Living with Chronic Pain

12 Tips to Consider When Talking With Others About Chronic Pain


When life is changed due to a chronic pain diagnosis, explaining the condition to others can be overwhelming and frustrating. Individuals with chronic pain tend to receive unsolicited advice from friends, family, co-workers and others about how to handle their condition. While many people offer sympathy, other people condemn, assuming that individuals with a chronic pain condition are apathetic or crave attention. Others may seem nervous because they do not know what to say or how to react. Sometimes, individuals may know of another person with the same diagnosis and offer to help.

Individuals with a chronic pain condition may feel fine at times; whereas, at other times, they may not be able to leave the house or get out of bed. Communicating about the type of pain, diagnosis, symptoms, and self-care helps others to understand what is needed. Several tips to effectively communicate with others about chronic pain include the following:

  1. Choose who to tell about your chronic pain condition. Privacy is precious to many people; whereas, others feel comfortable sharing personal details about their lives. It is important to decide who needs to know about your chronic pain condition. Close family members and friends need to know in order to help.
  2. Decide how much information to tell others. Symptoms, the specific pain condition, and how it affects your daily life are not something that everyone needs to know. Decide what to discuss before starting a conversation.
  3. Discuss your chronic pain condition with your partner. Pain can sometimes affect intimacy; however, a healthy sex life is important. Discuss ways to remain intimate while in pain. Let your partner know that it’s okay to ask questions, and make sure to actively listen to their questions and concerns.
  4. Explain how visiting you may not seem fun all the time but enjoying the company of others is important. Spending days exhausted and in pain can cause feelings of depression. Let people know that although you are in pain, you are still the same person inside.
  5. Clarify that there are good days and bad days. People in chronic pain work hard to have low pain days and days of happiness. Explain that just because you have some good days, the chronic pain condition is not healed.
  6. Discuss the fact that chronic pain changes daily. Explain that standing or walking for ten minutes does not mean that you can stand or walk for longer periods of time. Some days are better than others, but the condition does not just go away and can change from minute to minute.
  7. Ask people to not take it personally if you may be able to do something one day but not the next. Explain how chronic pain is variable and plans may need to be canceled at the last minute.
  8. Explain that getting out does not help nor heal chronic pain conditions. Oftentimes, it can make the symptoms worse.
  9. Share the fact that chronic pain is unpredictable. You may need to sit down, lie down, or take medications immediately. While this may seem demanding to others, chronic pain doesn’t follow a predictable time frame.
  10. Explain that you are educated about your condition. Although kind thoughts and suggestions from others are appreciated, let well-intentioned people know that treatments are being handled by a health care professional. This can be communicated kindly by expressing your appreciation.
  11. Explain how chronic pain wreaks havoc on the body and the mind. Ask for patience while you cope the best you can.
  12. Ask for help. It’s okay to ask others to help around the house with cooking or cleaning. Friends and family want to help; oftentimes, they just don’t know what is needed. Asking someone to accompany you on shopping trips or to doctor appointments gives them a specific way to help.

Talking about a chronic pain condition can be difficult and uncomfortable. The above 12 tips should help you gain a better sense of how to maintain personal boundaries and how and when to discuss your condition.

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