The Personal Experience of Chronic Pain

Pain is more than a sensation. It’s an experience.

It’s an experience that no one else can see or feel.

It is an experience that affects our identity, our reality, the perception of our body and how we live in the world.

So why is the pain experience so different for everyone? Because pain involves a complex interaction between your nervous system and your brain. It also relies on context. The experience of pain is shaped by the complex emotional and cognitive processing that accompanies the physical damage or sensation.

Hence, the internationally recognized definition of pain by the International Association for the Study of Pain

"An unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage... 

Pain is always subjective… It is unquestionably a sensation in a part or parts of the body, but it is also always unpleasant and therefore also an emotional experience.”

So, pain is both an individual experience and can be related or unrelated to the amount of physical damage of your body.

How much pain we feel is determined in significant part by our brain and our mind—our current mood, our past experiences of pain, our beliefs, our attitudes, and how serious we think our injury is.

For example: Physicians were surprised to find that many soldiers who had been wounded on the battlefield described their injuries as much less painful than civilians who had similar injuries.

Remember, the experience of pain is shaped by the complex emotional and cognitive processing that accompanies the physical damage. What it meant being wounded to a soldier meant something entirely different to the civilian. For the soldier, being wounded meant they would no longer be fighting in the dangerous battlefield and going to a safer place, or maybe going home to their families.

For the civilian, the injury may have a much different meaning. A serious injury could mean time off work and a loss of income or maybe even the stress of a job loss.

What they both believed about their injury and how it affected their future had a huge impact on how much pain they felt. This is true for both acute pain and chronic pain.

Chronic Pain and negative beliefs: Many pain-related thoughts are negative and emotionally supercharged – anger, sadness, anxiety, guilt and frustration.

  • This is hopeless.
  • I am a burden.
  • I'll end up on disability.

These thoughts have a profound impact on short-term and long-term adjustment to painful states, including emotional, behavioral, and cognitive adjustment. We know our thoughts create our emotions and our emotions influence our pain. Negative thoughts widen the pain gate and let in more pain signals.

Getting out of chronic pain means changing your thoughts and beliefs about yourself and your pain. It is essential to reducing your pain and living a better life. It starts with the process of learning how to reframe your thoughts. 

Reframing is the ability to deliberately change your perspective. It's a powerful, brain-based process that enables you to approach people and situation with curiosity, flexibility and constructiveness. Reframing does not change the event or situation, it allows you to put it into a healthier perspective. You ae replacing negative thoughts with more positive or adaptive ones. By observing what is happening in life and our thoughts about it, and by considering the various possible ways we might respond, we exercise choice. 

I suffer from chronic pain, or I live with chronic pain

This helps us in several ways:

  • It redirects our attention.
  • It's not a distraction - you are actually looking for and finding the positives.
  • It clears the way for us to take more responsibility for managing our own pain condition.
  • It creates a sense of self-efficacy and self-determinism
  • It instills hope.
  • It supports change.

As you learn how to change your response to your pain a fabulous thing begins to happen. Your pain will begin to lessen. The better you get at deliberately changing your perspective and creating new thoughts around your pain, the more control you will have over it.

These are some of the exact techniques that I used to reverse my own chronic pain, and the same techniques that I use with my pain clients as well.

Learn more about the incredible power of our thoughts, and how they affect our pain.
Find our more HERE.

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