Throughout my life, I’ve not experienced much chronic physical pain. No regular headaches or joint pain. I have however experienced what I would call emotional or mental pain. Pain of feeling fearful, of feeling nervous, or anxious. In recent discussions with my wife and others, we’ve spoken a lot about dealing with physical pain, and what might be the causes and remedies. During a recent conversation, I considered a framework for addressing such pain.
The three layers of pain
What we often refer to as “pain” arrives in three layers; the suffering, the cause, and the pain itself. Addressing each of these layers is entirely possible within each of us, and must be addressed in order.
Pain is a state of mind. When we are feeling pain, this is our body sending messages to our brain that we are feeling hurt or sore. Of course, this is a biological necessity. If I had a giant cut down my arm, I’d want to know about it!
The first layer of pain, however, comes largely from our reaction or response to the physical sensation. Having a cut on our arm, and then screaming and complaining about how sore it is only serves to make the pain worse. Our brain is leaning in on the instinct to emphasize how this pain is not okay and is actually really really sore. What good does this do toward relieving the actual pain itself?
In the case of a cut on the arm, the cause may well be that something sharp was left in an inappropriate place. Moving this sharp object out of the way prevents any further cuts. In the cause of an internal pain such as stomach ache or a headache, the cause is often less obvious. As humans, we’re also often too caught up in our own suffering to identify and address the cause.
Once the suffering brain has calmed down, the first step is to eliminate the obvious causes. If you’re a coffee drinker and missed your morning coffee, no doubt a headache will arrive. Have a cup of coffee, and get on with your day. After eliminating the obvious, sit quietly and consider what you are not saying that you want to say. Did you have an argument with a friend that is unresolved? Did a family member do something which annoyed you, and you didn’t address it?
Identify the cause, and journal it out. Once you’ve got it in your journal, inspect your feelings and ask if you feel better about it. If not, journal some more.
As a last resort, calmly bring up the topic with the offending party. Before doing so, however, ask yourself what good will come of this. In the majority of instances, journaling is enough to relieve the pain.
The pain itself
Lastly, we’re left with the actual sensation of pain itself. Pain, as outlined above, is a sensation sent from the body to the brain to let you know about something. Stripping away the suffering and the cause, all we’re left with is a love letter from your body to your brain, which is simply just that.
Acknowledging each piece of what we call as “pain” for what it is enables us to begin the healing process, be it a cut healing under a band-aid, or healing a headache brought on by unresolved dis-ease in our perception. The body is like Wolverine, doing a fantastic job at healing itself, provided we can resolve the additional aspects we bring to how we experience pain.