8 Ways to Avoid Alienating Your Friends During Your Illness

By Maureen DeGarmo

One of the more difficult side effects of a traumatic illness can be alienating your friends. When you are in pain, it’s easy to become isolated and inactive. When you do have a visitor, you may be tempted to unburden all of your accumulated pain and frustration upon your visitor. Here are some tips for sharing your pain without losing the support of your friends.

1) State the facts, clearly and simply. Your family likely already knows the basics, so be brief. Some examples:

  • “My pain back has extended down my leg, and now my leg is tingling.”
  • “The doctor has recommended physical therapy.”
  • “I had an MRI last week, which revealed some nerve damage.”

2) Share how you feel. This can be tricky. Briefly state how you feel; then watch for any negative reaction. If your visitor is experiencing stress it may be more difficult for them to empathize. Remember that follow-up questions are an indication of interest in what you have to say (read more about this, here).

3) Know when to stop talking. If your listener refrains from asking questions, it is probably best to stop talking. This can be difficult if you feel isolated and welcome the opportunity to release pent-up feelings of frustration, boredom or powerlessness. But, if they are not interested, or are themselves experiencing stress, saying too much may alienate them.

4) Avoid repetition. Say it once, and then stop. I once had a friend who repeated herself nearly all the time. I knew that she was aware of this habit, because she acknowledged it, and yet she continued to speak this way. Hearing the same story many times is not only ineffective, but also can exhaust your friends.

5) Ask about life. Friendship is a two-way street. If you feel isolated by your pain, try bringing in a bit of your friends’ lives. Ask how they are doing. Ask about their adventures. Ask them to share pictures, or tell a funny story.

  • What are your travel plans this summer?
  • Where are you going to spend the upcoming holiday?
  • What is happening in your (job, family, activity group)?
  • Tell me what your funny pet is up to these days?
  • How is your (parent, child, sibling)?

6) Tell them something good, even if it is small:

  • I am thankful that you’re here today
  • I had a visit with my daughter yesterday
  • I found a new way to exercise without hurting myself
  • I found a great new recipe that I want to share with you

7) Expand your circle. Don’t rely on just one person.

8) Locate a support group. This circle of people will truly understand how you feel. The Mayo Clinic website explains that a support group can help you to “learn how to address disease-specific problems.” If you feel isolated, or are newly diagnosed, or simply want to locate people who truly understand your condition, find a group that suits your needs either online or by asking your doctor for ideas.

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