by Tracy Rydzy MSW, LSW
Supporting someone in chronic pain can be difficult. There is nothing that can be done to ease someone’s pain and sometimes, it leaves friends and family at a loss for words. There are no magic words or actions, but there are suggestions for things to say that could possibly help your loved one feel better.
Here is a list I have compiled from personal experience and research of helpful things to say to someone in chronic pain:
1- “You look well today/good, but how are you feeling?” Many times people with chronic pain feel like people see how they look on the outside, not how they feel on the inside. This statement is helpful because you are stating something positive about the person, but asking how they are feeling despite looking good. Additionally, asking “how are you holding up?” is a similar and helpful comment that lets the person in pain know that you acknowledge they are in pain and you wish to know how they are handling it.
2- “I am going to be going to the store. Can I get you something?” After my second surgery my best friend would often call on weekends and tell me she was at the store and did I need anything. The way she asked didn’t hit my pride, because I felt like she was already there and I wouldn’t bother her if I said, “sure, can you get me bread?”
3- “I can’t imagine how hard this is for you, but you seem to be handling it well and I think you are so strong.” I often feel weakened by pain, but statements like these make me feel stronger and supported.
4- “You are in my thoughts and prayers” As opposed to telling someone to ‘pray’ or ‘have faith,’ this statement expresses a good intention and lets us know you care.
5- Mirror back what is being said. If the person says “my back is really hurting me” Tell them, “Your back hurts, that must be difficult for you.” By mirroring their statement, the person feels their pain was heard, even though there is nothing you can really say or do to help, they know you listened/heard their pain.
6- “This must be so difficult for you, I can’t imagine.” There are no magic words, and unless you are living with chronic pain, it’s difficult to understand what we are going through. Comments like this show support without pretending you know how we feel.
7- “I wish I had something to say that would help/take away the pain, but I don’t. But I am here to listen.” Sometimes, the best thing to say is nothing at all. Sometimes it is best to just listen, without judgment, and just be there for someone. Admitting you are at a loss and offering an ear is one of the most helpful things a loved one can do.
8- “Please don’t feel bad if you have to cancel, I understand and I hope I can see you when you feel well.” This statement expresses concern without making the person feel bad about their limitations.
9- “I hope that you feel as well as possible.” Since we are talking about chronic pain, ‘feel better’ can be frustrating because many people don’t have ‘better’ days. This statement is more genuine, in a way.
10- “I heard about _______(fill in miracle cure of the say). I know every case is different, but would you like to hear about it?” We have a lot of advice thrown at us by well-meaning people, but much of it is unwanted because it can make us feel as though others think we are not trying to help ourselves. We also do a lot of research and see a lot of doctors, so we have probably heard it already. By asking if the person would be interested in receiving advice shows respect for our situation and gives us the option to say ‘not right now’ or ‘sure.”
Actions speak louder than words so, remember, it can be very helpful to DO something nice for that person, like bring a meal, offer to do a load of laundry or make the bed. Help. But don’t make a big deal out of it. Many times people who need help have a sense of pride and don’t like to feel they are being a burden, so by doing something and making it seem as if it’s “no big deal,” you are helping us without making us feel guilty.
Something I encounter a lot is that friends omit telling me things that have happened with their own health. They say, “it was no big deal, it’s nothing compared to what you are going through.” If you are supporting someone with chronic pain and you care about them, chances are they care about you and your health problems, so share what’s going on with your health as well. It will help the person in pain feel the friendship is not one-sided. Just because we are in pain doesn’t mean we forgot how to listen and care and, if your health issues involve pain, we can certainly sympathize better than anyone.
And, please don’t turn your back on those of us living with chronic pain just because you feel like you can’t help us. This lifestyle carries with it so much isolation, depression and loneliness. We count on our support system to help us. We know we are not always the easiest of people to deal with, but please remember, we did not ask for this and we would love to have our “old lives” back.
Remember, sometimes the best thing you can say is the simplest: “I love you.”