How to Let People In When You Have Chronic Pain

Couple embracing (image courtesy of StockSnap on Pixabay)

When someone is in pain, their whole family is impacted.

I was reminded of this truth recently as visitors approached my booth at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. I was struck by how many people were stopping by my booth on behalf of somebody in their lives who was having a difficult time with chronic pain. The most memorable was when a brother and sister, probably about 5 and 6 years old, dragged their mom over to talk to me about their grandfather, who was struggling with neck pain. At their young age, they shared powerful insights about their grandfather’s condition, not to mention a strong sense of wanting to help.

Though you might feel isolated in the midst of a painful experience, those around you are likely deeply impacted by what you are going through – and there’s a good chance that they really want to be with you in this experience. They may just not know how to get in.

Here are a few ways you can share your pain experience with people who care about you:

  • Education: The better others understand your health challenges, the more helpful they can be. I recommend you share some of the books or articles that you have found helpful, and consider inviting them to join you at some of your doctor visits or physical therapy sessions.
  • Recreation: To build better bonds, try to have some fun together. If there are activities, sports, or hobbies that you no longer do, now is the time to find new pursuits that you can share with others. Whether it is going on walks together or hosting a movie night, plan activities that are joyful for everyone. Try to use this as an opportunity for growth.
  • Communication: It is easy to feel closed-off from others and to not want to engage when you don’t feel well, but it’s important to make an effort to create a dialogue between you and your family. If you feel a strong instinct toward isolation, you may need to create a deliberate plan to combat it – consider scheduling a specific time to chat. Of course, it’s reasonable to spend some of the time talking about your own challenges but to truly connect with others, you’ll want to talk about things going on with other members of your circle as well.
  • Expression: Nonverbal communication plays an important role in how we connect with others, especially when we are in pain. Facial expressions and grimacing can say a lot without uttering a word, and how we say things, or the tone that we use, also influences how others receive our message. I am not recommending that you try to hide how you feel or present yourself in a way that is false, but it might be worth taking stock of your nonverbal communication patterns to see if any subtle changes might make it clearer to the people around you that you are open to connecting with them. Eye contact can boost connectivity during a conversation, and a smile can go a long way to letting someone know how much you appreciate them.

Hopefully, adding a few of these strategies can help open the door to connection, and possibly even strengthen your relationships.

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