There are three things those of us living with chronic pain need more than anything else – acknowledgement, empathy, and understanding. Yet, too often these are the things are lacking most.
“The worst thing about having an invisible illness is that people have a very hard time believing you are sick because you look good on the outside… People with chronic pain only want their loved ones to acknowledge their pain and give them encouragement and support. Most of all people with chronic pain just want to have people believe their illness even if it is no longer visible. “
– No One Gets Flowers for Chronic Pain
“I don’t seek sympathy; it’s empathy and understanding that I want. Just some understanding goes a long way toward feeling a part of something and not feeling so all alone with the burdens that I bear.”
We all want to be acknowledged and understood. Empathy is really just sympathy with understanding. Most of the time people can’t understand what we are experiencing unless they’ve lived through it (or something very similar).
The best any of us can do is compare what another is experiencing to a situation we’ve experienced (or are experiencing that is similar). We can’t imagine worse pain than the worst pain we’ve felt. So, when we hear someone else complain about something we do the only thing we can, we try to empathize by comparing what they are describing to our own experience. Unless we’ve felt the exact pain that the person is experiencing we can never have true understanding, but we can still be empathetic, and most importantly we can do our best to acknowledge that pain.
I had a discussion with several friends about migraines. All of us experience them to some degree. Someone commented about how people can say they have a migraine while continuing to sit upright and look completely normal. I replied that I do that all the time, and it doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. It just means that comparatively (to other migraines I’ve experienced) I can push through. Perhaps it’s an element of having chronic pain or chronic migraines that you learn to just push through. While others who only experience that level of pain on occasion haven’t had the need to do so.
Pushing through as much as we can is something that we learn when we live with chronic pain (of any kind). That doesn’t mean that it can’t get worse or reach a point where pushing through isn’t possible. I spent 3 months with excruciating migraines to the point that I didn’t leave the couch except to go to the doctor or chiropractor, hoping for release. Every pain experience is different. It’s difficult enough living with chronic pain without the worry that even those closest to you may be questioning the reality of your pain.
I admit that often I am not empathetic enough of the pain others who are generally healthy feel. Knowing that I live with pain every day and push through, it’s difficult to look at someone with a pain that will pass relatively quickly and understand what they are going through. Not comparing their pain to my own chronic pain is difficult.
Unfortunately, many with chronic pain look at others who also suffer from chronic pain and think that the other person can’t possibly be hurting as much as they say they do, all the time. We judge those around us, and their experiences based on our own experiences. We also judge our own experiences based on our own experiences, because really what else can we judge them on?Too often, even those who live with chronic pain may question whether someone else's pain is real. #thepainisreal Click To Tweet
Ken over at Don’t Punish Pain shared his wisdom on how you can honor someone and acknowledge their pain without downplaying it. We all want to be respected. We all have to remember that just because we have our own pain to deal with doesn’t mean that someone else is hurting any less.
Just because someone wears their pain differently, is able to smile through it, walk through it, work through it, doesn’t mean that they aren’t in pain. They may be hurting just as much or more than we are. All it takes is a moment to simply acknowledge that their pain is real. You may never understand what their specific pain is, but simply acknowledging goes a long way.
The next time a friend tells you that they are in pain, just take a moment and let them know that you get it. Simply saying “I can’t compare my pain to yours, but I know you must really be hurting.” goes a long way.
- Chronic Pain: No one Gets chronic pain until they get it
- Who are we to judge another’s illness?
- When Chronic Pain Causes Shame, Practice Self-Compassion