The Biggest Misconception About Chronic Pain

When people use the phrase โ€œ๐—ฎ๐—น๐—น ๐—ถ๐—ป ๐˜†๐—ผ๐˜‚๐—ฟ ๐—ต๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ฑโ€ to describe stress-induced pain, the implication is that the pain exists only in your mind โ€” in your thoughts โ€” in your fantasy.โ 

Not only is this notion dismissive and hurtful to those experiencing pain, itโ€™s quite simply untrue. Anyone whoโ€™s ever experienced stress-induced pain (i.e. the kind of pain that has medical doctors telling you โ€œthereโ€™s nothing wrongโ€) can attest that the pain is very, very real.โ 

Back when I was getting stop-everything migraines for over a decade, I never suspected that there was anything physically โ€œwrongโ€ with me โ€” I knew that my migraines were stress-induced โ€” but that knowledge did nothing to reduce the excruciating pain sensation. The pain wasnโ€™t fantasy, and I wished that I could just think it away. But the pain was definitely there, and it was definitely real.โ 

So when clients ask me, โ€œare you saying the pain is all in my head?โ€ I reply โ€œabsolutely not.โ€ But I AM saying that the pain โ€” ALL pain โ€” is in your ๐—ฐ๐—ฒ๐—ป๐˜๐—ฟ๐—ฎ๐—น ๐—ป๐—ฒ๐—ฟ๐˜ƒ๐—ผ๐˜‚๐˜€ ๐˜€๐˜†๐˜€๐˜๐—ฒ๐—บ: the control system centered in your brain that controls autonomic functions such as digestion, heart rate, emotions and yes, ๐—ฝ๐—ฎ๐—ถ๐—ป ๐˜€๐—ฒ๐—ป๐˜€๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ถ๐—ผ๐—ป๐˜€.โ 

Whether the pain youโ€™re feeling was triggered by something ๐—ฝ๐—ต๐˜†๐˜€๐—ถ๐—ฐ๐—ฎ๐—น (like a broken arm) or something ๐—ฒ๐—บ๐—ผ๐˜๐—ถ๐—ผ๐—ป๐—ฎ๐—น (like a stressful workday or a trauma trigger or a stress-perpetuating coping strategy like people pleasing)โ€ฆ the ๐—ฝ๐—ฎ๐—ถ๐—ป ๐˜€๐—ฒ๐—ป๐˜€๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ถ๐—ผ๐—ป๐˜€ you feel are signals created by your central nervous system โ€” i.e. in your brain.โ 

When the central nervous system senses threat โ€” which can be physical, emotional, or both โ€” it responds by sending a variety of SOS signals, and one of those signals can be ๐—ฝ๐—ฎ๐—ถ๐—ป. (Others include racing heart, panic, startle response, etc.)โ 

All pain sensations are created by the ๐—ฐ๐—ฒ๐—ป๐˜๐—ฟ๐—ฎ๐—น ๐—ป๐—ฒ๐—ฟ๐˜ƒ๐—ผ๐˜‚๐˜€ ๐˜€๐˜†๐˜€๐˜๐—ฒ๐—บ. They are NOT created by ๐˜๐—ต๐—ผ๐˜‚๐—ด๐—ต๐˜๐˜€ in the mind, although thoughts do have a big ๐—ถ๐—ป๐—ณ๐—น๐˜‚๐—ฒ๐—ป๐—ฐ๐—ฒ on ๐˜๐—ต๐—ฒ ๐—ป๐—ฒ๐—ฟ๐˜ƒ๐—ผ๐˜‚๐˜€ ๐˜€๐˜†๐˜€๐˜๐—ฒ๐—บ.โ 

For example, habitual thoughts that communicate internalized emotional abuse (like โ€œIโ€™m a terrible personโ€ or โ€œeverybody hates meโ€) prolong and perpetuate the emotional threat that initiated those thoughts. Such thoughts send ongoing threat messages to the central nervous system, and the nervous system may respond by sending SOS signals such as ๐—ฝ๐—ฎ๐—ถ๐—ป ๐˜€๐—ฒ๐—ป๐˜€๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ถ๐—ผ๐—ป๐˜€ that you feel in your body.

Does that make sense?

So the next time someone tells you the pain is โ€œall in your head,โ€ you can tell them:

โ€œNo, the pain is in my central nervous system just like ๐—ฎ๐—น๐—น pain is, because thatโ€™s how pain works!โ€

For more support with anxiety and chronic pain, take the FREE QUIZโ€œWhy the *bleep* am I still in pain?!โ€ to help you get some clarity.

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