Pain can pose a challenge to friendship. You may feel that your pain is a drain on your friends, that they find you dull or tiresome. You may be disappointed in your friends' reaction to your pain, feeling they don't understand or care. You may worry that you won't be able to do what you used to do together or you may be unable to keep up. You may fear that your friends will be angry or annoyed if you have to reschedule a get together or leave early. You may not even want your friends to know about your pain. You may feel that you can't be the kind of friend you used to be, so you avoid your friends altogether.
These are common concerns. Sometimes they may even be valid with some friends some of the time. But friendship is such an important part of our lives, that it may be helpful to think about ways to preserve them even though you have pain. There are at least three important factors in maintaining your friendships: commitment, communication, and flexibility.
One of the biggest barriers to maintaining friendship is when you drop out of your network of friends. If your commitment to having and nurturing friends has faltered, you may want to give some thought to which of your friendships matter and what you can do to renew your commitment to those friends. As you think about this issue, try not to worry for the moment about how you will continue your friendships, focus instead on which friendships are truly meaningful. (We will talk about how in a moment.)
Once you have decided who matters, open the door for communication. An important step in honoring your commitment is to talk with your friends about your pain and how you feel it has impacted your relationship. Start by talking with those friends who mean the most to you. Think about the assumptions that you have about your pain and how it might impact your friendship with that person. Then take the time to sit down and talk with your friend. You can talk about some of the fears you may have and ask your friend about his or her concerns. You may be surprised that your friend welcomes a frank discussion. Direc
t communication will be most effective.
It is very possible to maintain a close circle of friends even though you have chronic pain. The key is to recognize that how you spend time with your friends may change. There is no need to isolate yourself. Flexibility is the key.
Maintaining contact is important. Be flexible in how you reach out. Try varied ways of staying in touch, using less taxing methods when you aren't feeling well enough for face-to-face contact:
- online chat
- an old fashioned card or letter
Examine your views on what it means to “get together”. If you used to do very structured or elaborate things with your friends (e.g., dinner parties or nights on the town), it may feel odd at first to take a more relaxed approach. To ease the transition to a simpler way of being together, try giving a short explanation to your friends as in the examples below. Over time, such explanations won't be necessary.
- “I feel bad that I can't invite you over for dinner like I used to. But, it would be great to meet for lunch.”
- “I am sad that we can't play softball together anymore. My knees are just shot and running doesn't work out too well. I can still hit though and would love to go to the batting cage with you.”
- “I miss our long afternoons of shopping. Walking around for a long time is hard for me. How about if we meet up for coffee?”
I hope that some of these ideas will help you to restore and nurture your friendships. It means so much to be connected to others. Don't let pain take that away from you.
About the Author. Dr. Linda Ruehlman is a social/health psychologist and researcher, co-founder of Goalistics, and Director of the Chronic Pain Management Program, an interactive site that helps people with chronic pain to manage their pain and live richer, more effective lives.
DISCLAIMER: This blog is provided as an educational and informational resource only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional psychological or medical advice.