By Sarah Faith –
For those of us who experience any type of chronic pain, from daily to severe, it is not difficult to believe, empathize with, and understand others with the same affliction. For those who do not experience it, it is much harder. In fact, it seems sometimes that there is only a small fraction of people that I will call “normals” who even accept it as valid.
Empathy, as opposed to sympathy, is having or having had the same experience as someone else allowing you to feel what that person is feeling. It is something we simply cannot expect from most, and when we do find someone who can legitimately empathize it is like finding a magical unicorn.
I use the word “legitimately” because many people who have experienced maybe one or two headaches or migraines in their life like to think they can empathize with those who experience it on a daily or near daily basis (bless their non-unicorn hearts). But at least they WANT to empathize and we should give them credit for that.
It seems that even sympathy is in short supply and darn near impossible to find even among family and friends sometimes. In fact, it took me years of seeing countless doctors, doctors who SPECIALIZE in these very things, before I finally found one who truly sympathizes with me.
In addition, those people who would like to think they understand so often have what they believe to be the “answer”.
“If you would just de-stress…”
“You should go to therapy.”
“You just need to exercise more… change your diet… use this supplement…”
And there are countless others, am I right?
Although they might have the best of intentions, their suggestions of a “simple” cure to our very complex world is actually extremely condescending and ultimately insulting. They are unintentionally implying that it is your fault because you are either too ignorant to know what to do (about the problem you have researched your whole life), or that you are simply too lazy or stubborn to do it.
Recently, I had dinner with an acquaintance who insisted that a negative attitude is responsible for persistent pain. I’m pretty sure she was implying that I have one.
However during the same dinner she claimed to possess healing powers or energy. That must be nice, please sign me up! Maybe she could use them to cure my negative attitude!
The bottom line is this: those who do not understand can not really help if they themselves haven’t experienced it firsthand. They can, however, be more self-aware of condescending or insulting attitudes and comments if they would so choose. The truth is we all can and should. I do try to practice having patience for and understanding of their ignorance when they choose to act in such a manner.
I will leave you with this. I think, no I BELIEVE, that the most meaningful thing you can possibly say to a person with chronic pain is simply, “I BELIEVE YOU.” I never expect or ask for anything more.