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Discuss: Does Having Chronic Pain Excuse Bad Behavior?

July 1st, 2013 · 16 Comments

I recently had an unpleasant interaction with someone who has chronic pain.  It made me think a lot about:

  • the effects of having pain,
  • how it can change our interactions with others, and
  • if there are limits to using pain as an excuse for bad behavior

The situation:  I had planned to send a music CD to an acquaintance who has significant pain and told her I’d be sending her a package.  However, when I went to the post office to mail it, I found out postage would cost $25.  Much more than the $10 or so I was expecting, and more than the CD itself cost.

I researched the CD and found out there was an electronic version.  I then contacted her and explained the situation.  I asked if I could send an electronic version instead, or if there was anything else I could do to make up for not mailing the CD.

She responded by saying I had devastated her.  She said that because she has pain, there are few positive things in her life.  She had really been looking forward to receiving the CD, but now instead felt horrible.  She reprimanded me and said I should never do that again – promise something and then say I couldn’t follow through.  She scolded me that I should have known the postage before hand and, if it was too much, never offered her the CD in the first place.

As I didn’t want to cause more suffering for someone, I apologized for causing her disappointment and then sent the CD.  Yet I was struck by her irritability and what I saw as inflexibility and unreasonableness.  And I never received any acknowledgment from her that she received it, or a thank you.

What would you have done?

Do we have to be more careful around people with pain?  Do we have to do things for people with pain even at a inconvenience to ourselves?  Do we accept irritablity and inflexibility, saying, “well, that person has pain”?

Or, do we have to reign in our irritability and inflexibility, despite our pain.  And, when we do get irritable and inflexible as we all sometimes do, should we then apologize?

What are your thoughts?  Discuss in the comments!

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16 responses so far ↓

  • Sue // Jul 1, 2013 at 10:24 am

    I know everyone has a bad day, in pain or not so I do try to remember that it could be me having that bad day. That being said, your friend went to the extreme and you do deserve an appology and a thank you.

    Most people see my pain as anger or upset, Im sorry I cant smile thru the pain, and have to explain way too often, no Im not in a bad mood, I just hurt.

    And of course there are times that I am irritable, and it is usually at a family member that is trying to help. As soon as I notice it I appology. It is frustrating for everyone involved. no easy answers here

  • Celeste // Jul 1, 2013 at 10:25 am

    I live in pain continually with my arthritis and fibromyalgia. Sometimes when I’m really down with it, I do get a bit irritable. I will react if someone is expecting me to do something and I just can’t. I try to respond rationally most of the time, but have had moments when I just get sarcastic and moody. Mostly it’s with my husband. He is in chronic pain from his RA and so we clash for sure at times.

    My comment on this lady’s expectations is that it may have just been a bad day when she reacted that way. I don’t think it was necessary to cave and send the CD when it was going to cost that much. The electronic version probably would have worked quite well. I’m sure the lady could have created a CD from the electronic version anyway. She probably would have calmed down about it later. If not then she needs a lesson in manners.

  • Carol // Jul 1, 2013 at 12:49 pm

    I think the woman needs to get a grip on her anger problem. Had that been me and I was looking forward to it receiving, I would had offer to chip in on the price or even pay for the whole thing myself. No I would have taken the electric file. I really can’t afford much. Don’t take on her anger.

  • Joy Corcoran // Jul 1, 2013 at 1:31 pm

    I think your friend’s response was TOTALLY inappropriate and had nothing to do with her chronic pain condition. Although I sympathize with her, she may not have learned how to deal with it yet, but casting out blame and guilt to a friend who is only trying to give a gift is inappropriate. I wouldn’t have been able to follow through either because my financial situation wouldn’t allow it and any sympathetic friend would understand that. Those of us in pain and with chronic health conditions are not exempt from basic courtesy and kindness. I know people who use their disability to get their way and I suppose, in a competitive world, you use whatever you’ve got to get where you want to be. I always apologize when I’ve snapped at someone because I was in pain. Irritability hurts me and apologizing soothes it. Without my friends, I would be in much more pain. I owe them common courtesy and kindness just like anyone else. Thanks for posting this and starting the conversation.

