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Living with Pain: Sharing Your Pain With Others

Living with Pain - sharing your pain

One of the most common issues that seems to concern people with chronic pain is that their partner, family, friends, co-workers, or boss don't seem to understand their pain problem or what it is like to live with pain. It makes sense that you would want others to understand how you feel, to know what you are going through, and to “get” your needs and fears. Lack of understanding may trigger feelings of invalidation or discounting.  Most likely the people in your life differ in  how well they comprehend what living with pain is like. Spouses are reasonably accurate in judging patients' health status; it may be more difficult for those who don't live with you. What can you do to deal with this difficult issue?

Need to Know

Institute a “need to know” policy. Different people need different levels of information about your pain. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who? Make a list of who needs to know about your pain: your doctor, your partner, a small group of friends and family, your employer? Keep your list short. Not everyone needs to know.
  • Why? Look at each person on your list and ask yourself why you think they should know about your pain. What is the goal of providing information to that person? This is a very important question. Next to each person's name, list why he or she needs to know about your pain. Once you identify the reason, then you can better determine what the person needs to know.
  • What? People need to know different types of information and may vary in the level of detail.Your doctor may want diffe

    rent details than your spouse or your employer. What you tell your children will depend on their ages. Having a conversation with the important people in your life about what they need to know can be very helpful. Remember that what they need to know depends a lot on why you think they need to know.

  • How often? One of the most natural reactions to pain is to tell someone about it. In acute pain, telling someone that you are hurt plays an important role in obtaining help. When pain is chronic, how often should you share that your back is hurting or that your neck pain has gotten worse? One question to ask your self is “Am I providing new information?” If the information is not new, then what is the purpose of sharing it? This may sound harsh, but sharing too often may reduce the impact of the information, making it less likely that people will respond in a way that is helpful or satisfying to you.  This is especially true for family and friends.

Accept Others' Limitations

An important additional step in coping with others' inability to understand what you live with, is to accept that they can't know. Reduce your own frustration by recognizing that only you live in your body.

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 as well as Think Clearly about Depression, a self-management program for depression.

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.



  1. Amber says:

    So what do you do when other people who you’ve decided to inform about your health issue tell people you did not necessarily want to know about it?

  2. Min yi says:

    Its very true.. Many people still dont understand what we suffer
    As we look ok physically, thank god that I have a very supportive
    Spouse to share with. No need to share with everyone… If no purpose
    Its ok if they dont understand, as we live in our body..God give us the pain
    Sure with reasons….

  3. Janyce Sudo says:

    One of the most difficult things dealing with chronic pain is most of the time when you are in pain you may not look like you are in pain at all. People look at you as if you are full of it and only looking for attention. All I can say is one should not judge until you have walked a mile in their shoes. Except most people would NEVER make it a mile in our shoes.

    Living with chronic pain has humbled me in more ways than I can count. It helps talk with others who also live with chronic pain, no matter what causes the pain.

  4. Jen says:

    I agree, I sometimes say if you could look at my legs and arms and see what I feel! My skin looks normal but I feel like I’ve been dipped in gasoline and lot on fire. I feel like people could or would understand more if I looked “sick” or if my physical appearance matched what I felt.

    It gets very frustrating, having chronic pain has totally changed my life. I do not feel like the carefree, fun loving person I was once. Now I worry who’s going to touch my arm or if I am going to be able to walk tomorrow, especially with work. I’m near being fired for missing too much work and besides the monetary value of my job, I worry about losing that part of me next. I believe that despite my missing alot of work,I lovemy job, I’m really good at it and it gets me up dressed and have a purpose, if I were to lose that I might not get up everyday. It would be hard!

    • The fear of not being able to work is very scary. I think it is best to not try to look too far down the road as one can’t predict the future. One day (week, month) at a time can be so helpful.

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