Many of us are reluctant to talk about pain for a variety of understandable reasons. But there are times when it's important to express our pain, either to communicate with medical practitioners or to get the psychological and emotional support we need.
Unfortunately, after these conversations we often end up feeling unheard or misunderstood. So, how best to communicate what's really going on?
7 SIMPLE GUIDELINES
1. Make A Statement Which Acknowledges Your Pain
As obvious as this seems, don't skip this part. It is important for you to hear yourself say it out loud to someone else, and it's important for them to hear it from you so they can relate from a place of understanding and compassion.
Let them know how difficult it is for you to talk about your pain, and thank them for listening.
2. Be Direct
People experience different levels of pain from seemingly similar conditions and situations.
Speak clearly and directly about how pain affects your life: how it limits your focus, your patience, your concentration, your energy levels, and your ability to be in life as you normally would be.
3. Don't Minimize
Especially if you are fairly stoic, as I am, people may not really hear you if you speak calmly and simply try to imply how bad it is without really coming right out and saying it openly and clearly.
Sometimes we think we have communicated to others because WE feel so bad, so we think others MUST be able to see or feel the level of distress we're in, but they don't always.
4. Use Highly Descriptive Words
For practitioners, of course, this is especially helpful, but it's also important to be able to describe the kind of pain you're in when you're asking for help, or understanding.
5. Know Your Own Pain Scale
I would suggest coming up with your own designations for certain levels of pain. For example, 8 might equal the strength of a full-blown migraine, 5 the level of a tooth ache.
You can do something similar for emotional pain, using whatever designations work for you, as long as you're clear. 5 might be feeling generally depressed or lost, and 9 might be at the point where you are severely limited in your ability to function.
Whatever scale you use, use it consistently in a way that makes sense to you and that you can easily communicate to others.
6. Keep a Pain Journal
I found it worked well to describe the kind and level of pain I was in when I woke up in the morning and then to make a couple of notes every few hours or when my pain spiked, so that I had maybe 4 or 5 brief entries per day.
You don't need full sentences, just phrases using descriptive words. If the pain is physical, include body parts/areas, pain level on your scale, type of pain (dull ache, sharp stab). If emotional, note changes in mood, and use descriptions (sad, lost, hopeless, angry, frustrated).
A pain journal is helpful to share with a therapist or other supportive person, and can be a very useful resource for a medical practitioner.
7. Employ Helpful Metaphors
I wake up feeling like I've been pummeled by angry gorillas all night. My leg feels like someone is twanging the tendons like guitar strings. My heart feels like its sinking into mud. I feel like I'm trying to look up at life out of a deep, dark well.
It may seem a bit dramatic to you, but, honestly, your listener will have an easier time understanding and responding to what you are going through.
For more on communicating about pain, read Why We Don't Talk About Our Pain (and why we should).
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