How To Speak with Someone in Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is any physical, emotional, psychological, or spiritual pain that is felt for fifteen days out of thirty for three months or more. The experience of chronic pain can impart the burden of deep and pervading shame for someone.

There\’s this shade of shame that hangs around people suffering from chronic pain. It sure hung around me.

I felt shame that somehow told me that I had done something wrong, so this was my penance.

I felt shame that I just couldn\’t seem to match the level of performance I used to have when I was healthy.

 I experienced shame because I spent so much time consumed with the pain I felt to the detriment of others.

I was filled with shame just by walking into or being wheeled into a room. I noticed the vibe of the whole room chill a little as people switched from easy talking to more hushed whispers.

I was ashamed because I wasn\’t even sure I would ever find a way to be any different, and I worried that things would only get worse.

Shame is the food of the suffering in chronic pain.

When we carry shame, we are holding onto and activating the quintessential disconnector. Disconnection from the world as we knew it, the people we knew and loved so much, from the person we used to be, and disconnection from whatever our concept of a Higher Power has been.

We can get so hooked by the negativity of shame that we have lost all sense of who we were and who we are. And we even forget that we were ever connected to anything.

Our self-esteem collapses and we live in fear.

So, the next time you are talking with someone in chronic pain, here are a few options for you to consider:

1) Do what you can to really connect. The experience of isolation in chronic pain suffering can lead to utter hopelessness. Do what you can to bridge this gap as compassionately as possible.

2) You have entered a no bulls**t zone. People in chronic pain can spot BS a mile away. Please be sincere.

3) This space is also a no-pity zone. Compassion is warmly welcome. Pity is soundly rejected. The subtext of pity is, “I see you from above.” The subtext of compassion is, “I am meeting you where you are.” Remember that you are going for connection here rather than inviting any sense of rejection.

4) Look them straight in the eye. Meet their gaze and hold it.

5) Take care how you connect. In such vulnerable isolation, the potential for grabbing onto a codependent relationship is there.

6) Be present. And stay present, no matter how uncomfortable you may feel. A chronic pain sufferer spends more time remembering their past and fretting about their future than staying in the present moment. They need the reassurance of your steadiness here, affirming that it is truly safe to be in the present.

7) Tell them how much you appreciate having them in your life.

8) Hold space for them.

9) Listen.

10) Ask permission before you touch them. Their sense of safety has been threatened, so they are on high alert.

11) Be supportive and encouraging rather than judgmental.

12) Speak to their soul, not their condition.

13) Ask them if there is anything you can do for them and mean it. Then make sure to follow up.

14) Keep your visit, whether in person or over the phone, limited. Your visit is welcome and so helpful. Remain aware of the subtle cues that the person in pain is tiring. Pain is an energy zapper, so sufferers tire more quickly. You may not get a request to leave from them because they do not want to offend in any way. Just be aware of the time and how they are managing. While social visits are healing, they can also be taxing if you overstay your welcome. Make a graceful, loving exit so they can rest again.

15) Tell them you love them and make sure they take that into their heart.

Elizabeth Kipp is the author of The Way Through Chronic Pain: Tools to Reclaim Your Healing Power. She is a Chronic Pain Management Specialist, Addiction Recovery Coach, and Ancestral Clearing Practitioner. You can reach Elizabeth through her website at

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