Author Mel Pohl
A Day without Pain
By Dr. Mel Pohl
My search for A Day without Pain
December 22, 2008
Emotions and Suffering
We all have suffered at one time or another. Suffering is your individual response to a painful stimulus. Suffering is a necessary part of the human condition (none of us escape it) and is an inevitable part of life. How much and how badly you suffer is modifiable, and you can learn to diminish it. In fact, the Buddha taught about this in his classic Four Noble Truths 2500 years ago.
Your experience of pain is a composite of biological (physical) and psychological factors. Suffering is that element of pain that is generated from your emotions. Mood changes, anger, frustration, insomnia, and worry are just a few of the emotions that contribute to your suffering, making pain worse. These emotions are your responses to the pain brought about by your attitudes, perceptions, memories, coping skills, and character traits. Emotional reactions to your pain are constantly changing. When you resist the pain you are feeling, such as get angry with it or yourself for having it or tighten your posture, the pain gets worse and you suffer more.
Additional aspects that contribute to your pain can be your outlook, personal history, cultural background, and reactions of family and friends. So you can see it’s not just how you feel pain it’s also important to understand how you feel about pain. This understanding is a key to reducing your suffering. If physical pain were your only concern life would be different; however, negative emotions experienced before, at, or shortly after you experience pain serve to compound your problem. Again, it’s not how you feel, but how you feel that is often the source of your problem. Negative emotions increase pain while positive emotions decrease pain. Pain +Negative Emotions = Suffering = more pain. This, of course, depends upon the state of your emotions. Therefore, if you can find ways to impact your emotions you can improve your pain.
Many with chronic pain experience what is termed “secondary gain.” Secondary gain develops when chronic pain gives you something positive that isn’t necessarily logical or positive. When this occurs you may find you get more attention from others, you may justify why you should be relieved of certain activities, you may gain an “excuse” for your anger, and it may keep you from feeling other emotions. Secondary gain can be tricky because your pain can bring about perceived benefits justifying destructive behaviors. If you don’t see this, you may have a hard time avoiding this trap. This happens as a subconscious process–you don’t intend to benefit from the pain–but, as you derive benefits, you become “trained” to enjoy and expect those benefits all on a subconscious basis. Knowing this is occurring will enable you to reverse the trend associated with secondary gain.
The power of the mind cannot be underestimated. If you think a treatment will work, often it will work even if no treatment took place. This “false belief” is referred to as the placebo effect. It has been shown to be quite effective because it can alter the functioning of organs in your body. You are more powerful than you realize! It is by feeling empowered that you can change your experience of pain.
Many alternative treatments exist that can help you get [back] in touch with your emotions and by controlling them to reduce or even eliminate your pain. Techniques such as yoga, meditation, and Reiki, as well as many more have helped countless people in pain. You need to know that these treatments take time to work, so you need to avoid becoming impatient. Often a pill will seem the better alternative. These techniques do work if only you gave them a chance. Often the effects are short-lived requiring reapplication of the technique. Of course, it is natural to want relief now. You also want predictability in your lives. Medication provides both immediate relief and predictability; however, medication comes with a price: side effects and potential for addiction. Trying alternative therapies and looking at how your emotions contribute to your suffering will help you modify your experience of pain. Your way of thinking, as well as the way you cope with your emotions needs to change if you are to reduce your suffering. I hope today’s topic has helped you to look at pain and suffering in a new light and with a more optimistic view.
Good luck on your journey to discover A Day without Pain.