Harmony in Discomfort: Navigating Life with Chronic Pain

By Michal Spiegelman

Navigating through life with chronic pain is a complex journey that requires a multidimensional approach. The balance between medical intervention and self-managed care is delicate, often requiring a deeper understanding of one’s own body and mind.

Chronic pain sufferers often find themselves on a solitary path, but it doesn’t have to be that way. You can navigate this journey without being consumed by pain’s overwhelming presence.

The Power of Acceptance

Living with chronic pain demands not just physical but also emotional resilience. In exploring avenues for managing this condition, we might turn to psychological therapies for guidance—particularly Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

DBT, which emerged in the 1990s, has been gaining traction as a treatment modality. While originally developed for regulating emotions in mental health issues like borderline personality disorder and suicidality, its principles have remarkable relevance for chronic pain management.

The cornerstone of DBT is the concept of ‘radical acceptance.’ This principle invites us to change our relationship with pain by accepting it as an inevitable part of our reality. It doesn’t mean we’re okay with the pain or resigning to it; rather, we acknowledge its presence without judgment. This shift in perspective can be profoundly liberating.

By recognizing pain as a part of life, we can start to move beyond the suffering it causes and explore ways to live more fully despite it.

CBT and DBT share common ground in their emphasis on mindfulness and the development of coping skills. CBT encourages us to challenge and change unhelpful thought patterns and behaviors. When applied to chronic pain, it helps us differentiate between the objective sensation of pain and the subjective distress it provokes. It’s not the pain itself that’s always the most significant issue; it’s often our interpretation of it. By addressing these interpretations, we can improve our emotional well-being.

Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional

The phrase “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional” is widely attributed to Haruki Murakami, who paraphrased this concept in his book “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.” The idea itself, however, aligns with many Buddhist teachings that distinguish between pain as a physical experience and suffering as our psychological reaction to it.

Buddhism acknowledges that pain is an inherent part of life, but suffering arises from our resistance to this pain—our refusal to accept reality as it is.

By surrendering the struggle against the unavoidable, we’re not giving up; we’re opening ourselves to a different kind of change, one that arises from acceptance.
Through this lens, managing chronic pain becomes less about combating the pain itself and more about changing how we relate to it. Acceptance does not imply passivity; it’s an active process that sets the stage for meaningful change.

By incorporating the wisdom of both modern psychology and ancient philosophy, those living with chronic pain can find a path to greater peace and functionality.

Welcome the pain, but don’t let it take over.

Living with chronic pain is akin to having an unwelcome companion on your life’s journey. It’s persistent, often unpredictable, and can be incredibly overwhelming. However, as daunting as it may seem, the best advice from those who have been supporting individuals with chronic pain is to live alongside the pain.

There’s power in learning to coexist with pain, acknowledging its presence without letting it dominate your existence.

The art of living with pain isn’t about eradicating it entirely—often, that’s not possible. It’s about learning to take action where we can, to manage and alleviate pain to the best of our ability. Yet, we must also guard against the pain becoming the focal point of our identity. The challenge, then, is to find balance—engaging in life’s activities, nurturing relationships, and pursuing interests, all while carrying the weight of chronic pain.

To embark on this path requires a deliberate choice: the decision not to let pain be the center around which all else revolves. This doesn’t mean ignoring the pain or diminishing its impact on your life. It means prioritizing your well-being and life satisfaction above the pain, doing what is necessary to manage and mitigate it, and focusing on the aspects of life that bring joy and fulfillment.

In doing so, we can cultivate a life that, while aware of pain’s presence, isn’t overshadowed by it. We can learn to navigate through moments of discomfort with grace and determination. The goal is not to banish pain from our lives completely but to reduce its influence on our day-to-day experiences.

Mindset Barriers: Challenging Internal Beliefs

When it comes to learning to coexist with chronic pain without allowing it to dominate your existence, certain internal beliefs can create significant barriers.

