Time Doesn’t Heal Anything, It Only Teaches Us How to Live With Pain

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  • Post last modified:April 7, 2022
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How Pain is Inevitable


As a life-saving alarm system, pain keeps us focused on distress, for the purpose of relieving it. Pain motivates behavior that will help heal, repair, or improve. A pain in your foot, for example, will motivate you to take the rock off it, get more comfortable shoes, soak it in a tub of warm water, or visit a podiatrist. If we do not act on the motivation to heal-repair-improve (or fail in our attempts to do so), the alarm of pain intensifies and generalizes. The toothache becomes facial pain; the sore foot seems to throb along the whole side of the body. When pain intensifies and generalizes over time, it becomes suffering, with language, pain can become suffering – anxious, potentially motivating or paralyzing ideas about our pain, stories about why and what’s to be done about it. With language, pain can become suffering – anxious, potentially motivating or paralyzing ideas about our pain, stories about why and what’s to be done about it. Suffering is repeated failure to act on the natural motivation of pain to do something that will heal, repair, or improve. Like its physical counterpart, normal psychological pain (not caused by brain disease or severe emotional disorder) is localized in the beginning, usually in the form of guilt, shame, or anxiety triggered by something specific. When we do not act on the motivation of those specific painful emotions, the pain generalizes into a kind of self-ache – persistent dysphoria with low or unstable self-value. Suffering in general, as well as specific to chronic pain, is a function of imbalances in physical, mental, emotional, and/or spiritual functioning. Because whatever affects the mind or the body will inevitably affect the other, regardless of which side of the fence an issue originates, imbalances in thinking can create imbalances in physical, emotional, and spiritual functioning. Suffering is both a cause and an effect of the catastrophic cognitions and distressing emotions associated with chronic pain: anxiety, irritability, anger, fear, depression, frustration, guilt, shame, loneliness, hopelessness, and helplessness. Negative thinking only makes situations we believe to be “bad,” worse. Many people, including those who do not suffer from chronic pain, can ruminate on something by continuously and unproductively replaying it in their minds or magnifying the negative aspects of it. Our thoughts have the capacity to make us miserable, and negative thinking can be especially insidious, feeding on itself, with the potential to become a self-fulfilling and self-defeating prophecy.

Why do we feel pain?

Pain hurts–it is an unpleasant sensation. That’s exactly why ‘acute’ pain–pain we feel when we hurt ourselves (cuts, bruises, or broken bones) – is helpful. First, pain alerts us that we are hurting ourselves so we stop. Second, pain teaches us to be careful. Do you know that old saying “Once burned, twice shy”? Pain teaches fast. , normal psychological pain (not caused by brain disease or severe emotional disorder) is localized in the beginning, usually in the form of guilt, shame, or anxiety triggered by something specific. When we do not act on the motivation of those specific painful emotions, the pain generalizes into a kind of self-ache – persistent dysphoria with low or unstable self-value. When we do not act on the motivation of those specific painful emotions, the pain generalizes into a kind of self-ache – persistent dysphoria with low or unstable self-value. Pain is a part of what makes us human becuase existence is suffering. This is the First Noble Truth of Buddhism. To exist, to be alive, is to suffer. Some may initially want to argue this, and say they aren’t suffering. But their internal, and often verbal, dialogue would challenge their statement. Suffering, painful events, and bad things happening to us as human beings; this is something we all go through in life. We are going to suffer. It’s inevitable. It’s part of the human condition, and it’s just part of being alive. Sometimes bad things happen to us, and we suffer. Even now, some of us may be in the hospital because of an illness. Others may be heartbroken because of the end of a loving relationship. Or we may be suffering severe depression because we haven’t been able to find work for several years. We all have our own stories about suffering, and we all have suffered. Using blame, denial, resentment (as in expecting someone to relieve the pain), anger (punishing someone for not relieveing the pain) or avoidance to numb or elude pain not only causes suffering, it cuts us off from our basic humanity, it ender us powerless to heal, improve, or repair. We cannot recognize the pain of others when inured to our own. Basic humanity is the innate capacity for interest in the well-being of others. In its more developed expressions, it motivates respectful, helpful, valuing, nurturing, protective, and altruistic behaviors. In adversity it motivates sacrifice. In emergency it motivates rescue.

