Free Yourself: Forgive and Trust Again

Free Yourself: Forgive and Trust Again

By Ellen Lenox Smith.

We seem to be living in a period in which long held norms of civic life have been callously discarded. As a result, our life has been infected with an interpersonal toxicity, producing a level of collective anxiety undermining our sense of mutual respect. Thus, we are missing the capacity to address our problems in a cooperative manner.  For those of us confronting chronic medical conditions, we often have to add chronic pain to our daily lives. If we don’t try to stay positive and attempt to create purpose and find meaning in our lives, it is easy to feel like we are drowning. I have had a long slow journey in attempting to find peace while confronting challenges which will be with me for the rest of my life, but I have learned that I need to attempt to embrace a level of maturity which will allow me to learn to forgive and return to believing and trusting.

With a little understood, complicated condition, called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, one can share many experiences of being judged. It gets so old hearing “you look fine” along with the implication that if you look fine, then any effort to share concerns relative to your health are met with the attitude that it must be in your head. It is heartbreaking and terribly humiliating confronting such unwarranted negative attitudes as you may be in a fight of your life. One is attempting to return some normalcy back to life, despite having to accept loss after loss, often having a serious impact on your physical and emotional sense of well being. The hurt becomes even more complicated when judgement and hurt comes from those that mean the most to you – family,  good friends and the medical field you need support from. I have had to work hard to believe in myself, not listen to the judgement, and somehow find a way to deal with these attitudes.

Ellen Lenox Smith

My first unexpected step was to turn to writing. I originally vented in poems in an effort to attempt to come to terms with this hurt. I was shocked with the need I had to sit and express my emotions out in the form of poems,  an activity I really never had interest in. Someone suggested I had been visited by a muse after I had written over 100 poems. In time, I actually ended up writing a book, too, sharing the hard journey of acceptance to live this new life.  I then became a writer for Pain News Network and now today, National Pain Report and 1000 Watts Magazine. Through these steps, I have learned to live with strength and purpose, despite this hurt that even today, can still happen and set you back.

I have found getting stuck on anger and confusion as to why those that care about you can be so insensitive, doesn’t help things get better. Punishing them and pushing them all away will leave one alone and not someone that others will want to spend time with. I found forgiveness, for sometime, was something I was having a difficult time emotionally accepting. Those people had hurt me, even though intellectually I was aware that the hurtful acts were unintentional. I could not understand how someone could be so judgemental and fail to simply take a few minutes to understand more fully my situation. This was especially difficult to process emotionally when coming from individuals claiming to care for me. I do not treat others like that so I had trouble dealing with receiving this type of treatment. For years, I avoided dealing with the emotional toll this issue was taking until I met a doctor who  took the time to address the negative emotions being generated by this type of treatment. This caring individual assisted me with empathy and understanding. As a result, I feel that I am managing my emotions in a much more productive manner. As patients with chronic conditions, we simply cannot allow our emotional lives to undermine our physical challenges. This will happen if these issue are ignored. Today, I have let go of so many rough experiences of hurt and have to admit it is amazingly liberating to eliminate such unnecessary negativity and discomfort in my life. For those of us living in chronic pain or with permanent disabling conditions, the last thing we need is another loss and the loss of positive feelings towards those individuals who we have had meaningful relationships. I only hope that you, too, will someday be able to learn to forgive these people and learn how much better you will feel as a person. But I understand, it took years for me to begin to accomplish this.

The emotional trauma inherent in the process of dealing with chronic medical conditions can lead to an individual becoming insecure and contribute to one losing the capacity to trust. This insecurity can only add to a patient’s burden and potentially impact on an individuals already compromised physical condition. This impact can be intensified when one suffering from a chronic medical condition faces uncalled judgement. We need to try to have faith that the emotional pain inflicted upon us by the closest to us, has not been intentional. With this as a starting point, this issue can try to be dealt with. I don’t enjoy when this lack of trust becomes part of me. I believe when I am able to return to starting with trusting, instead doubting someone, I am a happier person and much more comfortable with who I am. It is not something that comes back easily to trust when so many have hurt you and let you down, but to be stuck in that mode has negative aspects to one’s health and whole being.

So as you, too, travel daily in the difficult journey living with chronic pain and/or permanent physical disability, may you find the strength and courage to be that bigger person, learning to forgive those who have hurt you and allowing trust back into your life. The freeing feeling I now live with instead, is healing and worth the letting go I have experienced.

