I had a telephone conversation today with a friend who is in a lot of pain. I have more than one friend in that condition. In our phone call we never got to our intended subject, and we talked for an hour.
In this post I will share some of the things I have learned about working with pain. I’m not a therapist, not a credentialed counselor, but it is hard to avoid learning about pain in this world. The need to learn finds us.
This is a short summary of what I know about working with another person’s pain.
- Listen to understand, not to plan how to respond.
- Avoid giving advice. Avoid preaching.
- Look for the connections among the things the hurting person is saying, and ask if you understand those connections correctly.
- Thank the hurting person for their trust.
- Share an example of how you have been hurt. My younger brother murdered his adorable wife, and then killed himself. He was drunk, stupid, and angry.
- Acknowledge that pain is universal. It is not evidence of being inferior or unfortunate.
- Acknowledge that the point when dealing with pain is to be open to love in spite of being in pain.
- Be available in a physical way, such as touching hands, if that makes the hurting person feel secure.
- Avoid showing any personal distress no matter how much of it you feel.
- Project confidence and some measure of serenity.
- Encourage the hurting person to ask friends to talk with them about their experiences. Pain often causes people to withdraw, to hide out.
- Encourage the hurting person to recognize the helplessness of people who are servants of their own anger.
- Encourage the hurting person to not try to fix severely wounded people, but rather to choose to not be in their company.
- If appropriate, offer books to read. I take comfort in John Bradshaw’s Healing The Shame That Binds You.
- Recommend TED Talks on dealing with pain. Search on the TED website for “regret” and you will find some wonderful content. I especially enjoy Monica Lewinsky’s talk. It is a life changer.
- Remain humble. Except for the saints living among us, we are all in pain.
I welcome your comments.