy on the outside. This is certainly not how they feel on the inside.
Unfortunately, chronic pain or illness does not discriminate. Any person of any age can fall victim to it.
Instead say: "Pain can affect anyone. You are so strong for confronting every day head-on."
8. I heard that your illness isn't even real
Ugh. Just no.
Suggesting to someone in pain that their condition or their pain is phony is beyond insulting.
The person in pain who has had countless doctor's office visits, prescriptions to fill, and calls to insurance companies knows that what they're dealing with is real.
You might have the privilege to think that someone's condition or pain isn't real but the person going through it does not.
Instead say: "How can I learn more about your condition?"
9. Have you lost weight? You look good!
As a society, we are conditioned to think that weight loss is a good thing and a cause for celebration.
However, not all weight loss is a positive thing or even intentional.
Sometimes, weight loss can come after a severe bout of illness, pain, or depression.
Don't be so quick to comment on someone's physical appearance, especially if you don't know them that well.
Instead say: "How have you been feeling lately?"
These are just a few of the things you might want to avoid saying to someone you know in pain. Don't wind up putting your foot in your mouth.
Try to avoid being judgmental and don't try to be a problem solver. Your loved one wants understanding and empathy more than anything. Just take the time to listen so they know they're being heard.
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