The 10 Commandments of Communicating with Chronic Pain Sufferers; Pt.1

Not only am I hurting, but now I’m frustrated because I can’t explain adequately my situation. Welcome to the world of Chronic Pain sufferers. Over the past three years I have noticed deteriorating communication abilities, not only my own, but also those who truly wish to help. I thought I would put together a “10 Commandments” of communication with a sufferer of Chronic Pain in an attempt to get the ball rolling on improving this necessary component of healing and sustaining hope while in pain.  Today we’ll examine the first 5 “commandments”.

  • Thou shalt just LISTEN
    • I have found my greatest relief when my wife just listens to me – hears me out – even if what I am saying sounds like I am complaining. When I hurt, I just want someone to know. What I love about my wife is that she isn’t just hearing what I’m saying, she is “reading” what I am saying. She is looking for frustrations and for clues of the severity of the pain I am in.
    • Listening means that you’ll give complete attention to the sufferer. Don’t be distracted by the clock, your next appointment, or think you can “get it over with” in 30 seconds. Sometimes it takes a while just for the sufferer to gather their thoughts, to think of a word, to put it all together. I am most frustrated when I can’t complete a thought and I feel like I am wasting the time of the listener when I’m that way. Medication fogs the head – trust me. Can you listen to how someone says something as well as hearing what they are saying? That’s important.
    • Maybe you, as the listener, also suffer with CP. Make sure you don’t try to assign your assumptions of pain and suffering to the one you are listening to. Rather, be eager to hear what the sufferer is saying so as to learn about their condition. Don’t try to fix it. Just listen.
  • Thou shalt be GENUINE
    • If you made past the first commandment, you’re pretty dedicated to helping your friend. It is very hard to just listen to someone bare their soul about how much pain they are in. It hurts to see how CP is negatively affecting them. (can you imagine what they must be going through?)
    • Don’t ask someone suffering with CP how they’re doing…if you’re not prepared to listen completely to them. And if you begin to listen, don’t pretend to have all the answers…or any of them really.
    • Just because I suffer with CP doesn’t mean that I lost my discernment of whether you truly care or not. I don’t want to burden you down with more than you can handle – so many times I’ll not say anything, especially if you’ve faked concern in the past.
  • Thou shalt UNDERSTAND that CP sufferers may be afraid to reveal their true feelings
    • When I am asked how I am feeling and feel the need to describe the uniqueness of the pain I am in, sometimes I am just afraid that I am going to be told to “suck it up” or “cowboy up”. I can’t describe the pain I’m in to have it make sense to you. Sure, my CP doc understands, but only because they have several patients saying the same thing. Try to describe a paper cut some time – then multiply that by 1000x. “blow torch”, “burning”, “tingling” – that’s the best I can do on a good day. Please don’t laugh at my feeble attempts.
    • Sometimes I think that there is no point in sharing what I really feel because I’ll be judged by the Church when I do so. How do you share that you’ve considered suicide, attaining illicit drugs and a host of other things in some attempt at relief? 90% of the people in the Church would have to pick their jaw up off the floor or their head would split if they knew a pastor battled those temptations on a daily basis. (having said that…I don’t know who that pastor would be – its all hypothetical, really)
    • If I say I’m fine or I don’t tell you I’m hurting or I say I’m only hurting a little bit, most of that is just a way for me to deal with what is really happening inside me. So, if you think I’m hurting worse than I say, don’t call me out on it – just let me know you’re available to talk and if I need to talk, I will.
  • Thou shalt look for the NON-VERBAL
    • Many times you can tell if a sufferer of CP is hurting more than they’re letting on. We’re terrible liars. Here are some physical cues to someone being in increased pain:
      • sweating
      • irritability
      • lack of sleep / tiredness
      • restlessness
      • lack of focus / can’t concentrate
      • lack of activity / desire to stay immobile
      • suicidal tendencies
    • Most of the time we’re used to dealing with these, and more, symptoms so we might not even notice we have them. You don’t have to point them out to us – just take note of them. The last thing I need to be reminded of is that I am sweating. See this handkerchief? Yeah, it’s for that.
  • Thou shalt BELIEVE the sufferer in what they’ve said
    • When I am telling you I am really hurting – I’m really hurting! I may not look different from you or look like I’m suffering in any way, but if I verbalize it – you can take it to the bank: I’M HURTING! Please believe me.
    • I’m not exaggerating my pain so that I get your attention. Believe me, I would rather not have pain at all. I’m not trying to gain your sympathy or trying to get out of work. I want to complete my responsibilities and do them well. If I say I’m hurting, I’m hurting.
    • Margo McCaffery (nurse & pioneer in pain management nursing) defined pain in 1968 this way: Pain is “whatever the experiencing person says it is, existing whenever and wherever the person say it does”.