  • Crystal // Jul 1, 2013 at 2:17 pm

    Hey there! New on this site. Recently found it while looking for things to read after struggling with my own issues of chronic pain.

    I’m so glad you brought up this topic. I know that when I first started suffering with chronic pain, I went from being one of the most patient people among my friends and family to one of the most easily irritated. It was like I was on the outside looking in, and I could see myself getting frustrated more and more easily, but I was just in so much pain that I didn’t know how to cope with it all.

    I like to think of life as the hierarchy of needs, and when you’re in chronic pain, sometimes it can take over all of your thoughts and make it hard for you to deal with anything else. It takes over your life and suddenly you can’t take care of the other needs on top of it, because it’s the first thing you have to deal with all the time. Then, things like being kind or patient take a backseat to dealing with the constant pain.

    Honestly, I didn’t really start to improve until I started seeing a psychologist who specializes in people with chronic pain. But even now, it’s still hard for me. When I’m getting upset with other people, I still think to myself, “If you were dealing with this pain, you would be at least as frustrated as I am.”

    I don’t think it’s fair to treat the people you love with disrespect, but I definitely don’t think that people who have never suffered from chronic pain can understand what it does to your life, and your mind.

    I also think it’s important to talk about these issues if you are in chronic pain, and to try to work through them.

    For me, it was a lot about explaining to the people I love just how much pain I was in all the time. And also, making sure I didn’t run myself into the ground, which usually made me get frustrated more easily.

    As for your story, I honestly feel for the girl you were going to send the CD to. I have been pretty isolated myself lately because of my pain, and I know that many people I love have a hard time understanding how important the little things have become to me. I do think she should have called to say thank you when she received it, but I know for me personally, there are long stretches when I don’t even have the ability or the strength to do that.

    Each of us copes in our way. And some of us are able to deal with the various ways that chronic pain chips away at our lifes better than others. Maybe she was rude, but maybe she is also able to better navigate the healthcare system than I am. I don’t know.

    I appreciate you bringing up the topic though and running this blog. Thank you for that. I’ve been reading it for awhile and I get the emails whenever you post. 🙂

  • Genevieve S // Jul 1, 2013 at 8:34 pm

    Sometimes when others do things that bother me or when things don’t go the way I like them and I’m in pain. Sometimes I want to cry out don’t you understand I’m in pain, I’m sick. But then I think to myself they might be suffering too. The world doesn’t revolve our pain
    I know sometimes I’m so sick but its not other people ‘s problems. We should be thankful that someone cares!

  • Lisa // Jul 1, 2013 at 10:55 pm

    I can understand her spontaneously flipping out if she was having a bad day because I’ve had a few times when my judgment was totally off and I didn’t realize until later. I think, though, eventually she should have realized she overreacted and apologized.

  • sherry // Jul 1, 2013 at 11:49 pm

    I think your friend sounds as if she feels entitled. I wish that you didn’t send the CD. You put yourself WAY out there for her and she didn’t appreciate your sacrifice. Just because we have pain, does not entitle us to expect others make it up to us. I think it could have been a chance for her to maybe mature in thinking a bit. Maybe she wouldn’t have changed her thought process at all, but now she’s left feeling empowered to get what she wants through bad behavior.

  • Michelle // Jul 2, 2013 at 12:47 pm

    Your friend was inappropriate, which happens to everyone. I work really hard to reign in my emotions so that I deal with others in a healthy way.

    She struck hard at you, and for no reason. You tried to do something nice and it became a huge inconvenience for you, a fellow chronic pain sufferer. She should have been more understanding and expressed her disappointment in a better way.

    I suspect she was feeling very overwhelmed in life and having a particularly hard time for her to be so upset over something so minor.


  • How to Cope with Pain // Jul 2, 2013 at 1:19 pm

    Thanks for all the thoughtful comments! It helps to hear that the behavior was inappropriate, but to be gentle with my judgment in that she could have been having a bad day or a bad pain day.

    I sent the CD mostly as a spiritual practice of causing no harm, and an exercise in generosity and letting go.

    Great discussion! Thanks!

