I wanna let you in on a secret.
My chronic pain clients who see the greatest symptom reduction are not necessarily the ones who’ve read all the neuroscience research on chronic pain.
Or the ones who’ve tried all the latest therapy modalities.
They’re not even necessarily the ones who practice daily journaling — and I’m saying that as a practitioner who loves to promote expressive writing and has a course all about how to do it!
But as much as I love teaching folks how to use journaling for symptom relief, I have to be honest with you about something…
My chronic pain clients who see the greatest symptom reduction are the ones who focus on developing self-love.
That is simply a fact. And I invite you to sit with it for a moment and take in a breath.
Think about this: pain is a threat response. It’s an alarm signal that the nervous system fires off when it senses a threat.
Chronic pain and chronic self-criticism go hand-in-hand. Self-criticism can make your nervous system highly sensitized to potential threats. For example, when we criticize ourselves routinely, an unfriendly comment from a coworker could trigger the fear that we are unlovable and that we could be threatened with social rejection and isolation.
But when we develop a habit of self-love, the world becomes less threatening. That same unfriendly comment from a coworker might simply be interpreted as an inappropriate remark. Our own lovability does not get called into question. There’s no perceived threat of social abandonment, so our nervous system feels safe and doesn’t fire off a pain signal.
Does that make sense? Self-love can inoculate your nervous system from being in a chronic state of perceived threat.
I know the phrase “self-love” might make you cringe. And sciencey-sounding terms like “nervous system regulation” or “vagal tone” might feel more palatable when you’re starting your healing journey.
And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. A sciencey approach can be a great way to kickstart your chronic symptom recovery!
But when you’ve plateaued or you’re feeling stuck, I can almost guarantee you that the key to moving forward is: developing self-love.
“But how,” you might ask?
There’s no one clear path, and what works for one person might be different from what works for you. But there are a few themes that I’ve noticed through doing this work. Here are some of the steps that seem to be helpful in developing self-love:
1. Notice what comes up for you when you think about self-love. Do you cringe? Do you feel repulsed or hopeless or annoyed or turned off? These are all stress-responses and they’re evidence that somewhere along the line, you received some negative messages about self-love. What were they? Where did they come from? Deconstructing these negative stories may be the first step before you’re able to move into the next stage.
2. Work on a self-love practice. Maybe it’s saying positive affirmations to yourself, or writing words of kindness to yourself, or practicing looking in the mirror with kind eyes. As in step 1, notice what comes up for you when you do this practice. Start small and keep the practice consistent. See what starts to shift over time.
3. Find healing practitioners and peers to practice alongside you and support you in this process! Positive reinforcement from others can be a massively impactful way to rewrite all the negative messages about self-love that you internalized earlier in life.
4. Soften your expectations of yourself. Rome wasn’t built in a day and your relationship with yourself won’t be repaired overnight. And it doesn’t need to be! Know that you are in good company. There are millions of other people all over the world struggling with baggage that damaged our sense of self-love, and we are all working our way through it and healing together, side by side, step by step.
I’m right here beside you too. Cheering for you — cheering for us — and sending love.
➡️ If you need support with chronic pain and anxiety, take my FREE QUIZ called “Why the *bleep* am I still in pain?!” so I can help you get some clarity.
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