When pain is invisble

photo of Gwen Randall-Young

by Gwen Randall-Young

I have worked with many clients who suffer from chronic physical pain, as well as those who have post traumatic stress. For these people, physical or emotional pain can be constant, and from the outside they may look perfectly normal.

A person wearing a cast or recovering from surgery is treated with compassion and patience. Their pain is obvious. Those with invisible pain often do not get the same compassion. Those who have not suffered from invisible pain cannot know what that is like.

People with chronic physical pain have often exhausted all medical and alternative options. There seems to be no cure and all they have is medication, which often does not reduce the pain very much. They can become depressed because the pain prevents them from living their lives as they used to. Activities and social engagements they once enjoyed are difficult, if not impossible. Their world becomes smaller.

The salt in the wound comes when family and friends do not believe the pain is that bad or that the individual has done everything possible to help him or herself. Worse still is when others suspect they are faking it.

People with PTSD have similar experiences. The trauma has taken away their ‘old self’ and life can be a constant battle to control the symptoms. Depression, anxiety, fear, guilt and a sense that they are stigmatized are common. We think of PTSD in terms of military personnel or first responders, however, those with abusive childhoods can also have PTSD. It can manifest as challenges in relationships, low self-esteem, lack of trust, fear of abandonment and defensiveness.

Often, a person is unaware they have been affected by trauma or they struggle to understand why they are the way they are. PTSD is complicated and requires an individualized approach that deals not just with the traumatic event, but also with the whole person: body, mind and soul.

There is usually a one-size-fits-all approach to the treatment of PTSD, but the wrong approach can worsen the condition. The individual needs a compassionate approach that helps them understand how the trauma affected them and why they are triggered. They need to be empowered to gain control over their mind and physiology. They need help to find new meaning in their experiences and their lives.

PTSD is very hard for others around the person to understand. They are often told, “Just get over it” or “It’s time to move on.” No one wants this more than the person suffering, but it is not that simple.

People with PTSD are often accused of dwelling on the past and even of faking it to get disability payments. People with PTSD think and function differently, and an astute therapist could easily spot someone who was pretending.

If you know someone with invisible pain, realize you may never fully understand it, but you can still demonstrate compassion and patience. Sometimes a hug says it all. If the person is a partner, it can be a challenge because often they do not even want to talk about it, and behaviour can be unpredictable. Know there will be bad days and better days. If you are blessed by having no pain, try to avoid conflict, give love and reassurance and do things to take care of yourself.

Gwen Randall-Young is an author and psychotherapist in private practice. For articles and information about her books, “Deep Powerful Change” hypnosis CDs and “Creating Effective Relationships” series, visit www.gwen.ca and also Like Gwen on Facebook.

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