Part of healing chronic pain is learning to trust your body again. In the chronic pain experience, one has a profound disconnection from the body and a loss of faith in its innate intelligence. The origins of this disconnection may have begun in early life when you misunderstood the signals the body was sending. Perhaps your parents or other caretakers were not aware of the importance of such messages.
No pain, no gain
For example, I grew up with this message from my family and teachers: “No pain, no gain.” I learned that I needed to ignore the pain when I felt it if I was to “get ahead in life.”
Another instance of mixed messaging
I observed mixed messaging during family dinner time. As a child, I was hungry at 5 pm every evening, yet my parents set 7:30 pm as the time for dinner. The long wait every evening was exceedingly uncomfortable for me. I learned a few things from this. I learned patience and its reward once I got to eat. Conversely, I learned to tolerate such discomfort. I mentally dissociated from the hunger pangs I felt. My parents did not seem to have any trouble waiting; nor did my brother. I wondered if there was something wrong with me since my experience was different from the rest of my family.
This house rule set up a rigid behavior
The food rules in our house set up a rigid behavior pattern for me. I learned to anticipate a reward when pain, such as a hunger pang, set in. I learned delayed gratification. I learned to wait, yet in the waiting, I was tense. I developed a daily rhythm of tension around dinner time. This tension pattern was just one source of such patterns that evolved inside me as a child. Repeated and prolonged tension is the very definition of chronic pain.
Chronic pain is any pain be it physical, emotional, or spiritual that is felt for fifteen days out of thirty for three months or more.
I learned that my body was a place of intense pain that I could not express to anyone. I kept these feelings inside me. I had no one to talk with or share them with.
Dr. Gabor Mate, in his movie The Wisdom of Trauma states,
When the pain is there, and there’s no one to share it with, then the child has very limited resources to deal with that. What they do is disconnect from themselves. When you disconnect from yourself, you no longer have yourself. You’ve lost yourself.
In the chronic pain experience, we disconnect from the body and ourselves. We don’t trust the body, and we don’t trust ourselves. To heal chronic pain, we reclaim trust in the body and ourselves.
The thinking pattern paradox: chaos vs. control
In chronic pain, our thinking tends to be paradoxical. Our thinking patterns are both rigid and chaotic. Common symptoms of chronic pain include brain fog, confusion, and chaos. As we lose track of coherent thinking, we compensate by maintaining whatever thinking patterns previously kept us safe. The more confusion that reigned in my life, the more insistent I became that things had to be a certain way. I wanted something in my life that was predictable and that was under my control since I did not see any way to control the pain I was experiencing.
Recreating Trust in the Body
Recreating trust in the body comes in many forms. First and foremost, we need courage to embody our felt experience instead of dissociating from it. Here are some ways to stay present rather than checking out.
- Focus on the conscious breath. Turn your focus into the felt experience of breathing intentionally in slow, even, deep inhales and exhales. Feel the sensations in your body.
- Find ease in the breath. Now that you are breathing, consciously find ease in the breath as you sense into this activity. When you find ease in your breath, you’ll find ease in your life.
- Notice your grounding. Notice your feet on the ground or if you’re sitting notice your seat. Are you sitting evenly on both sitting bones? Imagine a line extending from the tip of your tailbone down into the center of the earth. Here you are grounded and held steady.
- Notice your relationship to heaven and earth. Now that you have created a sense of grounding by an imagined extension of your tailbone into the center of the earth, turn your attention to your relationship to the heavens. Imagine a line extending from the top of your spine through the crown of your head and into the heavens. You are now tethered firmly and with stability between earth and the sky. You are connected to both.
- Continue to ground. Keep grounding into the present moment. There is nowhere to go, nothing to do or be. The only directive is to stay here in this moment and experience whatever is showing up for you. You are learning to befriend your body once again. You are safe at this moment.
- Stay present and relax the breath. As you stay present, relax the breath yet keep breathing consciously. Here, with practice, you will find ease, peace, and a sense of safety. This a powerful healing space.
Practice for Success
Continue to practice these ways of recreating trust in the body, and you will realize you are healing, even if bit by bit. When small steps are taken consistently, over time they bring success.
Learning to trust the body as we heal from the ravages of chronic pain is one of the most extraordinary gifts of recovery. Please leave a comment and let me know how this is working for you.
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