Not surprisingly most clients I see have a very negative relationship with their pain/symptoms, usually based on fear and anger, resulting in huge resistance towards it. In this blog I’ll introduce you to the power of emotional awareness and why befriending yourself could be the answer to resolving your pain.
Very often clients have spent months or years trying to ‘get rid of pain’ and they have often spent a significant amount of time and money trying to address what they believed to be a physical problem due to a physical cause, using a physical approach. Not surprisingly it has often had a massive negative impact on their life financially, as well as functionally and emotionally.
When they do come across the concept that the pain is a result of neural pathways that have become learned and which are being ‘fueled’ by unresolved emotions, then they can begin to address these underlying emotional causes. These usually include past, repressed emotions as well as avoided emotions in their day to day life.
I often say that ‘we are who we are because of our experiences in life’. This means that although we were born with a personality, we are moulded by our experiences, especially in the early years when we are so impressionable and absorb everything going on around us.
How do our life experience impact our pain?
Past emotions which we have repressed or even deliberately suppressed, might include specific traumatic experiences from our early life. This might be due to what are considered to be the more major forms of adverse childhood experiences (ACE), such as: abuse or neglect, absence of a parent, violence towards a parent or substance abuse in the family.
What is less widely understood though is the effect ‘small traumas’ have on us in later life, such as: bullying, excessive control by a parent, comparison, blame, favouritism, ridicule, expectations placed on you (such as ‘good boys don’t cry’), extended periods of silence or extreme disappointment by a carer/teacher after an accident/perceived naughtiness.
Our experiences and behaviours we observe by people around us as we are growing up result in ingrained beliefs and behaviours within us and these can also cause stress or distress in later life, for example; fear of confrontation, distrust of men/women, fear related to love and commitment or even abandonment, not being good enough etc.
In fact, frequently the result of feeling shamed, unsupported or unsafe at times in our childhood results in us growing up with a feeling of not being ‘enough’ in some way, whether that’s being good/clever/pretty/sporty etc enough. Learning that this is not acceptable and therefore we are not ‘enough’, means we develop ways to cover up this vulnerable, imperfect part of us. For many people this works well, and they cope for years or decades without any obvious physical, mental or emotional sign of this causing any significant impact on their lives.
However, when feelings related to any vulnerability, shame or not being ‘enough’ are triggered, there can be extreme fear related to ‘being found out’. These surfacing emotions are perceived by our primal brain to be a ‘threat’ to our safety, our self-image or even our life and the ‘fight or flight’ response is automatically and unconsciously activated. The symptoms/pain are then triggered as part of this primal protective response, protecting us from in this case, not a sabre tooth tiger, but the ‘dangerous’ emotions surfacing.
Why do I feel pain now?
So many people ask me why they were fine for decades and in their 40/50/60s developed pain. It’s worth realising that it is not just what happens in the moment that triggers the onset of a symptom. Remember, we are who we are because of our experiences in life, so everything that has come before has prepared the neural ‘landscape’ (e.g. past stressors/ACE as well as our learned beliefs, behaviours and personality traits resulting from our experiences). Add to that mix what was happening in our life leading up to the pain onset and since, plus how we were/are feeling when something happens, will determine when/whether a symptom will be triggered.
Another point is the difference between a ’cause’ and a ‘trigger’. Water (cause) will make you wet (same response for everyone), but the water is also a ‘trigger’ for your reaction (specific to each individual). In other words, someone could pick up a heavy weight/have an injection/drink red wine etc, but not everyone will develop back pain, a migraine etc. In other words, these activities are not the cause of the symptoms, but they might be the trigger, if the neural landscape is sensitised enough.
Sadly, the more we focus on the symptoms and what we can or can’t do, plus the fear and frustration around these, the more we are ‘fueling’ the neural pathways involved. In the meantime, by doing this we are not allowing ourselves to connect with the underlying cause and ‘fuel’ for our symptoms, the unresolved ‘dangerous’ emotions.
The impact of western society on chronic pain
Most of us have learned over the years to unconsciously soothe, protect or distract ourselves so we don’t have to feel/deal with uncomfortable emotions. We live in a society where it is not accepted to be seen to be emotional, or to demonstrate ‘negative’ emotions, which are often perceived to be ‘bad’ or ‘dangerous’.
For example, most people in the western world learn to use one or more of the following to help them carry on and ‘cope’ with life;
- Distraction – work, social media, video/online games, TV, reading
- Soothing – food, drugs, alcohol, sex,
- Protection – prestige, anger, money, being invisible, people-pleasing
Taking time to learn to really FEEL our emotions, means we are showing ourselves it is safe to feel any emotion and we learn to allow them to be processed and therefore expressed through our body. By learning to listen in to how we feel, we can acknowledge and express our emotions safely, therefore removing the fuel for the pain and helping to break the pain cycle.
If you click this link, in the next blog I share with you a simple strategy to help you become more emotionally aware and process emotions, which if you have pain will be fuelling your pain. PLUS you can observe in a live video how using this strategy helped one lady with a diagnosis of Fibromyalgia resolve her shoulder and knee pain in one session, after unsuccessfully trying to resolve it by trying to understand what had caused the onset a couple of days earlier.