Chance to Interact: Tomorrow we’ll examine Commandments 6-10 of communicating with someone in Chronic Pain. I’m eager to hear what you’ve seen thus far – especially if you suffer from Chronic Pain. Am I on base? Off on a tangent? What would you suggest?

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7 thoughts on “The 10 Commandments of Communicating with Chronic Pain Sufferers; Pt.1

  1. Mark, thanks for the excellent thoughts on an issue which I know very little. One question I did have…how would you approach someone whose sin patterns seem tied to chronic pain? Recently I read through Ed Welch’s book “Blame it on the Brain” where he addresses this issue with believers who have varieties of of disorders (alzheimers, etc.) and I’d be interested on your take regarding those who struggle with chronic pain. Thank you for the thoughtful post!

  2. Thanks for taking time to read the post!! Perhaps you could clarify your question a bit, “how would I approach someone whose sin patterns seem tied to chronic pain?” Tomorrow’s post will have a commandment that may or may address this question, depending on how I understand it. I have Welch’s book on my shelf and haven’t gotten to it yet, although I hear it is good. What did you think of it? We can dialogue openly here via comments or through email: pastormarkkelly@gmail.com. Either way works for me. I’ll wait on your clarification of that question before responding. (maybe an example would help me – something generic is fine)

    God bless!

  3. Yes, sorry for the ambiguity. An example would be someone who goes beyond irritability and justifies verbally abusing or lashing out at others because they are suffering from extreme pain. Other possibilities might include justifying drunkenness or pornography as an escape from the pain, essentially saying, “It is acceptable to engage this sin because of the depth of my pain, it’s my only way of escape.” Please don’t hear any judgment in these words, I’ve just noticed in the life of a family member that everyone walks around on eggshells around them for fear of receiving a verbal lashing.

  4. Oh, and in regard to the Welch book, would love to see a blog series that processes that book through the filter of chronic pain. No pressure!

  5. Thank you for the clarification! It helps, I thought that was the direction you were going, but wasn’t entirely sure. While this will seem very quick and perhaps trite, these are some things that I am learning myself:
    * – 1 Corinthians 10:13 – I am never placed in a situation by God (or even as a result of living in this fallen world) where sinning is the only option for me, or that sinning is justified because of my suffering / circumstances. I still need to respond in grace, to edify, seeing the Example of perfect suffering in Jesus Christ. Now, I will not always attain to that, but that is my goal, my standard and with the empowering of the Spirit, I believe it is possible.
    * – escapes from pain. I have used prescription meds (and am currently often tempted) as a means of “escape” from my situation of CP. I find that I want to turn quickly to them, and they in a sense become my “Savior” instead of submitting myself to God & his word to be victorious over the temptations. Ultimately a temptation to suicide (which I’ve experienced) is really an escape mechanism from my circumstances. It is basically saying that I nullify 1 Cor 10:13 – that the circumstances have overpowered me and God is not faithful to allow me to bear up under them.

    This is where I would start – certainly not that condensed or concise in a counseling situation, but that may give us some idea of where I’d come from to help someone in the midst of CP.

    Does this help – need clarification or further explanation?

  6. Pingback: Destaques On-line da semana – n.1/agosto 2011 « Conexão Conselho Bíblico

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