Managing Emotions While Living with Chronic Pain

By Barby Ingle, Columnist

Before navigating through the minefield of the healthcare system, we need to get our own lives in order first.

It is important to learn the tools to manage chronic pain in a biological, psychological, social and spiritual approach. This can be quite tricky to do, if you don’t put effort into each area.

The one area most skipped over is the psychological challenge that comes with living in chronic pain. One of the things that negatively affected my healthcare was not having my emotions under control when going into a doctor’s office. I would go in expecting them to fix me and answer in broad sweeping terms that did not help them help me. I would typically cry, because I was in so much pain and trying to get someone else to understand was quite a challenge.

There were five major areas psychologically that I worked on: managing my conditions, avoiding peer pressure, figuring out tools that I was comfortable with, respecting the roles of everyone involved in my care, and setting expectations with my family and friends.

Once I became my own best advocate and learned to present my symptoms in ways that helped them understand, I finally started down the path to a team approach to managing my pain.


The first step was getting my emotions under control and taking responsibility for what happens between appointments. That meant making sure that I was organized, learned about my diseases and treatment options, and understood how my insurance worked. Getting organized really helped me get my emotions under control, let go of anxieties, and focus on maximizing my care and energy.

I also learned each provider has their own way of treating pain, and if that provider was not on board with me, I’d find a new one who was willing and able to help me accomplish my goals.

Avoid Peer Pressure

You may face some peer pressure from others in the pain community to try whatever they are doing. Remember to research and only do what you are ready to do for yourself. If it’s not right for you, then it’s not right for you. The stress of allowing others to pressure you into trying a treatment that you are not comfortable with can create a bad situation for you.

Don’t be misguided by the pressure to fit in with others who have the same disease as you. Be sure to stand up for yourself and the care you deserve.

Take Responsibility

We are taught from childhood that doctors fix sick people. Providers and parents make decisions for us about our medications and treatments. But as we age, it is important to learn that we are responsible for our own care, and to think through and develop our own solutions. This is an essential life skill for everyone, but when you are chronically ill it is even more important to develop.

Respect that pain takes a toll on us physically and emotionally, and that we must devote time, effort and energy to improve our living situation and be as mentally healthy as possible. So many times, I wanted to scream or have a tantrum. Can’t they hear me? Can’t they help me? Can’t they do something for me?

Finding more positive ways to say what I was going through and productive ways to communicate helped me get the best care possible in the worst of situations. No one helped me when I let my negative emotions lead me. I have learned to respect myself and others to get the care I need, know when to walk away, and when to find a better way.

Set Expectations Early

Most of my family understood that I was living with chronic pain and that it was not by choice. But not all of my husband’s family understood, and took the word of a nurse who said that I was acting up, looking for attention and nothing was wrong with me. Over the years most of them have come around, after I learned to be patient and stay consistent in my drive and determination.

I have only had to cut a few people out of my life and most of that happened because I was unable to set expectations. Now it is something I have learned to do at the start of any relationship. There is so much less frustration when I have to say sorry I can’t make it because of a pain flare or seizure. They know I want to be there, there just are times that my body doesn’t allow it.

Having chronic pain will challenge you in ways that you never imagined. Preparing for daily activities and pain flares becomes a must. So does searching for small ways to boost your own self-confidence.

Managing the emotional side of chronic pain can be done -- it just takes understanding, effort, and learning to choose your battles.

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Barby Ingle lives with reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), migralepsy and endometriosis. Barby is a chronic pain educator, patient advocate, and president of the International Pain FoundationShe is also a motivational speaker and best-selling author on pain topics.

More information about Barby can be found at her website. 

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.