Is chronic pain straining your friendships?

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Chronic pain is isolating. It can prevent you from doing things with others that you used to enjoy gardening, hiking, dining out and can put a strain on relationships, especially with friends who can’t handle your condition and the changes it has brought.

How can you avoid letting pain interfere with your friendships? When is it appropriate, as well as emotionally healthy, to end a connection that might be distressing you?

We sat down with Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry at New York University’s School of Medicine, to answer these questions and discuss other issues chronic pain sufferers might encounter with their friends.

Called The Dear Abby of Friendship, Levine is an award-winning freelance journalist, creator of the TheFriendshipBlog.com and author of Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend.

PR: How much about your pain condition should you share with others?

Levine: The answer varies, of course, depending on the nature and circumstances of the friendship. For example, you would probably want to exercise more caution in telling a co-worker about your condition if you don’t want your employer to know. If the person is a distant acquaintance, you probably wouldn’t want to share anything too personal, whether or not it’s health related. But sharing within the context of a close relationship can be very beneficial in terms of both emotional and logistical support.

PR: Should you share your condition with Facebook friends or keep it more personal?

Levine: Again, it depends what you use Facebook for and who you accept as friends. In most cases, when you post something about your health on a social network you’re compromising privacy you don’t know how far the message will spread, or to whom. If you want to share the blow-by-blow of your condition and its treatment , you may want to opt for a more anonymous venue, such as a pain forum, or via email to a smaller, more trusted circle.

PR: What barometer can you use to know if you can share your condition and emotional trauma with a certain friend? And what if he or she expresses pity instead of concern or compassion?

Levine: Your close friends will want to know about something that is a major concern to you, especially since it may affect your interactions with them. For example, you may need to cancel get-togethers when your pain is overwhelming, or you may not be able to do certain things with them. But you need to exercise judgment when you tell others something so emotionally laden. You also might not want to reveal everything at once. That gives you the opportunity to gauge their sensitivity and concern. If a friend expresses pity, try to remember that it may have more to do with them than with you. They may be worried or fearful, or lack the words to express support in a more positive way. There is no harm in explicitly telling the individual that you didn’t tell them about your pain to garner pity, and that pity makes you feel worse.

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