How Do Families Cope With Pain?

Most illnesses are short lived, but can still cause us difficulty performing activities of daily living (ADLs).

Basic ADLs are those activities associated with self-care like personal hygiene, dressing/undressing, eating, and moving around.  But ADLs also extend to other fundamental areas of life – employment, house cleaning, grocery shopping, home maintenance, laundry, preparing meals, caring for children and pets, and leisure activities.

In a normal family environment, most ADLs are shared equally.  But when one member falters, everyone else has to adapt and assume tasks that ordinarily would not be their responsibility.  Roles get shuffled, but everyone is more than willing to chip in to help out any way they can.  This is a common experience for most families.

But chronic pain is different.  It’s invisible, and there’s no end in sight.  And it’s not unusual for even the most loving of families to be affected.  After helping out for a while, they may start to feel guilty about not being able to relieve the suffering.  They may start to worry about the family’s finances.  Because chronic pain is invisible, some may start to wonder if the patient is “faking it”.  All of this can lead to resentment, over a withdrawal of the patient’s affection and sexual intimacy, the unending care required by the patient, the burden of extra family responsibilities, and the decline (or loss) of a social life and time spent with friends.

Eventually the entire social network may begin to crumble as surrounding family members (and friends) develop what is commonly referred to as “compassion fatigue”, both mentally and physically.  As suffering, frustration, stress and anxiety increase, tempers can easily flare – even at the slightest provocation.

One of the keys to maintaining healthy family functioning is honest, routine communication.  Individual responsibilities need to be routinely evaluated and discussed openly so that all members feel their needs are being addressed and met.

It is also important to understand that the patient is going to have good days and bad days, and that you do not have to rescue the patient from their situation.  Be available to them, encourage regular exercise, and help promote a return to a more independent level of functioning.  Fight isolation by visiting family members and finding volunteer activities as well as activities everyone can enjoy doing together.

If you are the one suffering with chronic pain, accept it as part of your life, but don’t give in to it or feel sorry for yourself.  Learn how to manage it effectively – just as you would manage diabetes, asthma or high blood pressure.  Remember that everyone has challenges in life to overcome.  Learn to recognize your strengths and assume responsibility for yourself and your actions.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Personal contact with a therapist knowledgeable about pain can be very helpful.  Two books often recommended to families coping with pain are Chronic Pain and the Family:  A New Guide by Dr. Julie K. Silver and ACPA Family Manual:  A Manual for Families of Persons with Pain by Penny Cowan.

Life is full of temptations to dwell on the negative because, at some point, we all suffer from unhappiness due to loss, illness, tragedy, failure, and misery.  Learning how to cope with these setbacks is the key to ensuring you don’t miss out on all of life’s triumphs, celebrations, and pleasures.

Supporting the Lowcountry for Over 20 Years

"It is my mission to offer our patients the most current treatments available for the management of acute and chronic pain."​
The Staff of Intervene MD Gather Together with Dr. Todd Joye for a Group Photo

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