Unwanted Advice When Living With Chronic Pain: How to Cope With It and Avoid Giving it

Unwanted Advice When Living With Chronic Pain
Dr. Gary McClain
Written by
Dr. Gary McClain Mental Health

Living with chronic pain or living with a spouse that has chronic pain is a delicate position to be in for you and the people you live with. Learn how to copy with unwanted advice on your condition, treatment and lifestyle.

Nick’s wife, Marisol, asked what seemed like a pretty simple question.  “What do you think we should bring for the family reunion?”

The answer Nick gave was not so simple.  He expressed his concern about his Marisol’s chronic pain and advised her of his concerns over how she would feel sitting outside for hours on a hot, sunny day.

Nick went on to express concern that Marisol was taking on too much, and he explained the importance of not pushing herself too hard.  He also mentioned some family members that he felt often monopolized Marisol’s time at family events, and he cautioned her to set limits with people who create stress. 

As he talked, Marisol couldn’t help but wonder what about her question had caused all this advice-giving, not that Nick hasn’t done this in the past.  But wow, all this over a dish to pass at the reunion? 

Finally, Marisol interrupted him.  “Would it have been easier if I had given you a choice between baked beans or potato salad?”  She smiled as she said this. 

Nick realized at that moment that what could have been a simple answer had turned into a long lecture.  “Wow,” he answered.  “I kind of gave you a little more answer than you expected, didn’t I?” 

“You could say that,” Marisol answered.  And then they shared a laugh. 

However, Marisol has been down this road before with Nick, as well as with other well-meaning friends or family who feel it is up to them to make sure she manage living with chronic pain according to the standards they have set for her.  Or, worse yet, when she receives an unasked for critique on her current pain regimen with strong suggestions of what she should instead do to manage her pain (Nick has crossed this line a couple of times, too).  When this happens, her mood isn’t always so light.   

Nobody likes unwanted advice.  Nobody likes to be micromanaged.  It can leave you feeling like you’re being talked down to, patronized, as if you can’t manage your own life. Even worse when living with chronic pain. It can make you feel exposed, judged, blamed.  And it’s just downright annoying. Living with chronic pain or a spouse that has chronic pain can be easier if we have open communication between partners.

If unwanted advice comes your way: 

Consider the motive.  There is a difference between giving advice out of a desire to show off or put another person in their place and advice that is coming from a place of love.  Depending on your relationship with the advice-giver, it may be relatively easy to discern the advice-giver’s motive.  If you know it’s coming out of love, can you exercise a little extra patience? 

Choose if you want to listen or not.  You’re in control here.  Don’t assume you have to sit through a lecture just because one is being directed toward you.  So before you crawl out of your skin, give yourself permission to take control of the situation. 

Politely – but directly – state your position.  Again, bear in mind the advice-giver’s motivation.  This will help you to choose what to say and how firmly to say it.  The basic message here is something to the effect of “Thanks for the advice, but I am doing just fine on my own.”  You can put your own spin on it depending on the source of the advice, e.g. “I know you love me and I really appreciate it.  However…” 

Let the advice-giver knows how it feels when they lecture you.  Advice-givers may not understand that what they say out of love or concern – or because they think you need the benefit of their knowledge – causes you distress.  So let them know.  Start out with: “I know you mean well (that is, unless you they don’t!)  Follow with something like: “It is really frustrating when someone implies that I am not on the right path in my treatment.  My doctor and I have this handled.”  Or “When you give me medication advice, it feels like you think I am careless or not very smart.  I can’t imagine you would think that about me.” 

Also inform advice-givers on how they can support you.  When people are concerned about a loved one, they may also experience a feeling of helplessness – wanting to lend a helping hand but not knowing how to.  This can lead to some pretty flat-footed behavior.  So help your well-meaning friends and family to help you.  What do you need from them?  A listening ear?  Assistance with a task that wears you out?  A sense of humor and some words of encouragement when you are having a bad day?  Take a moment to educate them. 

And if live with a spouse that has chronic pain and you tend to go heavy on the advice-giving: 

If you haven’t been asked for advice, don’t give it.  It’s as simple as that. 

If you have been asked, address the question.  It starts with listening to the question that has been asked, considering your response, and then providing a direct answer, no more and no less than what was asked for.  Sure, you may have to bite your tongue not to launch into a laundry list of advice that you’ve been waiting to give.  But hold back. 

Offer advice (or further advice), but give the recipient a choice.  Having said that, if you do have some advice, ask the other person if they are interested in hearing it.  Start by being specific about what you want to address: “I’ve been thinking about your chronic pain and I’m wondering if you would like a couple of suggestions/some information I read recently.”  And then wait for their response.  Be okay with “no thanks.” 

Remember: “If you see something, say something” applies only up to a point.  The person the advice is directed toward needs to be receptive to your message if you are going to be helpful to them.  If they haven’t invited you to offer advice, or expressed interesting in hearing what you will to say, chances are it will fall upon closed ears.  And a caution: It could potentially drive a wedge in your relationship whilst living with a spouse that has chronic pain.

We honor other people by giving them the freedom to live their lives as they have chosen.  As someone living with chronic pain, that is your right.  Admittedly, it’s not always easy for friends and family to sit with.  Here are some words of guidance for everyone: Be kind.  We’re all doing the best we can.

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 www.JustGotDiagnosed.com Connect with him on twitter @drgaryjgd 

This article is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek medical advice from your physician or health provider for your specific needs.

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