Pain = Frustration. In the presence of unrelenting pain this frustration can be intense. Anger is a survival reaction and it is only about your needs. You become disconnected from subtle cues in your immediate surroundings and your awareness goes to zero. Lack of awareness is the essence of abuse. Although you may not see it that way your family, especially your children are perceiving you much differently. They are completely dependent on you, have no control and they are fearful, if not terrified when you are upset. At a minimum, you have ceased to become the source of peace, joy and happiness within your family. There is a high chance you are not volunteering to be their coach or taking an active role in their lives. However it is manifested, chronic pain takes a terrible toll on those close to you.
Chronic pain plays out in the family in several ways:
- Mirror neurons – when a small baby smiles back at you, it is simply because the smiling center of his or her brain was stimulated. When your partner or spouse is in a bad mood it lights up the same area of your brain.
- Anger is abusive. The least logical place to take out your frustrations is on your family. Yet the family is often the most common target of people in pain.
- Patients in pain often do not feel believed by other family members that they are in pain. When they express pain, either verbally or by actions, the response of those close to them may be hostile. Research shows that the pain increases. It is a toxic and unpleasant cycle. The chronic pain marriage-go-round
- Patients in pain will often discuss their pain with anyone who will listen. Obviously, the family will hear the most complaining. Pain pathways are not only reinforced, everyone around is frustrated because there is not much they can do to help. They also become worn out with listening. It’s not that interesting.
- Even families who are pretty functional are seriously impacted by a member suffering from chronic pain. I’m finding few exceptions.
It’s becoming increasingly clear to me that it’s difficult to heal while living in a tumultuous and chaotic household. Conversely, family participation in the DOC process is a powerful influence on calming the nervous system. You can’t control most of life’s challenges but you do have a choice to make your home a haven from the stresses of the world. Do it and do it now. Do you like your family? What are you waiting for?
I ask my patients and family members to do the following:
- I want all members of the household individually engaging in the DOC process. They need to do it for themselves and not for the other person. If they do not have physical pain, I remind them that emotional pain is processed neurologically in a similar manner. Every human being has anxiety and/or anger.
- None of them can discuss their pain with another family member – ever! That is one of the roles for daily piece of paper – to get it out through the expressive writing.
- On the way home I want them to recall the most enjoyable time of their life. A great trip, new job, birth of their first child, first date – anything. Spend time remembering as much detail as possible.
- When they walk into the door of their house, they are to bring that energy into their home and commit to keeping it there – regardless of outside distractions.
- Anger is destructive. I ask them to read “The Rules of Anger”. If they are angry, make an agreement not to engage or discuss the situation until both parties have cooled down.
- “Take it outside.” If you have to fight do it someplace else besides inside your home.
It is remarkable how much tension is relieved in the room within a few minutes. Anxiety/ anger is a survival response that is part of the unconscious brain. The unconscious brain is estimated to be one million times stronger than the conscious brain. You are not going to win this war. Usually the whole family profusely thanks me and my team for offering these some ground rules.
Here are some additional suggestions:
- Read the book, Parent Effectiveness Training by Dr. Thomas Gordon. It is a classic and still the book that has made the biggest impact on my life. It will not only increase your awareness of your children’s needs but also that of your spouse or partner.
- Ask your family what it is like to experience you when you are upset. Pain = Anger = Abuse
- Write it down and look at it whenever you are tempted to engage them while you are angry.
- Spend some time alone remembering what it was like when you were a child and one of your parents was upset. It was a little rough. Do you really want your child to feel the same way? Wouldn’t you rather be an inspiration?
- Only listen to your children and never give advice or an opinion unless you are asked. (Hyde School)
- Work with your family to create a vision of what they would like to have their family life look like.
- Have a family meeting with an agenda once a week (Hyde school)
You need your family for your support. Do not become a living weapon with them being your target. You can create a haven of love and connection or a hell of anger and disconnection. It is the least and most that you can do for them.