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9 Tips for Talking to a Person With Pain

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Family Issues #4

This is a series of posts about family issues and your pain. You’re invited to copy these posts and discuss them with your loved ones.

People in chronic pain seem most helped when those closest to them express concern for their suffering and offer help that’s genuinely needed, along with encouragement for them to be as active as possible. Don’t overdo sympathy or try to remove all obstacles and challenges from someone in pain. On the other hand, don’t punish the pain sufferer by blame and hostility. If you’re not sure how best to be helpful, you might ask the person in pain what kind of attention (s)he feels is most helpful and respectful.

Tips for Communicating with a Person Suffering from Chronic Pain, (adapted with permission from the work of Mark Grant, Ph.D.)

  1. LISTEN. Pay attention not only to what your loved one is saying, but to his nonverbal communication and how he’s saying it. He may be reluctant to talk about how he feels, but give indications in his behavior.
  2. DISCUSS. Good listeners are also good in conversation. Repeat and summarize what your loved one is saying. Ask questions. Some people need to be encouraged to talk more about their worries. Others need to be encouraged to focus instead on things other than pain.
  3. BE GENUINE. Don’t pretend to be interested in her feelings if you’re not.
  4. HAVE COMPASSION. Try to listen with an open heart, even if for a few minutes. It can be very healing and supportive.
  5. BELIEVE. Accept that their pain is whatever they say it is. Don’t tell them it can’t be that bad.
  6. AVOID HURTFUL COMMENTS. Comments like, “You’ll just have to live with it” or “We’ve tried everything and nothing works” are not helpful. Recognize when you’re frustrated or irritable yourself.
  7. SUPPORT THEM WHEN THEY GET DISCOURAGED: Ask questions which help patients get in touch with their strengths, like “What helps you get through this?”
  8. USE POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT: When your loved one acts in a positive manner, reinforce this with praise and attention. When they act more negatively or helplessly, don’t pay too much attention. Acknowledge they feel bad and wait for an opportunity to reinforce the positive.
  9. BE AWARE OF YOUR NONVERBAL COMMUNICATION. Remember that you can communicate rejection not only through the words you choose, but also by how you say them – your tone of voice and volume, for example. You also communicate by facial expressions, like frowns, sneers, gestures (like putting your hands up to indicate “enough!”), and eye contact (by looking away).

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