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How to Support Someone in Chronic Pain

  • Category: LiveSmart
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  • Written By: Baldwin

Don’t know what to say or do when someone you love is sick or in pain? Here are some tips to help.

Chronic pain and disease is difficult for anyone experiencing the condition firsthand. But it can also be hard for family and friends. Seeing a loved one in pain or feeling sick can make us feel sad, frustrated and helpless. We may want to show support in any way we can, but sometimes the very things we do or say don’t help. In fact, they may make things worse.

Although many people dealing with a chronic illness appreciate that friends and family take an interest in their health and well-being, it can sometimes be overwhelming. It’s not that they don’t want the support, but in some cases, it can feel like the dynamics of relationships change and the sole focus is put on the person’s pain or illness. And that just makes things harder for them.

While each individual person and situation is different, and what helps or is acceptable to one person may not be to another, here are a few tips that may help you better support a loved one dealing with chronic pain or a serious illness.

  1. Watch how you say things. You may be well-intentioned when you say things like “You don’t look sick” or “It could be worse,” but phrases like that can be hurtful to the person. Trying to compliment them or convince them that they don’t have it so bad doesn’t take away the fact that they are living in constant pain or have to deal with a chronic illness.
  2. Show compassion and empathy. This doesn’t mean sharing empty words of positivity, but rather letting your actions speak louder than words. Help a person with a task that may be difficult or ask what you can do to help. Say things like “I imagine that must be difficult for you” or “I am here for you” rather than saying “You’ll get through this.”
  3. Provide tangible support. Take the person to doctor appointments. Go grocery shopping for them when it’s hard for them to do so. Do the things they need you to do to make life easier, but don’t insist on doing things they want to do themselves. Provide assistance but don’t take away their independence or autonomy.
  4. Do some research. It’s helpful to know about a disease or condition that affects a loved one so you have a better idea of what they’re going through and what may be in store for them in the future. But it can be hard for the person to have to explain all the details. Do some research on your own so you’re better informed.
  5. Recognize that it’s OK to not be OK. Sure, you wish you could do anything to make the person feel better or happier, but that’s not always possible. Instead of always focusing on the silver lining, understand that sometimes the person will have dark days or difficult times. Ask what you can do during those times to help, whether it’s doing something to take their mind off of things or giving them space to be alone.

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Date Last Reviewed: July 20, 2022

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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