These beliefs are often deep-rooted and can shape the way we perceive ourselves and our circumstances.

Here are some internal beliefs that might prevent someone from achieving this balance:

  1. Catastrophizing: Believing that the pain will only get worse or seeing it as a sign of something more dire can lead to increased anxiety and a focus on the negative.
  2. Helplessness: Feeling that one has no control over the pain or their life because of the pain can erode the motivation to find ways to manage and live alongside it.
  3. Identifying with Pain: Some may start to view themselves primarily as a sufferer of pain, which can overshadow other aspects of their identity and experiences.
  4. Perfectionism: Holding a belief that life must be free of pain to enjoy it or engage in activities can limit the ability to find joy in the midst of pain.
  5. Fear of Worsening Pain: The belief that any activity might exacerbate pain can lead to avoidance behaviors and a more sedentary lifestyle, which may actually increase pain over time.
  6. Injustice: Focusing on the unfairness of one’s situation (“Why me?”) can create resentment and anger, which can exacerbate the emotional components of pain.
  7. Unrealistic Optimism: Conversely, believing that you must wait for pain to disappear completely before engaging with life can lead to chronic disappointment and passivity.
  8. Guilt: Feeling guilty for one’s limitations or the perceived burden on others can contribute to self-neglect and a reluctance to practice self-care or seek joy.

Addressing these beliefs through cognitive restructuring, mindfulness, and other therapeutic techniques can be a crucial step in living more harmoniously with chronic pain.

So, how do we keep pain from taking over?
What are the tangible steps we can take to ensure we’re living with pain and not living for it?

Here are some strategies to consider…

Strategies for Harmonizing Life with Chronic Pain

Living with chronic pain can often feel like navigating a never-ending storm. The key to weathering this storm lies not only in how we address the pain but also in how we maintain the essence of our daily lives.

Here are refined strategies to balance life with chronic pain, including an exercise from the upcoming book, “Becoming Soulful: Six Keys for Profound Transformation in Your Therapy, Coaching, or Healing Practice.”

  1. Embrace Self-Compassion: Begin each day by setting a tone of self-compassion. Talk to yourself with the same kindness you would offer a dear friend. Encourage statements like “It’s okay,” “I understand,” and “It makes sense you feel this way,” to create a nurturing internal environment where emotions are validated and allowed to exist without judgment.
  2. Transform Self-Talk: Stay vigilant against self-talk that limits and diminishes. When you encounter negative beliefs, acknowledge them with compassion, but do not let them steer your thoughts. Replace limiting beliefs with affirmations of your strength and resilience.
  3. Choose Mindfulness Over Rumination: While pain may be present, suffering need not be a constant. Shift from ruminating on your discomfort—which can spiral into depression—to practicing mindfulness, focusing on the present, and finding peace within it.
  4. Body Dialogue for Insight: Use the body as a guide to learn and grow from your pain. The “Connecting with the Body for Pain Recognition and Insight” exercise included in my upcoming book: “Becoming Soulful: Six Keys for Profound Transformation in Your Therapy, Coaching, or Healing Practice” is a transformative practice:
    • Begin with centering deep breaths to anchor yourself in the now.
    • Enter into a meditative state to foster deeper internal listening.
    • Direct a gentle inquiry to your pain, asking, “What are you here to teach me?”
    • Listen attentively for responses from your body, whether they are sensations, emotions, or intuitive thoughts.
    • Acknowledge whatever surfaces without judgment.
    • Reflect on these insights, considering how they might inform your healing journey.
  5. Pursue Present-Minded Activities: Counterbalance worries about pain’s permanence by engaging in activities that anchor you in the present. This might be a mindful walk, meditating, or immersing yourself in a book. Find what brings you back to the moment and integrate these activities into your routine.
  6. Nurture Human Connections: Healing flourishes in connection, not in isolation. Challenge any urge to withdraw by reaching out to others. Engage in calls, meet for coffee, and invite support from friends and family. Remember, “Healing together outshines healing alone.” [The Beacons of Change Manifesto].
  7. Fill Up Your Soul: Make it a daily mission to engage in at least one activity that nurtures and replenishes your soul. This could be as simple as listening to your favorite music, gardening, or practicing a hobby you love. If you are looking for ways to fill up your soul, read my previous blog, Beyond Self-Care: Thirteen Steps to Soulful Living.
  8. Stay Active: Movement and exercise can be surprisingly therapeutic for managing pain. It’s counterintuitive, but when faced with chronic pain, the instinct to ‘let the body rest’ can be misleading. Many chronic pain sufferers reduce or stop their physical activities, believing it will ease their pain. However, inactivity can lead to a cycle where the pain is actually intensified; muscles weaken, and mobility decreases, which in turn can lead to more discomfort and stiffness.