Why and how should we overcome negative thoughts associated with pain?

Also refered as pain catastrophizing, it refers to  type of thinking in which people have persistent negative thoughts and emotional responses to persistent pain that interfere with daily function.

Negative thoughts related to pain develop from what I call the 3 “I”s of pain. These include thoughts that the pain may be:

  1. Infinite
  2. Insurmountable
  3. Incurable

This helps us notice that the experience of pain is much more complicated and layered than just the physical perception of pain. Negative thinking (pain catastrophizing), in addition to being associated with a physical disability, also impacts self-efficacy and the ability to function in social situations.

While negative thoughts related to pain are unique to the person living with pain here are a few common signs that negative thinking may be impacting the quality of life:

  • Magnification: magnifying the power of your pain and its possibility to get worse.
  • Rumination: constant thinking about your pain, potentially to the point of distraction.
  • Helplessness: a loss of hope of curing or overcoming your pain.

Here are some negative thoughts associated with persistent pain:

  • I worry all the time about whether the pain will end.
  • I keep thinking of other painful events.
  • I can’t seem to keep it out of my mind.
  • I keep thinking about how much it hurts.
  • I wonder whether something serious may happen.

It is normal for these thoughts to develop. However, negative self-talk can have a profound impact on our physical and psychological health. It can affect you in some pretty damaging ways. Negative self-talk is linked to higher levels of stress and lower levels of self-esteem. This can lead to decreased motivation as well as greater feelings of helplessness. This is one of the reasons why the rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide are so high in those with persistent pain.

how can deal with pain?

The first option, “We can suppress them,” is often the most tempting and easiest option, and it therefore is what many, many people choose to do. It’s one reason there is so much suffering in the world, because when we suppress our suffering, it doesn’t go away; it just gets put aside for a little bit, and then we need to suppress it more and more. When we suffer, we often turn to substances or sometimes to other people. In other words, we turn to things outside of ourselves to try to turn off the suffering. There are an infinite number of examples that I could give about this way of dealing with suffering, because people choose this suppress-the-feelings option all the time. Suffering occurs. Instead of feeling it, we numb it. But that doesn’t work for very long so we have to keep numbing it, and so we turn to more and more addictions to help us not feel our feelings. There are an infinite number of ways or “addictions” that we can turn to so we won’t feel our feelings — from food to prescription medications, to relationships, to keeping super busy, and the list goes on and on. We all know what they are because we’ve all done it. Instead of feeling our feelings, we try to distract ourselves. We turn to these addictions because they work; they do shut off the pain, temporarily. The problem is that, over time, what starts with us eating a box of cookies because we’re sad, ends up with us being 300 pounds overweight; now we’re really depressed and so we continue to turn to our addiction for food. The second option we can take when dealing with suffering is that we can feel our pain. Some call it “owning” our pain. If we feel our pain, it is challenging to us. Going back to the example of losing a loved one, we do suffer when we feel that loss. It can be very sad; it can be tragic; there can be a lot of tears; there can be anger that flows from that loss. However, what happens is that feeling or owning the pain helps us get better. Our suffering heals, and then we move on. If we choose this second option of dealing with our pain and suffering, then the third option occurs. We can grow from our feelings of suffering. We can learn from our experience, our suffering, and adapt that experience into our lives because the pain is healed. We have then put ourselves in a position to use these experiences of suffering as learning tools for making good choices throughout the rest of our lives. Now let’s take this talk about suffering to a deeper level, about how life is ultimately fair in regards to suffering. Fair? Did I say suffering is fair in life? Yes, I did. That statement may ruffle a few feathers, but I want you to hang in there and let me explain what I mean. If you don’t mind, I’m also going to use God in this analogy, just to help us understand how the universe, or in this case God, is ultimately gracious and kind in regards to human suffering. What most people do when they experience suffering is they choose the first option I talked about – they numb it. And, guess what, the numbing really works! It doesn’t totally take it away, but it does work. It’s very unhealthy for us in the long run, but it works and it’s an option that we take as we go through life and we just keep numbing our feelings. That’s why addictions or numbing our feelings work so well, because they take the feelings away. It’s only a temporary fix, of course, and we have to keep returning to our addictions to continue numbing the pain, but addictions do work and this is the choice most people make. In the long run, it’s not very good for us, but it does take away our pain. However, we do have another choice. We can make the choice to feel the feelings, to own them, to confront them head on, to deal with them, and that’s when the real pain kicks in. When we start feeling, our suffering it really is painful, and it sucks. The good news is that, by feeling the pain and the suffering, we get better. So yes, now there is pain, but there’s an end to this pain when we deal with it, when we confront it, when we feel our feelings. We get better and we heal.