May Life Be Kind to you,

Ellen Lenox Smith

Author of: It Hurts Like Hell!: I Live With Pain– And Have a Good Life, Anyway, and My Life as a Service Dog!

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of National Pain Report.

Ellen Lenox Smith and her husband Stuart live in Rhode Island. They are co-directors for medical cannabis advocacy for the U.S. Pain Foundation, along with Ellen on the board and they both also serve as board members for the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition. For more information about medical cannabis visit their website.

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Authored by: Ellen Lenox Smith

Ellen Lenox Smith and her husband Stuart live in Rhode Island. They are co-directors for medical cannabis advocacy for the U.S. Pain Foundation, along with Ellen on the board and they both also serve as board members for the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition. For more information about medical cannabis visit their website.

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I am furious with the CDC and the DEA for all the inhumane actions they’ve taken and the suffering they’ve caused innocent victims of chronic pain. To me, forgiving them would be akin to forgiving Hitler for the Holocaust. Ain’t gonna happen. And no one should be wasting anger on strangers who make cruel or unsympathetic remarks. Why would anyone care about an idiot remark from someone you don’t know?? But then family and friends are a different story. I don’t feel hurt by their lack of understanding, altho I think its sad because it makes me feel more isolated. What I think after decades of interaction with families of the sick is that there’s a protective mechanism of denial that allows them to believe the illness or the pain is not really that bad. Like my children in denial of how old I’m getting, or my grandchildren still wanting me to play when I always explain I can’t anymore. I don’t pretend to understand what its like to be terminal, and I don’t expect others to understand a lifetime of Chronic Pain. That’s why NPR is such a great support for al CPPs

This is for Maureen M.
I also spent the holidays alone. Thanksgiving and Christmas both. I have several “relatives” that live in a 20 mile radius. Years ago if I knew that someone was going to be alone for Christmas or Thanksgiving, I would invite them to come with me. Several did and it was the greatest feeling in the world, it was better than any gift I could possibly give or receive. Now I find myself in their position with no one to invite me here or there. (Well one person did, but it came with restrictions.) This was the first year ever that I had spent Christmas alone. Not even a text, let alone a phone call. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m better off spending them alone than being somewhere I’m not wanted. I took comfort that I didn’t have to be where I wasn’t welcomed. I’ve learned that if I feel sorry for them versus feeling sorry for myself, it helps a great deal. I truly wouldn’t want to be like them. I can’t imagine knowing someone was going to spend Thanksgiving or Christmas all alone and not having the heart or decency to invite them to join in. In my mind anyway, that’s what Christmas and Thanksgiving are all about. Celebrating the blessings that God has given all of us together, not alone. I believe this year I will volunteer my cherished holidays at a place that helps the homeless. I do believe I will feel right at home.❤
Just know you’re not alone. I admire your spirit! God bless your beautiful heart!


Glad that you can write about things to help you along. I live in Las Vegas and gamble on sports, it gives me an occupation and some money too. As far as these interpersonal slights are concerned, I’m 2,000 miles from family, and don’t really know many people out here. No one will live with me, so there’s exactly zero chance of anyone hurting my feelings about my condition. Be thankful that you still have relatives and friends around. Who cares if they believe you or not, they can’t carry the pain for you. That’s our task. Talking about your illness is just an attempt to inflict some of your pain on them. It’s selfish. They can’t do anything about it. Just enjoy the fact that they’re still around. You could be all alone. Although that’s by design for the most part in my case. If people don’t have a cure, why deal with them at all?

Julia Heath

My body hurts, nonetheless I’m blessed beyond measure. I am loved by God, who is big enough even to give purpose in pain. I am surrounded by wonderful, non – judgemental people who are excited when I’m able to show up & miss me when I’m not around. I don’t have to wear my suffering on the outside for them to know that I hurt a lot. They know my heart’s desire is to be around, so when I’m not around they know I’m suffering in more ways than one. These people are my family by relation, and my church family. Not everyone can have understanding relatives, but wonderful church families are everywhere and do a great job filling the gaps.

