Teaming up with family and friends

It takes emotional energy to deal with pain and stay focused on your goals. A person who is well-rested and without work or family stresses, can deal with pain more constructively than someone who is exhausted and working through tough issues.

One way to restore emotional energy is to spend time with supportive family members and friends. Yet, many people living with pain become cut off from others. Why does this happen? One explanation goes back to this fact: living with pain uses up emotional energy. This leaves a person with less energy to keep his or her moods under control. As a result, flare-ups of negative emotions can occur, and that can drive loved ones away.

People who live with a lot of pain may need to deal with changing roles. For example, when someone is sick, family members may urge rest, or to avoid physical activity. To make this easier, a family member may take on more household chores. The person with pain is now in the role of a sick person. Unfortunately, this may lead to a very inactive lifestyle. Avoiding walking or other activities can harm physical and emotional health. At the same time, family members become the caregivers. They may need to give up activities they enjoy, and eventually begin to feel resentment.

Working as a team

Counselors who work with families dealing with this kind of situation often meet with everyone in the family together. Their goal is to help the family members think about how they live together, and whether they want to do things in a different way. Instead of family members being divided into two groups, one group in the role of caregiver, and one in the role of patient, the counselor will suggest ways that the family can work together as a team. This may include:

  • The person living with pain will try to become more actively involved in household work.
  • Family members can ask, “Am I helping too much?”
  • The person living with pain can ask him- or herself, “Am I accepting too much help from my family?”
  • Other family members will stop assuming that the family member with pain cannot or should not do things.

There are other difficulties that may arise within the partner relationships.

  • Having a chronic medical problem can lead to economic hardship, which can lead to relationship troubles.
  • Intimate partners may have specific expectations of one another.
  • A partner may have been the breadwinner, cook, comforter, or primary caregiver to the children. Finding oneself unable to fulfill these roles can be harmful to one’s self-esteem.
  • Having a partner who can no longer perform certain duties might cause the other partner to feel resentment.

Living with pain does not have to be debilitating. Families can work together to decide how they will divide household activities and chores in a way that is agreeable to everyone.

References

Bral E., Shaughnessy M., & Eisenman R.(2002). Intimacy in People with Chronic Pain. International Journal of Psychosocial Rehabilitation, 6, 51-60.

Strong, J., Unruh, A.M., Wright, A., Baxter, G.D. (2002). Pain: A textbook for therapists. London: Churchill Livingstone.

Turk, D.C., Meichenbaum, D., & Genest, M. (1983). Pain and behavioral medicine: A cognitive-behavioral perspective. NY: Guilford.