Posted in chronic, communication, Questions

How do you communicate with a chronic pain sufferer?

This question was sent to me by email. If you have question or need an opinion about arthritis, chronic illness, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, etc., please feel free to contact me either by leaving a comment, or sending an email to, and I will try to help you with an answer. Any information provided is based on my opinion and any research I have done. It is not to be considered or treated as expert advice.

Communication, or the lack of it, is an area that stands out for chronic pain sufferers. It is area that causes a lot of frustration, not just to the sufferer, but also, to the sufferer’s loved ones. People with chronic pain communicate differently than people who are not sick. Often times, we are tired, irritable and withdrawn. There is a reluctance to want to communicate our physical and emotional feelings to others. Further, we tell family members that were feeling “well” or “okay” even though we are really hurting. Other times, there is no way to describe what we are feeling or how much we are hurting. These obstacles are frustrating to both sides and often result in a breakdown in communication.

Understanding or making an effort to understand your loved one’s pain isn’t always easy, but it is not impossible. There are a few simple things you can to allow your loved one to open up. Communication is probably the best and most important thing you can do to help out your struggling friend, family member or partner.

Listening: You would be surprised how helpful listening is for a person who is in pain. It also is important to hear what is being said instead of just simply listening. Hearing means listening with your heart. People who listen with their hearts can read between the lines and interpret non-verbal cues. To do so, focus your attention to the speaker and listen to what is being said and how it is being said.

Don’t be faker: Do not ask someone how they are feeling if you are not prepared to listen. Body language tells a lot about a person and if you not really interested in listening, the speaker will sense that. He or she will feel misunderstood, as if he or she is a burden, and will not seek your support in the future thus creating a communication barrier.

Understand: Pain sufferers are often afraid to express their emotions because of ridicule or a lack of concern, sympathy or emotional response from others.

• Do not believe because someone is not expressing their feelings that they are handling their condition well.

• Show interest and allow that person to speak up.

• Believe them when they say they are in pain. Do not believe the myths about chronic pain sufferers exaggerating pain to gain sympathy or avoid their responsibilities.

• Do not say hurtful things. Words can really hurt and by saying things like, “you don’t look sick,” or “this is something you must live with,” or “if you would move a little more,” you are hurting and not helping.

• Providing compassion can go a long ways. It heals and supports.

Non-verbal cues: Often times, sufferers will try to hide how they feeling physically and emotionally. There are tell-tale signs as to the severity of their pain. Sweating, irritability, sleep disturbances, decreased activity and inability to concentrate are all indications of struggle with pain, feeling ill, or a struggle with emotions. Often, pain sufferers are used to feeling negative so they do not realize how much they are hurting and they won’t express feelings unless they are asked to.

Honesty: One of the hardest things imaginable is seeing a loved one in pain and not being able to do a thing to ease their hurt. It is all right to admit that you don’t have the answers they need or that you are unavailable when they need you rather than trying to avoid or lying. Telling them that you want to help or that you will when you are available is better than telling them you simply can’t. Further, if you cannot understand what they are trying to express, tell them, instead of pretending to. Honesty is where compassion and understanding come into play.

Understand that pain is not what you think it is: Pain is not just physical but it is also psychological and neurological (mental and emotional). Pain is also different for each person and depends on the personality and life history of the person experiencing and dealing with it. In truth, you will never know the extent of a person’s pain unless you have walked in their shoes.

Dealing with severe pain can be overwhelming for both the patient and his or her loved one. It is difficult and impossible for someone who has not experienced the agony of chronic pain to completely understand or comprehend. However, the journey of a chronic pain sufferer does not have to be one he or she has to take alone. Educate yourself on your loved one’s condition and pain and make an effort to understand by providing compassion, honesty, support, and a listening ear. You would be surprised at the significance of simply providing these things.

Disclaimer: This blog is a personal blog written and edited by me. This information should not be taken as expert. Opinions expressed here are my own. Thank you.


7 thoughts on “How do you communicate with a chronic pain sufferer?

  1. I believe the most cruel thing I have heard someone say to me is this: "your spirit is broken". My husband was taken aback by this departing shot from a so called friend of 5 years that he immediately said, "be done with her and think nothing more on her" If my spirit were broken, I'd be the first to admit as I'm brutally honest not just with others but more so with myself. I am hardest on my self and demand the most of me than any other person could. Communication and compassion. It starts and ends right there. Good post.

  2. Excellent post, Lana. You've hit the nail on the head with this one. "Hearing," communication, compassion and honesty are simply vital when talking to someone who deals with chronic pain. Thanks for writing such a smart, heartfelt post.-Wren

  3. This was perfectly said! I have been really frustrated at my attempt to communicate with my extended family lately. I don't expect them to know how I feel but I also feel I am lying to them when they ask how I feel. It has been easier just to say "fine". Thanks, I learned a lot from your post.

  4. Good post Lana. Except for my close family and a few riding buddies, I tell everyone I'm good. I don't want to allow them into a part of my life and feelings when most people don't really care to begin with. One of my co-workers has learned that when I get quite at work, that I'm hurting and he will pick up his pace to help me. Having a chronic illness lets you know who your real friends are.

  5. Thank you Dee. I often write from a sufferer’s perspective I thought I would allow loved ones to understand that perspective. Taz – I am sorry that someone said that to you. This disease is hard enough and I have heard my cruel things including from my own siblings who say I use this disease so I can get out of helping my mom. Sometimes, my mother doesn’t get it either. It is like wearing a Scarlett Letter.Wren – Thank you. I am not sure a lot people understand the difference between listening and actually hearing. Honesty goes along ways when it comes to be open with a person you love.Rheu'mom'toid – communication with loved ones who do not understand is frustrating. Believe me, I have been there. I don’t expect my family to understand or even care; I just don’t want them to say that I am exaggerating when I know all too well that I am not. Terry – I know what you mean about not telling people. There are only a few people whom I can tell that actually take the time to understand. You are absolutely right about knowing who your real friends are.

  6. hmm great post! My daughter has chronic intestinal issues and this is a great reminder for ME, that's for sure. Great post, very well written.

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