5 Things That Pain Can Teach Us

A young woman is sitting and meditating in the street

Contributor: Rachael Mattice is the Content Manager for Sovereign Health Group, an addiction, mental health and dual diagnosis treatment provider. Rachael received her bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication from Purdue University.

Every year, millions of people suffer from acute or chronic pain. For those who live with these conditions, the pain is like a shadow that wraps itself around their shoulders and never quite leaves. They get to know the pain. They learn to understand how it works.

Here are five things that living with pain can teach us:

The More Pain is Ignored, the Stronger it Gets

Both emotional and physical pain have a funny way of getting louder the more they’re ignored, like a toddler throwing a tantrum or a couple of cats begging for dinner. This happens because of something known as ironic process theory, or the white bear problem, a psychological process in which attempting to suppress a thought actually makes it more intense. In the words of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, author of Crime and Punishment:

“Try to pose for yourself this task: not to think of a polar bear, and you will see that the cursed thing will come to mind every minute.”

Distractions such as television or music can suppress the painful thoughts, but the moment the distraction is over, the pain returns with a vengeance. Distractions can help with short-term, intense pain, but for chronic pain that never goes away, living life by flittering from distraction to distraction is not a lasting solution.

It Helps to Focus on the Moment

Although it seems counterintuitive, focusing on the moment – and the pain that fills that moment – is remarkably therapeutic. When individuals pay close attention to their pain, they might realize that it is not simply something that hurts, but rather a complex network of sensations that vary from moment to moment.

Viewing pain with objectivity rather than judgment reduces the emotional impact of suffering, which, in turn, reduces the physical impact of suffering.

Emotional and Physical Pain go Hand in Hand

aspettando il trenoThe experience of pain is made up of two components: primary suffering and secondary suffering. Primary suffering represents the physical experience of pain, such as aches or sharp stings. Secondary suffering, meanwhile, includes all of the emotions associated with pain. People with chronic pain might feel frustration, hopelessness or anxiety, all of which contribute to secondary suffering.

Primary and secondary suffering feed off of each other – negative emotions cause more pain and more pain causes more negative emotions. By viewing the pain with compassion and curiosity, rather than running away from it or harshly criticizing it, you can reduce the impact of secondary suffering and soothe the pain. This is the theory behind mindfulness reduction of chronic pain.

Everyone Suffers

Suffering is part of the human condition. This is not to say that one person’s suffering trumps another’s – just because Heather’s pain is worse does not make David’s pain invalid – but that experiencing pain does not need to be an isolating condition.

Other people struggle with the same diseases or disorders. When you conceptualize pain as part of being human, it makes living with pain less lonely.

You are not Your Pain

At times, pain can seem all-consuming. It can be easy for individuals to lose their identity when pain dictates their activities, their mealtimes or their relationships.

A person might start viewing themselves as a “chronic pain sufferer” rather than a “person who suffers from chronic pain.” It is important to fight that tendency. By focusing on the minute attributes of the pain, it becomes a sensation rather than an identity.

In life, people do not learn from their pleasant experiences — they learn from the painful ones. After all, in the words of Robert Gary Lee: “Wisdom is nothing more than healed pain.”

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

What have you learned about chronic pain in yourself and in others? What advice do you have to share?

About the Author:

Rachael Mattice is the Content Manager for Sovereign Health Group, an addiction, mental health and dual diagnosis treatment provider. Rachael is a creative and versatile journalist and digital marketing specialist with an extensive writing and editing background.

Her portfolio includes numerous quality articles on various topics published in print and digital formats at award-winning publications and websites. To learn more about Sovereign Health Group’s mental health treatment programs and read patient reviews, visit http://www.sovhealth.com/. Follow Sovereign Health Group on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addiction. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on May 1st, 2015
Published on AddictionHope.com