Who is the “owner” of the chronic pain I feel?
It is easy to confuse ownership of your pain with blaming yourself for it. Taking ownership of the pain means 1) exploring exactly in what ways has the pain affected your personal and professional life, 2) recognizing ways that you have been successful in taming the pain, 3) and of course recognizing the ways that pain gets worse and turns into a flare up. Blaming, on the other hand, means looking for where you went wrong, how you could have and should have prevented it, or how someone else, for example a physician, has “caused” the pain. The trouble with finding blame is that it only makes you feel more angry and less in charge of controlling your pain. In fact many people feel sad and anxious about the whole disruption they feel in their lives as a result of pain and get tempted to put their whole lives on hold waiting for others such as their physicians, their families, and their life circumstances to take away the pain. It is as if they are giving the responsibility of coping with the pain to someone or something outside of themselves, which clearly makes them feel even more powerless.
Two things to do in order to “own” your pain and therefore exert more power on controlling it:
1) Keeping a pain diary: It is very important to learn of your own various physical sensations and their paired unpleasant emotional experiences. Examples of physical sensations are stabbing, burning, aching, tightness, and pounding pain. Unpleasant emotional experiences associated with various physical sensations are measures of suffering and include: frustration, anxiety, anger, fear, despair, and hopelessness. Keeping track of your specific physical sensation and its level of intensity as well as your associated emotional suffering gives you a clue as to times and circumstances when your pain is easier to handle and times that it is the most uncomfortable. The pain diary is intended for your exploration. You can begin to notice the pattern of your pain, begin to trace flare ups, begin to notice how and when your pain experience is least bothersome, etc. Not only this information will give you a strong sense of control over your pain, it is a much appreciated tool for your health care providers in terms of your responses to treatments and ways to treat your flare ups.
2) Setting Goals: It is very common for people with chronic pain to feel scattered, unfocused, unable to make commitments, and unsuccessful in meeting their own needs on a steady basis. Naturally, when you don’t know how to predict your pain level and your emotional suffering, you are less inclined to make any type of meaningful plans. But having that pain diary can be your most effective tool to change some of that chaos into organization. In addition: setting goals in the following manner can most likely result into positive outcomes: A) You must be able to measure it: (I’ll feel good by next summer is poorly measured, but I’ll have one load of laundry done by the end of the week is measurable). B) It should be humanly possible not superhumanly possible: (I’ll have my bathrooms renovated in 2 weeks is not that likely to happen, but I’ll have the magazine and newspaper clutter cleared by next Tuesday is more like it). C) Your goal is best to be in the form of some action not some intangible concept (I’ll do really good in school next semester is more of a concept, but I’ll have pages 31 to 50 read by next Friday is a specific action). D) The word “I” will have to be the most essential part of your goal: (once my neighbor has her lawn mowed, I’ll plant by cucumbers is all about the neighbor, but I’ll have my cucumbers planted by the end of next week is all about the “I”). E) Must make sure you really want the outcome of that goal: ( is it even worth your while to volunteer in an organization you have no emotional connection to? )
Keep me posted on your journey through managing chronic pain and if you need to consult with me, I’ll be happy to hear from you. My number is 831-621-1150, my website is www.medicalpsychologyservice.com Keep an eye on the website for various seasonal workshops that might just be of much help to you.
G. Katie Dashtban, Psy.D.
Licensed Clinical Health Psychologist