Perceived family dynamics of persons with chronic pain

J Adv Nurs. 1999 Sep;30(3):543-51. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2648.1999.01123.x.


This qualitative study was conducted to gain an understanding of the experiences of persons with chronic pain and their relationships with family members and the family as a whole. The framework of systemic organization was used to define the areas of investigation guiding the formulation of broad questions relative to family functioning. Thirty persons with chronic pain (age 31-82 years, 73% women, 83% married, 83% European-American, 17% African-American) participated in the study. A semi-structured interview was conducted to elicit narrative descriptions of the participants' perspective of the pain experience and family functioning. The data were analysed using a constant comparison method of analysis described by Strauss. The dominant themes that emerged included: (i) emotional distress, (ii) distancing from family members, (iii) inability to share difficult feelings, (iv) intense mutual involvement with family members and identification with others' problems, (v) family isolation from community, and (vi) attempt at healing. A mid-range theory developed out of the data and explicated with the framework of systemic organization, was one of balancing and counterbalancing connectedness (spirituality) with personal autonomy or separateness (control) in order to find congruence for the family and individuals within. The pain sometimes acted as a mechanism regulating the distance and closeness among family members. Based on this information, nurses can facilitate better understanding among family members, encourage autonomy, assist individuals to express feelings and needs more directly, and facilitate members to respond to each other.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • African Americans / psychology
  • Aged
  • Chronic Disease
  • Family / ethnology
  • Family / psychology*
  • Family Relations / ethnology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic / methods
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Ohio
  • Pain / ethnology
  • Pain / psychology*
  • Rural Population
  • Whites / psychology