How can we prevent suffering?

To prevent suffering we must follow the motivation of pain to heal, correct, and improve, which in turn will enhance the sense of basic humanity. For example, we experience guilt when we violate personal values, especially interpersonal values like love, trust, compassion, and kindness; guilt can be resolved only by acting according to those values. Shame signals a perception of failure or inadequacy; the motivation is to reevaluate, re-conceptualize, and redouble effort to achieve success. Anxiety is a dread of something bad occurring that will exceed or deplete coping skills; the motivation is to learn more about what might happen and develop plans to cope with it. Anything that undermines these motivations provides, at best, temporary relief from guilt, shame, and anxiety, suppresses basic humanity, and, in the long-run, creates suffering. If it’s that simple, why does it seem so hard? In a word, habit. Many of us have developed habits of numbing or avoiding the pain-signals that would otherwise motivate healing, repairing, or improving. Some of these, for example, blame, denial, and avoidance, began in toddlerhood. All animals, including humans, are prone to retreat to earlier habits under stress. It takes mindfulness and emotional reconditioning to break entrenched emotional habits like blame, denial, and avoidance. The first crucial step is to take responsibility for your emotions and pain, so they can work for you instead of against you. As we overcome habits that inhibit the natural self-correcting and self-healing mechanisms of painful emotions, we achieve a more consistent realization of basic humanity. When you stop blaming the poor for being poor, you are free to give as much as you can afford. We like ourselfves better when we give than when we blame. When we reach the limit of what we can do, we are not angry that they remain poor, we recognize that they are as valuable and worthy of respect as everyone else, and we like ourself better than when I resent them. Postive self talk can help you allivate pain. There are lots of ways of slowing the waterfall of thoughts before they take you over the falls. Positive self-talk can help to change the narrative about yourself that has been building.

If positive self-talk is like stepping foot into a foreign country without a map, you may need some help to get you going. It might be difficult to know where to begin in terms of effective positive statements and phrases to develop. It’s important to know that not everyone’s positive self-talk will be the same, and you should try a few different approaches to find the ones that ultimately work for you.

Here are three positive self-talk statements regarding pain to get you started:

  • “I am gaining knowledge to change my pain.”
  • “I might still have some pain, but I am proud of how far I have come.”
  • “Even though the pain isn’t gone, I learned a lot about myself and am rebuilding my resilience

Pain serves as your body’s warning system, motivating you to take action to stay safe. However, because pain is a guesstimate, it is not an accurate indicator of tissue damage. “Hurt” and “harm” are not the same. Cognitive, emotional and contextual factors always inform pain processing. Specifically, credible evidence that your body is in danger can amplify pain, while credible evidence of safety can reduce pain Changing thoughts, perceptions, and emotions—what you think, how you feel, and what you believe about your body and your health—can, therefore, change the pain you feel, to sum it up This means that you have more control over your pain than you may have realized.

Questions

1. what was the greatest pain you experinced?
2. why do we feel pain?
3. how is pain inedivetable while suffering is optional?
4. how does pain become suffering?
5. what are negative thoughts asscoiated with pain?
6. how does pain us human?
7. in what way does pain makes us grow?