The Wisdom of Pain: Guest Post by Casey Shivers
“There is no consciousness without pain.” —C.G. Jung
I’d like to make an argument for pain and darkness as a requirement for enlightenment. Now, I know you’re thinking… “Wait, what?” But let me elaborate.
How can we shift our thoughts about pain from avoidance to gratitude? I invite you to try looking at your pain—your irritating symptom, broken heart, depression, sprained ankle—as a gift. Perhaps the pain you feel is a red flag signifying an imbalance that needs to be addressed. Perhaps your pain can be your wisest teacher.
Pain is a complex and subjective phenomenon, therefore a sufficiently personal definition is difficult for many folks to put into words. In this article, I’ll address three categories in which we experience signals of pain, describe five levels of its increasing intensity, and discuss how to repair your relationship with pain.
You can feel weight, but nothing hurts yet.
- External or Physical: Brushing up against a wall
- Internal or Chemical: Feeling bloated
Mental or Emotional: Rapidly approaching deadlines
A dull, nagging discomfort. You feel noticeably not yourself, but you often try to push through and keep going.
- External or Physical: Muscle soreness
- Internal or Chemical: Stomach aches
- Mental or Emotional: Feeling homesickness
The signal now refuses to be ignored and you’re extremely uncomfortable. This stage can be a wake up call; an action must be taken to address the underlying reason for the pain, OR create a compensation pattern (e.g., a limp) to avoid the pain.
- External or Physical: A broken leg
- Internal or Chemical: Severe constipation
- Mental or Emotional: Divorce
Unlike many people believe, being tickled doesn't feel good; your nervous system is in hysterics. The ticklish stage is a dissociative oscillation from “pain” and “no pain.”
- External or Physical: Involuntary muscle twitching
- Internal or Chemical: General, chronic anxiety
- Mental or Emotional: Laughing at trauma
Becoming numb is the highest level of pain. Trauma has become so great that any pain signal has been completely shut off.
- External/Physical: Physiological shock response (muteness, emotional detachment, etc.)
- Internal/Chemical: Overmedication
- Mental/Emotional: Ignoring traumatic memories, or blacking out during traumatic experiences
Why Should You Care?
Each of these levels is an important survival mechanism; pain receptors are meant to protect us from further harm. However, if ignored long enough, each lower level can progress to the next in severity. Being able to temporarily relieve pain is important as well, but situations can become more dangerous if we continue to avoid the pain. Not addressing the root cause can permanently alter our body’s healthy functioning.
External or Physical: After breaking your leg, a limp naturally develops. As you heal, the limp is temporarily necessary for daily mobility. However, the new faulty motor pattern can become embedded in your brain. If the dysfunctional pattern is not re-trained, it will cause further problems due to long-term abnormal compensations—back spasms, neck pain, migraines, etc.
Internal or Chemical: You self-medicate for abdominal gas and bloating for years. Over time, these digestive issues can escalate into severe stomach pain and/or a very irritable bowel. If the underlying dysfunction is not addressed, it will cause further problems due to long-term abnormal compensations—weight gain, infections, autoimmune disease, etc.
Mental or Emotional: You may not feel comfortable opening up to someone new after a recent divorce. That’s okay in the short term, of course. But further down the road, social isolation can develop into a deep, unshakable sadness. This dysfunctional pattern is akin to an emotional limp. If the underlying issues around self-worth are not addressed, they can cause further problems due to long-term abnormal compensations—relationship sabotage, substance abuse, depression, etc.
What You Can Do About It
Your pain is signaling an imbalance that needs to be taken care of. If you're having a hard time discovering what that imbalance is on your own, or you’re unable to pull yourself out of the pain or darkness, ask for help! Reach out to a friend or mentor who can help you realize the underlying causes and begin to heal them. We can recover faster and more completely when we’re coached through these levels of pain, by someone who’s been there before us.
With education and motivation from talented teachers, physical therapists, nutritionists, personal trainers, doctors, coaches, and mentors, we can learn how to “listen to our bodies,” restore ourselves to health, and share our story of healing with others.
Remember, we all need each other during this journey. I hope you find this information helpful, and please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions!
Owner of IAmWell, LLC
Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner
Holistic Lifestyle Coach