Tips from a chronic pain recovery therapist
You know that annoying phrase, “if you want somebody to love you, you have to love yourself first?”
That saying used to make me roll my eyes in frustration. How the heck was loving myself supposed to influence the way others felt about me? And wouldn’t it be easier to love myself once I had somebody else’s endorsement?
It took me years to understand that loving myself meant deciding to accept myself exactly as I am; letting go of trying to change myself so that I could win the affections of someone who was looking for something completely different from me; and broadcasting all of my quirks and particularities so that the soulmate who was out there looking for me could actually find me.
In other words, I had to drop my initial goal of getting someone to like me and take on a new goal of learning to accept, love and authentically express myself in order to attract my soulmate.
That same counter-intuitive shift is what helped me turn the corner in my healing from chronic migraines. And it’s the shift you’ll need to make in your own chronic pain recovery as well. Here’s what I mean…
Like most people struggling with chronic pain, the goal that first brought me into my healing journey was simple and straightforward: Get rid of the pain. I mean, obviously that’s the goal, right?
The problem is that — just like when you’re trying to win someone’s affections by changing who you are — trying to get rid of the pain puts you into an impossible conflict with yourself.
Chronic pain flares are distress signals. Like a baby who cries to get its caretaker to tend to its needs, your nervous system uses pain signals to let you know that your physical and emotional needs require attention. Trying to get rid of the pain without listening to its message is like trying to get a baby to stop crying without addressing its needs.
Effective parenting is about tending to the baby’s needs for food, sleep, shelter and most of all, love. Likewise, effective recovery from chronic pain is not about getting the pain to stop. It’s about learning to love and care for ourselves wholeheartedly.
I’ll repeat that, because it can take a while to really wrap your head around this goalpost shift:
Chronic pain recovery is not about getting the pain to stop. It’s about learning to love and care for ourselves unconditionally. The gradual and messy process of learning to love ourselves is also the gradual and messy path out of persistent pain.
If you’re rolling your eyes and thinking, “How am I supposed to stop focusing on getting rid of the pain?!” I can utterly relate. When I was early in my recovery journey, I heard a lot of coaches and therapists talking about “indifference to symptoms” and how you had to stop giving your pain so much attention. I definitely rolled my eyes in frustration!
So, I’m not suggesting that you try to be indifferent to the pain. If indifference feels impossible, trying to force it can become another battle with yourself, which is the last thing you need for your recovery.
But I am inviting you to turn at least some of your attention toward the thing that has made the most powerful difference in my own healing and that of all the clients I’ve ever worked with: Self-compassion.
Some of the books that have helped me learn how to practice self-compassion are:
- You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay
- The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem by Nathaniel Branden
- Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff
I also offer a 6–week online program called Writing to Release Chronic Pain. Participants say that the number 1 skill they’ve learned in the course is self-compassion!
With warmth, encouragement and loads of faith in you,
P.S. To learn more about Writing to Release Chronic Pain, you can visit the course website here.
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