Lindajean Dorris

I agree wholeheartedly. I struggle every day with my beast “Scleroderma/systemic Sclerosis.” No professional can see how bad I suffer inside and out. Instead they are always prone to saying ” how well I look” when prior to the appointment it took 4 to 5 hours to accomplish clean hygiene, put on clothing that will fit over my blotted stomach. Just trying to find a piece of clothing made from a cloth that will not rub my sores into a bleeding mess takes more time. There are times I am crawling on my hands and knees to reach my bathroom, hoping I can obtain the strength to stand. I could go on but that is not necessary. I have to accept the Doc. can not or will not do anything to assist me. I can not get angry at my family if they loose there temper. Nor can I get angry at the Doctor. There are so many reasons they may react as they do. It seems they always have to put me through suffering, and tests to prove what the retiring Doc. Found is trueI. They can never take the other test results or procedure notes as truth until they try things themselves, which I no longer allow. I can not endure more suffering so they can be right. I have to be careful about what is prescribed. I can not guarantee myself that something will be available to me over the course of my desease, and the problems related to it. I live on my own, I know it is totally up to me to get through life the best I can. Yet I do yearn for proper treatment, and support & encouragement. Where I live that will never be the case. I do become depressed, and feel hopeless, knowing I could be helped in some manner. This will never happen unless I can get to John Hopkins or a place that knows about my desease. I can not hold it against anyone for not knowing nor understanding. If I do I can not help myself. Sometimes I find the person interacting with me needs empathy and compassion shown to them. And no, none of this is easy. I do not trust, this I must work on. Thank you for your words.

I relate totaly. I could not know your degree of pain. My ecperience is I cannot make it on 90 mme. Period. Now 157 mme reducing fast. Add to your well said article at every meeting the love ones tear you down with your inability to meet expectarions unmercifully. Forgive? Yes, but it still hurts like bodily pain and it gets worse and worse. You try hard but the first word of thiers is an attack and negativity.. They are just tired of your chronic sickness and empathy ran out long ago. Thank you for your heart for the community!

Kathleen Kaiser

Many people become very creative because of adversity. I would guess that is why you started writing poems and are now a successful writer. Emotional pain brings out the creative side of people. I’ve experienced it myself and I see it in other people. Even actors will admit that they are better when they are upset.


I am so glad that I read this article. I do feel that there are certain people (most people, sadly) who shouldn’t be “let in” as part of my medical difficulties. They don’t understand and it’s not really their fault. I wouldn’t have understood.

Their comments are well-meaning: I “have too many doctors” and they “don’t communicate with each other” or “maybe the medications are making (me) sick.” Or they give me advice that works for their aches and pains.

I’ve had people close the door on my friendship in ways that have hurt terribly, and I am protective of myself. I had someone tell me I was “too sick to be friends with” and that they wished I’d stop being so negative. It was someone who had a respiratory illness (I have asthma, they have COPD). The negativity comment seemed to be about some jokes I made about pictures they took (of spiders, which they teased me about being freaked out about). I am not perfect… and I have a different style of coping which I’ve recently called into question. I appreciate sarcasm and sometimes use it to cope.

People want me to be positive for their benefit, and I do resent that. I wear a mask most of the time for everyone’s benefit, and sometimes I do get lonely living that way. I do joke and smile — when I go to get my hair done, the girls say they love to have me around because I’m always smiling.

I’m very conflicted about this very topic and it’s been helpful to listen to audiobooks about mindfulness and compassion and loving-kindness. It’s something I don’t fully “get” yet but there’s more than a “twitch” of understanding and a full appreciation for the concept.

I have always prided myself on being authentic. My life with chronic pain makes me put on a mask so much that it feels damaging to my sense of identity. I forgive those who say things from the place of honest concern… with their own very limited understanding. But I do shield myself because I have had friends leave in very hurtful ways.

Thank you.


I understand what you are saying and I agree that forgiveness can be very liberating in some cases. I’m not sure what you’re suggesting that we forgive people for? Not showing compassion for something they know nothing about? Rolling their eyes when you tell them you’re disabled? I don’t look disabled and I don’t act disabled, I don’t walk around moaning and groaning, my chronic pain is not apparent to those who don’t know me and the people that are closest to me don’t ask about and I don’t talk about it and if someone inquired as to how I was feeling I’d just briefly tell them. So my chronic pain isn’t even an issue for people closest to me. If someone somehow questioned if I was truly disabled because I look fine or said it was all in my head, I’m going to get a “screw you” attitude towards them, there’s nothing to forgive them for. After what the government has done to us and how much our lives really suck now because our pain meds have been so drastically reduced, the last thing I want to do is forgive some a#!hole for being a jerk! I’m fine with not forgiving idiots. Does your forgiveness extend to the CDC or DEA for ruining so many lives? I’m just fine with my feelings and I don’t feel the least little bit bad about being angry, especially if the negative judgement comes from family or friends, and if a stranger rolls their eyes because I’m walking around with an arm crutch, to hell with them! I’m sick of playing the victim. I’m pissed off and that’s just the way it is. I use my anger for writing to my senators, congressmen and governor. I’m apologize if I’ve offended anyone but these are MY feelings and choose NOT to forgive. It may sound like I’m walking around mad all the time, I’m not, I’m a pretty happy guy mostly. I can’t even imagine a family member or a friend saying or doing anything that I would even need to forgive them for and if it was a stranger I’ll just reiterate what I previously stated, [edit] them! Who cares. Don’t be too quick to forgive.

