When someone is in pain, it impacts not only them. Rather, the entire family feels the effects. Many will feel helpless watching their loved ones suffer. Others may become frustrated wondering, “Why doesn’t he get up out of bed? The pain cannot be that bad.”
Parents, in particular, sometimes accuse their children of inventing pain for attention.
Furthermore, family members can experience stress and fatigue from caregiver duties. Spouses may become resentful at having to “do everything,” hurt by the loss of intimacy and overwhelmed by the sense of financial insecurity if their partner can no longer work.
You would think, though, that none of those feelings compare to the person who is living day-to-day with the pain. But a study at the University of Washington in Seattle found that family members of chronic pain sufferers are up to four times more depressed than the patients.
It’s crucial that you not only help your loved one, but also take care of yourself.
Here are my suggestions:
Do your research: Try to learn about their condition and what the treatment options are. Maybe there is a support group you can go where you can hear from others who have the same condition as your loved one.
Don’t internalize their pain. Remember, it is not your pain nor is it your fault. Your job is to help them cope, offer assistance and be supportive without being overbearing. It can be hard to strike that balance – between being the supportive caregiver without overstepping your boundaries. You want to pay attention to how they are reacting toward you. If you see they're ignoring you or getting frustrated when you suggest something, ease up.
Be empathetic. Believe them when they say they are in pain. That can be a hard thing to do. When people are going through pain, it is something that the outside world can’t see. You can “see” a broken leg because the person is wearing a cast. With pain, there are no visual cues.
Validate their feelings. It can be as simple as saying, "I'm sure you're in a lot of pain and I know this can be difficult." Phrases like, "you'll be fine...,” "it's just a phase" or “I know what you’re going through” are NOT helpful and can even be detrimental.
Try to think of a time when you were in intense pain: from childbirth, a bad fall, a surgery. Imagine if that pain was constant.
Don’t take it personally: People who are in pain may take their frustration out on you.
Communicate: Keep the lines of communication open. Make sure your loved one knows he or she can talk to you and vice versa.
Help in whatever way you can. We had a college athlete in his 20s who looked young and healthy but was in so much pain, he could not sit in a chair. His parents, sibling and girlfriend accompanied him to appointments, supported him emotionally and even spoke to his teachers. The support and advocacy that his family gave him truly helped him through the process.
Be positive: Many times, chronic pain sufferers feel helpless and burdensome. Try to minimize those feelings by finding activities or even chores that they can do that won’t aggravate the pain.
Take care of yourself. Eat a healthy diet and exercise; get a good night’s rest. If it gets to be too much being the caregiver, call in for reinforcement – a nurse, a family member to give you a break for a few hours. You don’t want your loved one to pick up on your stress, worry or resentment, which could exacerbate his or her symptoms.
About Dr. Scott Gottlieb: Dr. Scott Gottlieb is a pain management expert and the founder of Gramercy Pain Management. He is the director of Pain Management at New York Eye and Ear Infirmary (NYEE) and has treated over 3,000 patients. Dr. Gottlieb is board certified in both pain management and anesthesiology. He has offices in both Manhattan, Montebello, N.Y. in Rockland County and Mahwah, NJ in Bergen County.