Living With Chronic Pain: Somebody Just Told Me I am Acting Entitled

Women living with chronic pain
Dr. Gary McClain
Written by
Dr. Gary McClain Mental Health

Living with chronic pain is an everyday struggle that can affect not only your mood and attitude, but those around you. Ever heard someone say you’re acting entitled due to your chronic pain? Read on to learn how to cope and address it. 

Dave was at work the other day when a shipment of office supplies came in.  The delivery person had placed a stack of large boxes in the middle of the office.  The boxes would need to be carried into the storeroom and unpacked.  

This wasn’t the best of days for Dave.  He didn’t have as much strength as he normally has.  So later in the afternoon, after having had to walk around them for the past few hours, Dave decided that, while it was his responsibility to unpack and log in the supplies, he was going to need a hand both with moving as well as unpacking them.  

He asked two of his co-workers if they would give him a hand.  “I’m not feeling the best today,” Dave said.  “Would you guys mind giving me a hand?”  

Joseph, one of the co-workers he asked, said with a smile: “Wow, Dave.  What a convenient day to not feel good.  So that means you’re entitled to push this off on your poor office mates, huh?”

Dave knew this was meant in good humor, so he smiled and said, “Yeah, good timing on my part.”

But inside, he felt he had been called out.  He wasn’t so sure the comment about entitlement wasn’t meant to hit home.  If so, it sure had.  And Dave had to ask himself if, with a little extra pushing, he might have been able to move the boxes on his own.  But how would he have felt afterward?

Marisol experienced a more direct approach than Dave did.

She and her husband, Eduardo, take turns cleaning the bathroom every weekend.  This weekend, Marisol wasn’t feeling so up to it, so she asked Eduardo if he wouldn’t mind taking her turn.  

“I’ll do it for you,” Eduardo said.  “But I have to be honest with you.  I know you’re not always feeling all that energetic.   Cleaning the bathroom doesn’t take all that much energy.  So I think it’s really entitled of you to ask me to do something you could do yourself.  And doing something active might even benefit you.”  

Marisol felt bad when Eduardo said this to her.  She understood his point.  And so she said, “Never mind, Eduardo.  I think I can do it.  And you’re right, I can use the exercise.”  But Marisol also wasn’t sure how she was going to feel when she finished the job.  

Needing Help Isn’t Being Entitled. Even If It’s Perceived That Way  

What about you?  Have you ever been accused of having an entitled attitude, using your chronic pain to get excused from doing something that, at least in the mind of the person you are asking for help, is something you could do for yourself?  If so, you’re not alone.  And when this happens, you have probably felt like Dave and Marisol.  Exposed.  With the other person thinking that you might be using your condition to manipulate them.  Most likely, unfairly.

You have times when living with your chronic condition leaves you not feeling at your best, including in pain.  In these times, you have had a legitimate need for assistance.  

So how do you handle those times when other people accuse of using your chronic condition as an excuse for acting entitled?  Here are some ideas: 

First, ask yourself if you really need the help.  I can think of two good reasons why you might ask for help due to your chronic condition.  First, your energy level or symptoms prevent you from being able to complete the task.  Second, like Dave, completing the task might leave you at risk for being exhausted or symptomatic.  Both are good reasons for requesting assistance.  However, be clear with yourself why you think you need help.  And, with that reason clearly in mind, evaluate whether you might or might not be able to complete it.  Will completing it be uncomfortable but doable?  Will it leave you tired but not necessarily exhausted?  Could it lead to a pain flare-up?  You know your own body.

If you do need help, explain why.   You don’t have to give a long explanation or divulge information you aren’t comfortable divulging.  A simple: “I’m not at my best today and I need some extra help.  Would you mind giving me a hand?”  If you’re asking help from a loved one who understands your chronic condition, you might want to give more information, unless they are familiar with your good days and not so good days.  The reason for a brief explanation is simple: The other person is naturally going to wonder why they are being called upon to be inconvenienced.  Having some idea of the motivation for your request may mean their minds will be less likely to make the leap to assuming entitlement on your part.  In other words, it’s not because you have a chronic condition, but because you’re living with chronic pain and other symptoms are making it more difficult for you.  

Don’t ask for any more help than you are sure you need.  Is it possible you might need some help with the task but be able to do part of it on your own?  For example, Dave might have asked his co-workers to move the boxes to a large table and then, depending on his energy level, he might have been able to unpack and place the items in stock on his own, maybe with some additional help with heavier items.  And Marisol might need some help with some of the heavier scrubbing, anything that involved bending and getting on her knees, but could have done the rest of the cleaning on her own.  Other people may be more willing to help when they see that you are trying to do as much of it as you can.  

Offer to do something in return.  Everybody appreciates a favor, especially when being asked to do one themselves.  So it might help to offer to do a favor for the person you are asking to give you assistance.  Choose something you know you can do, and that might actually be of benefit to them.  This isn’t about keeping things even, but it is about a spirit of cooperation, and showing concern for someone else’s wellbeing as you ask them to be concerned for yours.  For example, Dave might have offered to complete a report that he knows his co-worker doesn’t enjoy doing.  Marisol might have offered to make Eduardo’s favorite meal.  

And of course, say thanks.  Just in case you forgot.  You might even remind the person helping you while their assistance is so valuable to you.  

But when you are accused of being entitled, you can stand up for yourself.  Sometimes you catch a loved one on a bad day, a day when the last thing they want to hear is a request from you to do one more thing when they’re already feeling overburdened.  As much as you truly need that extra help you are asking for.  Or a co-worker who has had a stressful day, or who just isn’t all that interested in doing anything more than they have to.  These are times when the entitlement accusation, however unfairly, may be hurled at you.  You don’t have to accept this label, and you don’t have to do it in a way that will lead to conflict.  Simply saying something like, “Believe me, the last thing I want to do is ask anyone for help.  And I know you have a lot going on.”  Or, more directly: “Let’s be kind to each other.  I am not trying to make your day any harder than it is.  But I can’t do this without some help.”  

One of the most hurtful things that can be said to someone with a chronic condition is that they are acting entitled. Living with chronic pain certainly wasn’t on your wish list.  Sure, take a step back and think before you make a request for help.  But on the other hand, don’t accept the entitled label when someone tries to unfairly pin it on you.  You’re doing the best you can.  When you need help, ask for it.  

Remember, and remind others: We’re all in this together. 

Dr. Gary McClain
Written by
Dr. Gary McClain Mental Health

Dr. Gary McClain, PhD, is a psychotherapist, patient advocate, and author, specializing in helping clients deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses, as well as their families and professional caregivers. He works with them to understand and cope with their emotions, to learn about their lifestyle and treatment options, to maintain compliance with medical regimens, to communicate effectively with the medical establishment, to communicate better with other family members, and to listen to their own inner voice as they make decisions about the future. He writes articles for healthcare publications and websites, facilitates discussions in social health communities, and conducts workshops on living with chronic conditions, Chronic Communication. Visit his blog for more on mental health at Connect with him on twitter @drgaryjgd 

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