The psychological meaning that you assign to the physical pain signal will determine whether you simply feel pain (Ouch, this hurts!) or experience suffering (Because I hurt, something awful or terrible is happening!). Although pain and suffering are often used interchangeably, there is an important distinction that needs to be made. Pain is an unpleasant signal telling you that something is wrong with your body. Suffering results from the meaning or interpretation your brain assigns to the pain.
Many people irrationally believe that: “I shouldn’t have pain!” or “Because I have pain and I’m having trouble managing my pain, there must be something wrong with me.” A big step toward effective pain management occurs when you can reduce your level of suffering by identifying and changing your irrational thinking and beliefs about your pain, which in turn decreases your stress and overall suffering.
Your expectations—what you believe it will be like when you experience pain—affect your brain chemistry. Your brain chemistry can either intensify or reduce the amount of physical pain that you experience. What you think and how you manage your feelings in anticipation of feeling pain can make the pain either more severe or less severe. In other words, you’ll usually get the level of pain and dysfunction that you expect—a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The anticipation of an expected pain level can influence the degree to which you experience pain. When your self-talk is saying, “this is horrible, awful, terrible,” the brain tends to amplify the pain signals. When this occurs, your level of distress increases—you suffer, remaining a victim to your pain.
But you can learn how to change your anticipatory response to pain. You can lower the amount of pain that you anticipate by changing what you believe will happen when you start to hurt. You can also change your thinking—your self-talk—and learn how to better manage your emotions. You can learn new ways of responding to old situations that cause or intensify your pain.
As you come to believe that you really can do things that will make your pain sensations bearable and manageable, your brain responds by influencing special neurons that reduce the intensity of the pain. Your brain becomes less responsive to an incoming pain signal. I often tell my patients that I can’t promise you that you’ll be pain free, but I can promise you never have to suffer again—if and only if you are willing to learn and use some new tools.
If you want to learn more about pain management please check out our website at www.addiction-free.com. You can find over 25 articles you can download for free on our Ariticles page or go to our Publications page to learn more about my Addiction-Free Pain Management® books.