Why Don’t They Get It?
If you or someone you love is experiencing chronic pain from illness or injury, you know first hand how extremely difficult and debilitating it can be. Many physicians know and understand how chronic pain may affect your physical body, however they tend to overlook or downplay the psychological effects that can arise from being in a daily struggle with your own body. In addition, if they cannot find a clear physical reason for the pain they often imply “It’s all in your head,” which can increase the psychological and emotional distress.
Adequate care and support is often not provided because the psychological effects of chronic pain, such as hopelessness, questioning one’s identity and purpose, fatigue, daily struggle and frustration, and the stress of the unknown, are not well understood by many physicians.
This is the bad news. The good news is that there is expert support available, and there are things you can do right now to begin transforming the psychological suffering of chronic pain.
Shifting Your Relationship to Pain
Considerable research has been done to determine the ingredients of psychological change. In what may seem paradoxical to many, acceptance is a central ingredient. Resistance to what already is expends a great deal of energy and can cause more suffering. It can seem quite scary and counter intuitive to accept the pain for what it is, however when we are able to shift from resistance into acceptance, energy is freed up and change can occur. Not only do the psychological and emotional symptoms lesson, but often the physical pain can also be reduced. This is not because “it’s all in your head,” but because in situations of chronic pain a feedback loop is created where the physical symptoms create psychological symptoms, which in turn make the physical ones even worse.
Acceptance doesn’t mean we have to agree with or like what is happening, it simply means that we acknowledge that, “yes this is happening and I can be with it.” In the moment we stop resisting or running from what is, we have choice; “Do I want to get down on myself and be angry at my body; do I want to escape and avoid my experience; or do I want to bring kindness and compassion to my experience?” Of course this is easier said than done, however there are some simple things you can put into practice right now to begin making a shift.
The next time you realize you are struggling with chronic pain simply pause for a moment, take a deep breath, and with the out-breath see if in some small way you can let go of your sense of struggle or resistance in that moment It may be helpful to practice saying, “I accept my experience (or my body) as it is.” Remember, this doesn’t mean you have to like it or want it to stay this way forever.
Then, if you have a few minutes, you can practice Meta, or loving-kindness meditation, using these four age-old phrases:
“May I be Happy”
“May I be healthy”
“May I be free from suffering”
“May I live with ease.”
Keep breathing and repeating these phrases in your mind. Stay with it for a few minutes. You may be surprised by what happens.