  • Jackie // Jul 2, 2013 at 8:42 pm

    I personally think she was rude, yes she might have been having a bad day, but then I would expect an apology the following day. I would not have sent the CD either. And on that note have a happy day 🙂

  • phylor // Jul 4, 2013 at 8:08 pm

    I know I can get irritable, impatient and down right cranky on bad pain days.
    But, I do try and apologize, or put my comments in the context they were meant.
    I think your friend over-reacted, and she should have given you an apology and a thank you. Some folks would be so put off by a response like hers, they wouldn’t follow through as you did.

  • priechard // Jul 4, 2013 at 11:16 pm

    First of all, there are ALWAYS going to be people that cannot be satisfied if anything out of the normal happens, or maybe ever. That being said add constant unrelenting pain to the mix and you intensify the effect 10 or 100 fold. Yes the friend was so far out of line a wrangler couldn’t put that back straight.

    I am curious however why the post office could not send the CD media rate? Unless you are not in the USA? Media rate for DVD and CD’s and videos are used here, a little slower speed sometimes but a dvd in case is like $3.50 or there about. A CD should be about $2.99 ish. My other thought is that the person had no idea what an electronic version is, my Mom would not, and she has an MP3 player I had to load for her.

    We pain people have bad days and snap once in a while but usually apoligize after we do. We expect better from ourselves than that, sorry that your friend was not so kind. Don’t expect it from all of us, we promise there are better attitudes out there.

  • What is RSD // Aug 7, 2013 at 1:36 pm

    This is a very interesting topic. Those who don’t deal with pain don’t understand the mental strain that managing reflex sympathetic dystrophy can bring.

  • Alan // Aug 22, 2013 at 10:41 pm

    We live to suit ourselves most of the time, i feel t I was totally in the wrong for the same type of offense toward another. Better that it was toward a highly esteemed family member. I am able to see Firecracker’s fuse but the light should not have been your own explanation of conditional suffering. In the eyes of pain virtues are backslidden toward whatever else is coming across the agenda for the persons’ day.Your acquaintance is presumably looking for sympathy and evidently hires her own at the expense of others not caring about the liability that her nasty outbursts and lack of honor brings. Anyone else giving them what they deserved would’ve most likely been what they expected, but you gave soft words and a follow through for promise, clearly the only last word coming across the airways for them. A hard copy was all they would have this time.
    Someone I care for deeply wasn’t moving to suit me (so I thought,) getting food together on a holiday while my waiting grew impatient I got upset and said after they were “quite through” I’d get my food, was I more annoyed with self for such a lack of caring that it nearly caused me to lose hope in myself. But, there are still lessons and journeys of love on the horizon if only we keep on venturing forward. Good story, I think you are a wonderful friend. I would that you had’ve settled for media rates also, but you weren’t set on settling.

  • Tula // Aug 26, 2013 at 4:10 am

    I have lived with a high level of constant pain from post concussion syndrome for over 40 years.

    Through the years, I have been called a liar by so many doctors and medical professionals I have lost count. Many said this to me after reading my chart and before I ever said a word. (I had seen my chart and knew there was nothing in it to cause this “diagnosis”).

    I have learned to hide my pain, and have seen the disbelief in the eyes of friends, relatives and acquaintances, several of whom told me they know someone who swears by Excedrin Migraine!

    But never in all those decades have I ever treated anyone in such a superior, self-exalted dismissive manner. How dare she.

    I have had to interact with people when tears were pouring out of one eye and I sat with my arm up near my eye–elbow on a chair, so the tears could run down my arm.

    But I never took it out on anyone in the room with me.

    I am no saint, of course I can be curt with family, particularly when too much is being demanded of me, but I instantly apologize.

    It is no one’s fault I am in pain. I never think, “Why me?” because, why not me? It is just one of those horrible random trials that touch certain lives.

    I agree with those who said you should not have sent the CD. Did the recipient thank you and apologize for her outburst? If both of these things were not done, I would consider severing your ties to this person.

    With few exceptions, the people who did not dismiss my pain were therapists with every possible educational degree. They knew I just needed help in dealing with the pain, there would never be a magic pill. And it took me 35 years to find a truly kind caring doctor.

    You have received some wonderfully wise comments. I hope you did not waste much time feeling bad for being treated so terribly, and I’m sorry that you were treated like that for wanting to help her.

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