People do not like to observe the person they love experiencing pain, a simple fact. It is a natural response to the person we are closest to in life as well as family members, friends, and others we care about. The happiness we have in life is tied to theirs and when the person we love is experiencing pain, we feel emotional pain along with them. When they smile we are happy and when they cry we cry along with them. A laugh from the person we love brings a laugh from us as well. Love is one of the strongest emotional ties a person can have for another; it is one of the strongest bonds one person can feel for another person.
Pain - Defined as a feeling triggered in the nervous system. Pain may be sharp or dull. It may come and go, or it may be constant. You may feel pain in one area of your body, such as your back, abdomen or chest or you may feel pain all over, such as when your muscles ache from the flu. Chronic Pain affects 76 million Americans- more than diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined. Chronic pain can last for months or years and is a major source of disability in the United States. The annual cost of chronic pain in the US including healthcare expenses, lost income, lost productivity, compensation and litigation is estimated to be $100 billion. Beyond the physical toll, chronic pain is often accompanied by depression and anxiety which result in reduced quality of life.
A common reaction on the part of many people in a relationship to their loved one's experience of chronic pain is a desire to spare their loved one their pain or level of suffering. For example; a parent might be hesitant to let their children make the mistakes they need to in order to learn and grow because making the mistakes may hurt, either physically or emotionally. People who are in love with each other might become upset when the person they love has done something that risked an injury or form of harm - whether it was necessary or not. Friends want to help each other feel better after they have been physically or emotionally hurt. The reactions described are not only common; they are many times a good thing. Love means looking out for one another and helping each other by being there for each other.
When the Reaction Takes the Wrong Direction
At times, the reaction to be there for others who experience chronic or other forms of pain can take a wrong direction. Ask yourself what you do when the person you love is always in pain. What do you do with the emotional reactions you have to the experience of pain on the part of the person you love when you are unable to ease the pain they are experiencing? A number of people internalize it as somehow being their fault or choose to withdraw because it is too painful to witness the pain their loved one is experiencing. They may go to great lengths to find ways to somehow ease the pain their loved one is facing. It may reach the point where a person who wants to deal with anything but their loved one's pain do anything they possibly can to ensure their loved one does not become used to living with pain, or perceive it as a usual part of their life. There are many forms of disabilities in existence that involve chronic pain, either physical or emotional.
Where this writer is concerned, pain has become an everyday event. Living with chronic pain related to arthritis is a daily thing and I get around and take care of myself whether I have other issues to face such as medications to take, dishes to wash, a headache, appointments to keep, or anything else. Even when I am feeling the most pain I drag myself out of bed and continue on my regular daily routine. When the pain in my feet, ankles, or knees reaches the point where it is simply unbearable, I take the time to sit, take some pain medication, drink some tea, and relax. Then I continue doing whatever is on my agenda.
The person I love most in the world does basically the same thing, although the pain they experience is due to different forms of disabilities. They have endured two surgeries on different parts of their body in as many years. They still pursue their daily routine. They take the time they need to relax, ease the pain, take medications if they need to, and continue with life and living.
It is easy to fall into the trap of wanting to always be there for the person you love when they experience chronic pain, whether that pain is physical or emotional. Nobody wants to watch as their loved one deals with pain and it is natural to want to be there for the person you love. Being, 'ever-present,' and acting like it is somehow your duty to be there every single minute of the day with the goal of easing the pain your loved one experiences can destroy your relationship.
The person you love may even have the same instinct as you do where wanting you to be there for them, doing whatever you can to ease the pain they are experiencing is concerned. It is the wrong instinct. Feeling as if you are somehow responsible for another person's chronic pain leads to negative emotions. It leads to a sense of obligation that should not be there in the first place. It leads to expectations on both of your parts that you should always be there to ease the pain no matter how trivial the effort expected of you.
Continue to Love and Care
People who live with chronic pain inevitably have to become accustomed to living with it. It is physically impossible for another person to be present in someone's life at every single minute of every single day, all year long, year after year. People with disabilities must be as independent as they able to achieve so they can help themselves when they need to. If there is no one around to help them, a person must be able to reach for the help they need, or help themselves. Attempts to somehow, 'shelter,' a person you love who lives with chronic pain only postpones their ability to learn to live with the chronic pain they live with.
Chronic pain is something you personally cannot remove from the one you love. Feeling bad because you cannot remove the pain your loved one feels, becoming depressed because you cannot, or racing around attempting to remove their pain knowing your best is never good enough, will not only get you nowhere - it won't help the person you love. It will only make you feel worse as you blame yourself for not doing enough. Accept that the chronic pain the person you love experiences will always be there, and love the person you care about most in your life. Caring is the best thing you can do, not racing around being a waiter or waitress.
Hold the one you love, and let them know that you are there. It is worth more than endless, 'I wish I could cure you of this pain,' or, 'I wish I could take this pain away from you.' Understand that loving a person with chronic pain can mean giving them some space to deal with their own chronic pain, even if it means time spent without you. When they want to spend time with you and are not experiencing so much pain, they will let you know. Also understand that if you both experience chronic pain, it works both ways. Love is a wonderful thing and it is worth taking the time to care for each other in this way. Doing so ensures that neither of you are alone as you endure the pain, and the love will grow.
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