    Working with a professional to design an exercise program tailored to your condition is crucial. Not only does it ensure safety and effectiveness, but it also provides a regimen that can be adjusted as you progress. A targeted approach to movement helps in maintaining flexibility, improving blood flow, and strengthening the muscles that support your body, equipping you to better handle pain. This doesn’t mean pushing through severe pain to exercise; it’s about finding the right type and level of activity that you can do without exacerbating your pain.

By incorporating these strategies into your life, you can create a sustainable and balanced approach to living with chronic pain.

The goal is not to eliminate pain completely but to manage it in such a way that your quality of life is maintained and even improved.

Shayna’s Journey: Small Steps to Reclaiming Energy Amidst Chronic Pain

Shayna was in a tough spot when she got in touch with me, struggling with not just one, but three health issues all at once: tears in her rotator cuff and a slipped disc to name a couple. They’d been giving her grief for months. She’d been through my Reiki training before and decided to reach out for some one-on-one support.
The first thing I did was make sure she was getting the right medical help, which she was. With that box ticked, we started to look at everything – how she was feeling in her heart and head, not just her body. I wanted her to see that her constant exhaustion wasn’t just from the physical pain, but also from letting it rule her life.

I set her a bit of homework after our first meeting: she had to keep track of how her daily activities were making her feel. Which ones were sucking her energy dry, and which ones were giving her a little boost? Turned out, she wasn’t doing much that made her feel good, hardly anything actually.

So, we took baby steps. Each day, Shayna committed to doing one thing that used to make her happy. She started by reconnecting with people – a chat with a friend or family every day. It made her feel heard and cared for. Next thing she knew, she was grabbing coffee with pals and getting back into her Reiki routine. It was like watching a phone charge up; she could handle her pain so much better.

Shayna didn’t stop there. She kept finding little ways to be kind to her body and soul. All this, while her doctors worked out the best medical treatment plan for her. Before she knew it, Shayna was feeling lighter, brighter, and hopeful. The pain was still there, sure, but now it was just one part of her day, not the whole story.

As you integrate the strategies I suggested into your life, remember that the journey is not about outrunning the pain but learning to walk with it, acknowledging its presence while refusing to let it steer the ship. This is the essence of life with chronic pain—managing, adapting, and ultimately thriving.

If you’re seeking deeper understanding and personalized guidance on your health journey, schedule a 60-minute Zoom reading with me.
As a medical intuitive, I can provide you with insights that resonate with your body’s unique story and help chart a course toward healing and balance.

Meet Michal
Michal Spiegelman

Hello! I’m Michal Spiegelman, Medical Intuitive, Spiritual Mentor, and Founder of Beacons of Change.

With a background as a social worker and professional certified life coach, I am currently working on my book, “The Journey into the Soul: Awaken the Wisdom of the Soul and Elevate your Practice as a Therapist, Coach, or Healing Professional.

I am in the process of building a community for experts and professionals who wish to elevate their practice. If you’d like to join the Beacons of Change community of professionals, please click here, and I’ll be in touch!

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