Pain Changes People — How to Ensure It Changes You for the Better
“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” – Khalil Gibran
Do you think pain changes people? If you’ve ever been to a doctor and had to describe your pain, you know how isolating pain can be. “Where does it hurt? On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate it?” After these questions, the doctors think they know what you’re feeling, but do they really? Even your friends and family can become impatient with your pain and just want you to “learn to live with it.” It’s no wonder pain changes people!
There are many types of pain. Emotional pain changes people as they often alter the way they relate to people, to protect themselves from future hurt. For example, we lose trust, put up walls and shut people out. We overthink things, dwelling on the negative or catastrophizing things as the worst-case scenario.
And then there’s the way physical pain changes people. Studies show that chronic pain affects 116 million American adults — more than diabetes, heart disease, and cancer combined — at an annual cost of $630 billion in lost productivity and health care expenses. Who hasn’t heard of the opiod crisis?
Is it inevitable that chronic pain will change you? You have more control than you may think. You don’t have to be a victim to pain. There is much you can do to manage your pain. Retreating in isolation is definitely not the answer. I think it’s important to adopt an attitude similar to the one Michael J Fox has…
“Acceptance doesn’t mean resignation; it means understanding that something is what it is and that there’s got to be a way through it.”
According to sites such as Webmed there are three main types of pain:
- Pain caused by tissue damage, also called nociceptive pain.
- Pain caused by nerve damage, also called neuropathic pain.
- Pain that has a physical origin either in tissue damage or nerve damage and is then increased or prolonged by such factors as fear, depression, stress, or anxiety, also called psychogenic pain.
Yes, emotions affect pain! Haven’t you noticed that being happy and engaged in an enjoyable activity makes you forget your pain for a time? Whereas being depressed and upset makes you hurt worse? It’s no surprise to me that science is now finding that people respond better when treated somatically — treating mind, body, and spirit as a whole, to manage chronic pain. This is something I discovered for myself over two decades ago.
There was a time in my life when chronic pain stopped me in my tracks. I quit doing things I loved doing and I wasn’t able to be present with loved ones as much as I wanted. Some days I had to clear my calendar of everything, because I just couldn’t move. But I refused to let it get the better of me.
In 2009, I signed up for a 4-year intensive study of The Feldenkrais Method®. I learned to sense into myself more accurately and deliberately. The daily practice of body awareness through movement was a delightful discovery, an opportunity to know myself through my body in motion. It enhanced my perception of both how I move and why I move, which led me to mindfulness of how my emotions affect my body.
Neuroscience has shown that pain is processed by multiple parts of the brain, including your brain’s emotional center. This means all of the connected areas need to be targeted to effectively treat chronic pain, which boil down to biology, psychology, and social functioning.
The biological domain has gotten all of the attention up until now — treat the inflammation, physical therapy for skeletal and musculature repair, improve sleep and nutrition for cellular regeneration, etc.
Your psychology — your thoughts and beliefs (“I’m never going to get better; life is over!”) and emotions (hopelessness, anxiety) greatly impact your pain level. Why? Because they change how you move! You adopt unhelpful coping behaviors like withdrawing, avoiding movement and activity.
When you lose your social support system — your family gets irritated with you, you lose your job, you don’t receive adequate health care and society devalues you — you face your pain alone. That hurts!
Somatic coaching alters the way pain changes people. It breaks the cycle of fear, inactivity, misery, and pain, by helping the sufferer take charge of emotions, thoughts, beliefs, and coping behaviors. Ultimately it may even change you into a more patient, empathetic and caring individual, one who seeks to help others.
Has chronic pain changed you and you’re ready to take a more proactive approach? Please contact me and schedule an “Unlocking Your Potential” 30-minute complimentary consultation (in-person, by phone or via Skype). We’ll explore what lifestyle changes you can make to change your pain, instead of letting your pain change you.