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When Your Family Doesn't Get It — 5 Steps to Help Them Understand Your Back Pain

Published September 6, 2017    
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It's hard living in constant physical pain. It's even harder when people don't understand. They may have the best intentions, but it's different when someone doesn't really know the depths of our days.

A few back pain warriors expressed their real thoughts in an online forum describing how they feel when their family just doesn't understand.

Brian S.: Sorry I'm about to vent. Today has been a bad day because of the weather. Nothing is working. I'm pissed because Verizon Fios messed up and never turned my old service off so I could have the new install[ed] today. So, I gave my kids their late/early birthday presents —new iPads. That's not good enough. So they start with me because I want to be left alone as I feel the rage coming. I step outside to cool off and write this. Thanks for listening.
Lily R.: It's awful when we [are] all going through all these pains and your flesh and blood doesn't even support you. They say that I'm making believe being sick. 
Robbie F.: Not many people understand why we are always tired or have trouble getting around. Or, why we don't just go to the doctor and “get fixed”. Some will never understand because they can't comprehend how it feels.
Jamie L.: My sister always says that if I was THAT bad, they'd do something about it and I just have to push through it......Sometimes family thinks they are helping when they just don't know.
Ken M.: Even my attorney says anyone who can walk with a cane and look like they have pain. If only he knew my pain and suffering.
Becky C.: Sometimes family can be the worst at accepting our weaknesses.
Our families are the reason we are here on this earth. They are also the ones who can irritate us the most, whether they mean to or not. Regardless, even when we may not want to admit it, we do need their help.

Dr. Matthew Thorson, a Minnesota pain management physician, board-certified in anesthesiology and pain medicine by the American Board of Anesthesiology warned, “It’s tough to deal with chronic pain on your own. Having a strong base of supportive family members and friends can make dealing with the pain more bearable. But if your loved ones fail to understand what you’re going through, it can be difficult to get the support you need.”

Luckily, there are steps you can take to not feel that frustration. Here, you will discover suggestions on how to cope and take action when your family (and friends included) just don't seem to comprehend or sometimes understand your true injury.

What Can I Do?

Educate. “Especially if you suffer from a rare chronic pain condition, your family and friends might not 'get' what you’re going through,” Thorson explains (well-said Doc, well said). He suggests doing your best to educate them about your specific condition, your symptoms, and treatment options. If you can’t find the words yourself, why not check out our awesomely stocked library and send them the link. Let us speak when you can't (which ironically is a huge reason as to why BN exists in the first place).

Take a Step Back. Your family cares. Maybe part of the problem is that they care too much. Perhaps what they are saying is meant to be received in a different way. Maybe they just don't know the information (which is why educating them is so important). So remember to breathe, count to 10. Consider physically leaving the situation and walk out of the room. You are allowed your space and the time to get it out (bringing us to another action).

Get it Out. Confide in someone. Tell a trusted friend or another family member and get it out. You may even feel a weight lifted off your chest from any built up anger. Feel like no one else in your life would understand? Then consider talk therapy with a certified therapist. They are paid to listen and aren't legally allowed to tell another soul. Your feelings will be safe. 

Communicate Your Gratitude. As hard as it can be when your inner being is literally screaming to yell at anyone and everything, it's equally as important to realize that we can't do this alone. Our people take care of us. Even if it's a small act of bringing you your mail in bed, driving you to a doctor's appointment or simply being there, tell the  thank you. Words may be words, but they are powerful. “If one of your loved ones is going out of their way to help you through your pain – let them know,” Thorson pointed out. He also divulged that you may think it goes without saying, but it never hurts to say it out loud.

Ask Your Physician for Advice. Your personal doctor may know your situation better than a general physician. Go to him or her for advice on how to explain your condition and/or symptoms to your family. “They may have a way of breaking down the condition in a way that’s easy to understand,” Thorson concluded.


For anyone directly feeling misunderstood, judged or ridiculed from your own families (or friends), we want to end by saying, YOU ARE NOT ALONE. If you take anything from this, take the fact that they care and your pain matters. Consider adding the five actions noted above into your repertoire. After all, it starts and ends with family. 

Last change: January 31, 2018