I was raised in a chaotic household. My mother was physically and emotionally abusive. It was confusing for me to feel like I had a mother who would do anything for her family and then, within seconds, watch her unpredictably fly into a rage lasting several days. From a young child’s perspective, it was terrifying.
People of the Lie
I read a book during my late teens that shed some light on my mother’s behavior. It is a brilliant book by Scott Peck called People of the Lie. The book begins with the story of a 12 year-old boy who has a near-psychotic break after being given a 22-caliber rifle for Christmas. His parents were confused because they felt that they were making a positive statement to him. Their son was entering his teen years and they wanted to send him the message that they trusted him enough to give him as big a responsibility as owning a gun. The problem was that it was the same gun his 15 year-old brother used to commit suicide the prior Christmas.
The Essence of Abuse
The essence of abuse is being unaware of another person’s needs. If you are consumed by anxiety and just trying to keep your head above water, there is a high chance you are unable to view a given situation through another person’s eyes.
This is taken a step further with regards to anger. When you are angry, you cannot see anything clearly. It is truly all about you. Anger is temporary insanity, and it is dangerous to interact with people or make decisions in that state of mind. When you are experiencing chronic pain, you are frustrated and angry much of the time. You have a legitimate gripe in that your basic need to be pain-free is not being met. Maslow’s miss You feel the world, including your family, owes you something. You feel justified when you vent your anger whether it is directed at someone or just expressed.
Your Family’s Perspective
It is becoming increasingly clear that chronic pain is a major family issue. Its effect on a family is usually devastating and I frequently bring the topic up in clinic. Rarely, do I have people disagree with my statement, “Chronic pain is disruptive and is rough on your family. Family members in the room invariably begin to nod their heads. It is like a dark cloud over the household. I ask them if they love their family and the answer is always, “Of course.” Then I ask them if they snap at their family when they are upset. You can guess the answer. I point out to them that everyone has a choice of creating a safe haven for themselves at home. If you are upset, why would your family be a target. They are the least logical choice.
How do you think your children or partner perceives your mood and actions? You are frustrated because you have lost control of the pain and your life. How much control do you think a five-year old has when you are angry or in a rage after yet again being disappointed by the medical world or beat up by the worker’s comp system? Pain Rules the Roost
You may not perceive your actions as abusive. I guarantee you, it is abuse.
Rules of Engagement
I ask my patients as part of their healing process to ask their family what it is like to be around them when they are upset? I ask them to visualize scenarios from the receiving parties eyes. The answers are not pretty.
I also ask my patients to never talk to their family when they are upset. They have to go to another room or leave the house. They cannot re-engage until they have calmed down. You cannot suppress or control anger. But you don’t have to become a living weapon. Anger must be dealt with using one of the strategies that have been presented in other parts of this web site. Protect Your Family from Your Pain
One homework assignment I ask a family to do on their way home from my visit is to recall a time in their relationship that was full of happiness and joy. Their eyes widen when they realize that they have not connected with that energy for a long time. They are to recall as much detail as they can about that era and then I ask them to work immediately on creating that environment. Their pain is not the family’s problem.
Then I point out one of the basic rules of healing from pain to never share their pain with anyone – ever. The moment they walk out the door they will never complain about pain. You can just feel the relief in the partner, spouse or child within seconds. Your family member cannot help you and they will become frustrated. Besides, your pain is not that interesting of a subject. Do you really enjoy discussing your pain compared to discussing an interesting topic or learning new ideas? How interesting are you to your friends and family when you not only continue to talk about your pain but do it over and over again. Just stop it – now. You are only reinforcing the pain pathways. The chronic pain marriage-go-round
Many people, including me, are addicted to the power of pain and simply do not want to give it up. You are probably not the one reading this post but it is important to understand how powerful pain is. No one, at the end of the day, really wants to give it up. It is only solved by remaining aware of its effect on you and how if affects others. The clearest delineation of this tendency is outlined by Anthony DeMello in his book, The Way to Love. He defines love as awareness and anger blocks it – completely. My victim/ anger pathways run deep and I read a few pages of this book every week. It has taken me a while to accept that these are permanent pathways and the only logical answer is to commit to remaining aware of when they are triggered. I have learned to come out of the Abyss more quickly.
Wake up! There are 116 million of you in the US suffering from chronic pain. That is one in three. If you consider the effect your pain is having on your family, the numbers of people affected have to be well over half of the population.