Talking to friends about a parent in pain

A member of our expert panel, psychologist and family therapist, talks about friendships and the transition into adulthood when a parent is in pain.

Teenagers and young adults can find themselves in a tricky position where a parent is living with persistent pain. They often find themselves split between usual developmental tasks of forging close friendships, gaining a sense of their selves and individuality, and wanting to separate from parents like their peers do, whilst also often being in the position of providing caring support to a parent. The usual transition into adulthood can be impaired if the young person finds themselves unable to articulate the tensions between developmental tasks and providing care. This is even harder if the parent with pain has few visible cues for their condition – as the young person will have to work harder to help others understand why they are needing to help out family members in a way that is out of step to their peers. Unlike a broken leg, many chronic pain conditions may have very few signs to signal to others that the person is not well. There’s an increasing awareness that not all illnesses and conditions are visible – and this is a helpful way of young people communicating to their friends about illness within the family. Talking to peers about such “invisible” conditions may mean that young people discover that other friends’ families are affected by conditions, such as diabetes, coeliac disease or asthma, where lifestyles may be constrained but rarely discussed. It may seem that it is taking a risk to talk with friends about ‘invisible’ conditions, but there’s a good chance that many friends’ families are managing health problems. So, at the heart of it, it may be worth taking a chance and talk to friends. Ill-health is all around us, so while pain may not be something your friends are familiar with, you may not be as alone in thinking about health problems as you think you are.

Have you talked to friends about chronic pain? Tell us your experience.