Living with Chronic Pain
Providing Emotional Support Without Problem-Solving
Emotional support involves encouragement, compassion, sympathy, affection and reassurance. Providing emotional support to a loved one with chronic pain reduces their feelings of isolation, while improving their mental and physical well-being.
Providing emotional support without problem-solving
When a loved one is struggling with chronic pain, the natural response is to try to solve the problem. Unfortunately, there is no simple solution for chronic pain. Whether dealing with ineffective treatments, emotional difficulties, insurance or financial difficulties, or the pain itself, the loved one needs emotional support without someone trying to fix their issue.
Confirm what kind of support is needed
To avoid problem-solving, ask the individual if they want a practical solution or emotional support. Although it may be difficult to provide emotional support without trying to problem-solve, it is possible. Oftentimes, they just need to talk, be heard, and receive genuine, caring responses to their situation and feelings.
Ask open-ended questions
To initiate a discussion, ask open-ended questions, instead of yes or no inquiries. For example, asking, “How are you feeling after your most recent doctor’s appointment?” is better than, “Did your doctor’s appointment go well?” Open-ended questions will encourage conversation.
Listening actively to the loved one is an important part of providing emotional support. Active listening includes the following:
- Giving the conversation full attention
- Using open body language, such as turning toward the individual and avoiding crossing the arms or legs
- Avoiding interrupting the individual
- Nodding or making noises of agreement
- Asking questions when clarification is needed
Instead of jumping to a solution, offer recognition for the individual’s pain or distress. Validating statements may include, “That phone call with the insurance company sounds very frustrating,” or “I hate that your most recent treatment was not able to ease the pain. That must be disappointing for you.” Expressing genuine care and concern offers emotional support without problem-solving suggestions.
Avoid certain responses
Responses that should be avoided include minimizing statements such as, “At least you don’t have to work while you’re in pain,” or “It could always be worse.” Avoid statements that imply judgment or blame, such as, “Maybe the physical therapy would have worked if you did your exercises regularly,” or “What did you say that made the doctor make that decision?” Responses should always come from a place of compassion and encouragement.
Additional source: Psychology Today