Back when I first read this phrase in a research document, I have to admit I got angry. I was on a search to cure my chronic pain, and was trying everything to solve the pain problem. My thoughts flared; Pain is NOT a figment of my imagination, it is a very real condition that I have to manage every minute of every day, for years. Clearly the author has never experienced chronic pain. Luckily for the author, unlike my pain, this rant was in my head!
Since I was determined to find a way to deal with my pain, I kept reading in spite of my offended and wounded ego! What I found was initially very confronting.
Then a light began to go off in my head and a wave of excitement flooded my mind. If chronic pain is “all in the head”, then I have the power to find the trigger and turn it OFF. If it’s all in my head, then I have control! This was a revelation…and then also a little scary. I am responsible for my pain, and for its healing. Not responsible in a negative way, but rather a feeling of empowerment and possibility.
What is Chronic Pain?
Chronic pain is defined as pain that lasts longer than 6 months. Irrefutable scientific evidence now shows that pain is a function of THE BRAIN and does not necessarily indicate damaged body tissue. It can be signalled in the brain by any perceived or actual threat from any source; emotional, mental, historical trauma, stress, physiological damage, you name it. This is why pharmacological interventions to manage chronic pain have limited effect – they suppose that there is a physiological cause for the pain. At time of writing, there are no pharmaceutical pain relievers that are designed specifically for chronic pain. This poses serious consequences for long term use.
Trauma and its link to pain
On the other hand, there is now lots of research about traumatic stress and how it relates to chronic pain. Interestingly, the trauma can be very old and manifest as chronic pain years, sometimes decades, after the traumatic event, i.e. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder-PTSD.
It is important to note two things here
3 year old Susie is sitting on the floor carefully pulling the eyes off her favourite teddy. She is curious about Teddy and wants to understand why his eyes don’t move. Mum enters and catches Susie damaging the bear that she had carefully and lovingly spent an entire evening making for Susie when she really needed to be sleeping. Mum is tired, stressed and overwhelmed. The sight of her hard work being ‘damaged’ sets her off and she yells at Susie for “hurting teddy” and then bursts into tears. The shock of the loud yelling rips Susie out of her bubble, the sight of her mum’s angry scrunched up face frightens Susie and the sound of her mum’s accusing tone hurts her heart. In that moment, Susie unconsciously forms a limiting belief that she is the cause of pain in others. From then on, Susie imprints that event and the attached belief, internalising the trauma, fear and hurt. Years of repeated reinforcement of this belief system compounds and associates her actions with feelings of pain and trauma in the form of ‘life experience’. One day, decades later, that little girl who believes that she always hurts the ones she loves, reaches a tipping point. Her relationship breaks down. Now being highly sensitised for emotional trauma, her brain perceives the breakup as danger and threat of injury (emotional in this case), and this seemingly ‘new’ traumatic event (actually compounded from similar events from the age of 3 onwards) triggers pain in her body that can’t be healed with medicines.
This is, of course, a simplified version of how chronic pain might work from emotional trauma, but you get the general idea.
If medication doesn’t work, then what?
If medical drugs can’t heal our chronic pain, there must be another way. We need to limit their use and shift focus to finding and dealing with the true cause, then set about rewiring the brain for less pain.
Whether physical, emotional or mental pain, chronic pain is a signal that something is amiss in within the healthy functioning of the person. Thus, we can take the approach that our pain is trying to give us a message; there is something within us that our brain perceives as a threat to our wellbeing. It may be physical, but in the case of chronic pain, more often than not, it is triggered by our emotional response to events around us now, in the past, and thoughts around possible pain in our future too!
My personal experience with chronic pain stems from both chronic musculoskeletal damage, compounded and triggered by a lifetime of painful emotional traumas and stress which, in 2012 resulted in a chronic illness that stopped me in my tracks. Since then, I’ve tried many approaches to chronic pain management and researched my butt off to find answers for management and a cure.
Manage pain from the inside out, AND the outside in
I have found from cutting-edge scientific research, best practice medical approaches, natural and alternative healing practices, and from my own practical and holistic approach to pain, that a multidisciplinary, multi-modality approach is the most effective way to manage chronic pain, and has the greatest chance of successfully eliminating it all together. We need to address chronic pain from the inside out, AND the outside in to be pain free.
It is my contention that by using a combination of management techniques that include:
Changing minds about pain
We can teach our brain to rewire neural pathways that are highly sensitive to physical and emotional pain triggers. This is why I got excited… we have the ability to literally CHANGE OUR MINDS about chronic pain, and heal it!
What's your experience with chronic pain? Do you have it or care for someone who does? What management tools to you use to keep on top of your pain? Leave a comment about your experience. I'd love to hear from you.
If you'd like more information about how to deal with and heal your pain, you may like to look at our Nurse-led packages for chronic conditions. The Kickstart programs are a great place to start, or simply call My Holistic Nurse on +61 (0)487 769 629.