Empathy, love and compassion are essential for patients with chronic pain and those who care for them

[6 min read]

In this article: 

  • Chronic pain can have a significant affect on patients and the people who love them. 
  • Being in relationship or being a caregiver to with someone struggling with chronic pain can be challenging. 
  • Providence Swedish behavioral health experts offer some advice for patients, loved ones and caregivers navigate relationships in a healthy way. 

Chronic pain is a persistent and ongoing experience that can take a toll on anyone's mental, emotional, and physical well-being. As a caregiver, friend or family member to someone living with chronic pain, it's important to have a good understanding of what chronic pain is and its physical and psychological effects on the person you’re caring for.

“It’s really important to understand that chronic pain patients are naturally under a lot of stress,“ says Paulomi Campbell, Ph.D., a psychologist with Providence Swedish Pain Services. “And when we are under a lot of stress, we may not always have the best words to express ourselves. These conflicts can lead to defensiveness in other people.”  

“One thing that’s helpful is to speak from the “I’ perspective,” adds Dr. Campbell. “It can help diffuse defensiveness and help both parties feel like they are being heard.”

“If there is conflict, something that is very helpful is taking a break from the conversation,” adds Daisy Aceves, Ph.D., a psychologist at Providence Swedish’s Pain and Headache Clinic. “It’s especially important if emotions are very strong or if we are physically experiencing our emotions. Using a regulation technique like putting something cool on your forehead is also helpful in calming you down and lowering heart rate.”

“It’s critical that caregivers and others in the relationship also receive support. It’s the airplane rule: you have to put your own mask on first; then you can take care of someone else.”

Dr. Campbell and Dr. Aceves shared some best practices for chronic pain patients and their caregivers, friends, and families.  

  • Understand the nature of chronic pain. Chronic pain differs from acute pain and can last beyond the expected recovery period. Every person with chronic pain has a unique experience so it’s important [for the patient and their caregivers] to let go of preconceptions about chronic pain. This creates an environment for more effective and empathetic support.
  • Understand the pain scale. The pain scale is a tool used to measure and describe the intensity of the pain an individual feels at any given moment. Familiarizing ourselves with it can help us understand the experience of a person living with chronic pain.
  • Listen. Truly listening is one of the most helpful things you can do for a person in pain. Let go of preconceived notions or assumptions and give the person space to truly express themselves. Try avoiding solutions unless asked for one.
  • Remind the person of why you love or care for them. Chronic pain can become one’s identity, and it's easy to forget who you are beyond your pain. Reminding someone you love them and what they bring to your life can help them to see themselves in a different light—even if it’s just for a moment.
  • Don’t give up. Keep the relationship going. While they may say no to get-togethers or events, continue to include them and find alternative ways to spend time with them; it will help them feel less isolated and more supported.
  • Take care of yourself and seek mental health care. As a caregiver, it's important to prioritize your own self-care. This includes practicing relaxation techniques, pursuing your own hobbies, and engaging in activities that bring you joy and reduce stress. As a caregiver, you should seek professional help from therapists who are trained to work with the unpredictable cycle of chronic pain. This can be very helpful in managing the stress and emotional challenges of being a caregiver to someone with chronic pain.

Caring for someone living with chronic pain can be challenging, but with the right tools and support, it's possible to provide effective and compassionate care.

“It’s critical that caregivers and others in the relationship also receive support,” says Dr. Campbell. “It’s the airplane rule: you have to put your own mask on first; then you can take care of someone else.”

“Everyone in the relationship has to give themselves permission to prioritize themselves at times,” adds Dr. Aceves. “By prioritizing our own well-being, we are modeling for others that it’s okay to do that when you need to.”


Learn more and find a provider

If you or a loved one are struggling with chronic pain, visit our website to learn more about how the experts at Swedish Pain Services can help. 

Whether you require an in-person visit or want to consult a doctor virtually, you have options. Contact Swedish Primary Care to schedule an appointment with a primary care provider. You can also connect virtually with your provider to review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow up as needed. And with Swedish ExpressCare Virtual you can receive treatment in minutes for common conditions such as colds, flu, urinary tract infections, and more. You can use our provider directory to find a specialist or primary care physician near you. 

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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