It’s Not Your Pain
by Pat Samples
A friend called me this week, very upset about her mother’s ill health. Of most concern was the intense, unrelenting pain her mother was experiencing. My friend was distressed about not being able to do more to relieve her mother’s pain, despite being a nurse. She had done what she could and had monitored her mother’s care, but still the pain continued. My friend was preoccupied with worry about the situation and was taking on her mother’s pain as if it were hers. She was feeling miserable.
As we spoke, I reminded my friend that while her care and compassion were understandable – and admirable, her own high state of distress was neither helpful to her mother nor good for her own fragile health. “Your mother’s pain is hers, not yours,” I told her. “While you can offer her care and support, the pain is hers alone to have. Your taking it on too will not lessen what she feels.” When I said that, she sighed a deep sigh. She had felt that she needed to be suffering since her mother was. When she realized that taking on the burden of her mother’s pain was totally unproductive, she was able to let it go.
My friend was almost surprised when she realized how miserable she had made herself by taking on this pain that didn’t belong to her. It had weakened her and made her less able to give her mother what she needed – strength along with compassion, confidence along with care.
I have run across this dilemma many times in my work with caregivers. That’s why I wrote about this very topic in my book Daily Comforts for Caregivers, suggesting that the caregiver “give up noble suffering in exchange for sanity.” At the end of this section, I add these words that caregivers can use to remind themselves of this perspective: “My job is not to suffer but to care for my loved one and for myself.”
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