Bringing Kindness to Chronic Pain

The role of practicing self-kindness in treating chronic pain is an area of interest I wanted to bring to the group. We know that our thoughts such as fear, pressure and self-criticism can be contributing factors in amplifying danger signals in our brains, thus increasing and perpetuating pain. Changing these recurrent thought patterns can help to send messages of safety to our brains, calm down our overactive alarm systems, and reduce pain. But how do we change these thoughts?

Bringing kindness to alarm triggering thoughts can play a significant role in decreasing pain, and has been a big part of the pain reprocessing journey for me personally. In my own process with pain, I often found myself feeling frustrated that the pain wasn’t going away and self critical thoughts would easily flood my mind-Why hadn’t I figured out how to fix this yet? What did I do that had triggered a pain flare- did I push myself too much going for a hike the day before? Was I not in touch enough with my emotions? These would easily pile up along with additional self-critical thoughts in other areas of my life.

I found that initially when observing self-critical thoughts associated with pain, trying to connect with kind thoughts felt surprisingly difficult, even challenging for me to receive or believe them. What really resonated with me was to imagine I was speaking to one of my children or a dear friend. What words of unconditional love and support would I give to them in a moment like this? I found that I could authentically connect with kindness by feeling seen, heard, loved and encouraged. The practice of giving this to myself in tough moments was a breakthrough for me in unwinding pain.

Have you found practicing self- kindness helpful for you in your pain journey? If yes, what has helped you to meet yourself with kindness when alarm triggering thoughts are high?

This one is so hard. I think sometimes it’s really hard to even figure out what a kind voice would sound like – because pain kind of is designed to be hated. And so how can I not be mad at this horrible feeling. And even when I realized it was my brain, then how could I not be made at my brain for being so unfair to me.

I’m finding that a good starting place is simply noticing when there is a judgment in what I’m thinking and then just trying to say the same thing without judgment, just with facts. So for example, I’ll try to say, my forearms are tingling instead of my forearms have that annoying tingling again.

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Ooh, this is such a great perspective on this. I am thinking of this in terms of how can I bring kindness to my thoughts that come up around pain, instead of bringing kindness to the painful sensation itself. ie- When I experienced pain, so often my initial thought could be something like this- I must have pushed myself too hard to bring this pain on- I shouldn’t have rode my bike so far earlier today. I began watching for these self critical thoughts that would arise around pain, and then I then would bring a kind thought to myself like- “This isn’t your fault, it makes sense you feel upset when pain gets triggered, I am right here with you”.

I like your take on focusing on just the facts with your experience of pain- your forearms are tingling instead of that annoying tingling-which sounds like it has a similar effect of calming the nervous system as the kindness piece.

One thought about pain being designed to be hated-I completely relate to the feelings of frustration and upset around pain! I find it helpful to think of pain as the danger signal, and that this arises from our brain’s dedication to trying to keep us safe. I also imagine that pain is like a small child, crying out because they don’t feel safe. When I go to this image, it drops me into a place of compassion for the pain. Kind of like with a small child who is super upset and crying, if we respond to them with frustration and annoyance, they only cry louder. But, if we can meet them with compassion and reassurance that they are safe, it can help them to calm down.

There is a lovely podcast episode about kindness and healing by Martha Beck. She has chronic pain and is familiar with pain reprocessing therapy and she brings some great tips and perspective on this topic. It’s worth a listen!

Thank you @Dr. Smith for this information. I am all for trying new ways to combat regular pain & chronic pain.
Jodi

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