Ableism says, “if you aren’t as able as I am, you are less.” This can filter into a huge variety of attitudes towards chronic pain patients, many of them well-meaning yet not particularly thoughtful. Chances are, you want to be supportive.
If you experience chronic pain, different comments will bother you while others will roll off your shoulders. Everybody is different. What doesn’t vary from person to person, however, is the desire to be accepted and supported where appropriate.
Resist the Urge to Offer Cures
When faced with an unfamiliar challenge, people feel uncomfortable. To alleviate the awkward feeling, they often try to be helpful by suggesting magic cures and treatments. You should understand that people with chronic pain conditions know more about their treatment options than you do, because they have been dealing with it for longer, and they’ve been in consultation with medical professionals. Even an evidence-based treatment that worked for your great-aunt won’t work for everybody.
It’s possible that you have new information about a treatment that might help, but perhaps less likely than you want to believe. Whatever you do, don’t get defensive or judgmental if the person rejects your advice. They probably have good reasons.
Practice Empathy Instead of Pity
It may be true that you “wouldn’t want to live like that.” It might be the case that “oh, you poor thing” is the only thing you can think of to say in the moment. But if you put yourself in the other person’s shoes, you’ll realize such expressions of sympathy function as huge downers. They’re isolating.
That doesn’t mean you should say you understand, especially if you don’t. Empathy involves listening. You might be able to relate to severe pain, or you might have a chronic condition of some kind, but saying you understand can be dismissive. Sharing is caring, but only when you have listened long enough to know it’s your turn to share.
Don’t Be Silly
It’s silly to assume that somebody in chronic pain will always go around with a strained grimace on their face. People with pain conditions do, indeed, smile and laugh, even when experiencing intense pain. Pain levels and productivity levels aren’t based on a simple inverse relationship. Some days, people rally. If you’ve ever hid your emotions in order to focus on a situation, you can grasp that people sometimes hide their pain.
Maybe Don’t Award Medals
Pushing through pain and other physical limitations in order to achieve goals is admirable. There are times when it’s appropriate to voice admiration. For instance, if someone you know tells you they’re in a lot of pain but they’re going to go for it anyway, by all means praise them for going for it, and ask if there are any ways you can help. But don’t heap unsolicited praise on a complete stranger simply for managing to exist in society. Pedestals are isolating, and saying “wow, you’re disabled and you made it all the way up here by yourself?!” in tones you would use with a toddler or pet? No, thank you.
Don’t Be Mean
Judge not, lest ye be judged as rude or worse. It’s not fair to assume someone taking narcotics is a helpless addict. It’s not cool to decide that someone is faking it because they aren’t adequately playing the part of a person in pain. It’s not nice to accuse someone of seeking a pity party when they honestly answer the question, “How do you feel?”
In our culture, we like to be problem-solvers. We like to judge situations, because defining and categorizing a problem simplifies the solution. We like to apply our solution and then be done with it. If chronic pain were so simple to deal with, it wouldn’t be chronic pain. Dealing with chronic pain takes chronic commitment and a willingness to work through it one day at a time (good days and bad days). To show support, all you have to do is respect that simple fact.
If you are ready to work through your pain with a team of pain specialists in Phoenix, get in touch with Pain Stop today.