Absolutely the pain gets in our heads and disrupts our thinking! It’s usually taken as a put-down when folks say it’s all in our heads, but that’s what they actually observe about us. We changed somehow. We don’t do what we once did, back before it got painful. If we take these comments from others as Teaching Moments and explain to them why we’re no fun anymore, we will be pleasantly surprised at how many real friends we have, who actually care about us.

Maureen M.

Hi Ellen, I relate to this writing of yours 100%. I have a large family (I’m 64 and the oldest of 8) and yet I have not one person in it that I can depend on to help me, support me or even show interest in my illnesses.
It makes living alone with Chronic Spine related Pain and Systemic Lupus very difficult and forever isolating. We are only human and can’t help feeling hurt.
But, God gives me the inner strength to deal with it, try to understand them (although I’ve learned by now not to waste much energy on that!) and keep focus on accepting, my emotional healing, forgiving and living my own life.
I even spent the holidays alone and I have 4 siblings here in the same town.
I also see an ‘Energy Therapist’ 2x month for a therapy called Body Talk. We talk about the emotional things that are bothering me, she helps me release the emotional pain and then she does her Body Talk therapy and clears any energy blockages causing added pain. Somehow, it works and I find that my acceptance of my family and their own dysfunctional ways, even if I can’t understand their lack of empathy and support. Life is too short to get hung up on it.
Thank you for all that you do to help our community in so many ways, and to grow to be better people, who suffer in silence at times. Hugs to you. Maureen

Amen sister! You’re so right. Athough as we all know, easier said than done. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been judged I could give all of you a dollar and that’s a whole lot of money! Everything from burning my scented candles to drinking coffee to my cigar smoking. That doesn’t include the stranger’s that look at me like what is wrong with that poor girl? Like the beautiful Miss Cynthia that often writes in, I’ve also been told that I look younger than my age. On the rare occasion when I don’t feel as though I can walk from the back of the parking lot to the front of the store I will park in a handicap space and put my tag up. I don’t know if it’s the smile on my face or what but the disgraceful looks I get are something else. I finally started giving people compliments that looked at me so strangely, that threw them off real quick although my compliments were sincere. Don’t get me wrong I’ve had my days where I’ve wanted to string up everyone I’ve ever known along with the president, our entire government and put them in my shoes! Then I have a change of heart because God gave me a big one, as a matter of fact with my pacemaker and defibrillator I feel as though God’s given me two hearts. After wanting to fire the president, the rest of the government and a few of my friends, I begin to realize how very blessed I truly am versus all of my heart aches. I thank you for a wonderful wake up call to all Miss Ellen. It’s bad enough what they’ve already done to us let alone allowing them to do more! That part we can stop dead in its tracks if we try hard enough. Perhaps yes we are scared of what the future may hold yet truly we’re blessed just to have today. For those of you that are reading and think I’ve got it under control, I try. My pain level this morning was 10 + 10, I didn’t want to get out of bed although I did. May God continue to bless each and everyone of you giving you the miracles you need. I’m living proof …they do exist.


Well written. I’ve learned a lot of my excessive pain was stress related to those around me I was willing to forgive. Even the wrong look from my significant other after describing how I felt would throw me into a tangent thus leaving my nerves in my neck and spine burning. This event repeated itself daily for past 8 yrs till recently I practiced the forgiveness, educate and appreciate method. We’ve now been closer than ever and I now know the stress of it all was complicating it. As I forgave him he even molded to a better person making my situation finally bearable. I too can only hope those who have been hurt by the ines they love will try this method as it does work aswell is a stepping stone to focus on other obstacles.
Thank you for your support to the community as I find your articles well written and supporting us fellowship in pain.


Well said. Gentle Hugs.