Usually, whether it is physical or emotional, we expect pain to gradually or quickly go away. If you stub your toe, it might take minutes, hours or days to disappear, but you don’t expect it to get worse. The same is true when you have an emotional problem, for example when you feel hurt by someone’s actions. It feels bad at the time, but you expect it to feel better as time passes.
Sometimes, though, pain worsens instead of improving.
What’s going on?
Pain is a messenger
I think that we all feel that pain is a problem. The interesting thing is that pain itself isn’t the problem; it is, instead, a messenger. This messenger is telling you that there is a problem and that you need to do something about it.
We know that people born without the ability to feel physical pain are at a severe disadvantage — because they keep damaging their own bodies! A baby who chews off their tongue; a child who burns their hand on a hot stove; and so on. When you look at this, you can see that pain is a good thing. Just a horribly unpleasant one!
When you feel pain, your first instinct is to ask, “What’s going on?” A sharp pain in your foot might tell you that you’ve stepped on a thorn; a painful emotion might tell you that you need to find a friend to confide in.
When you feel pain and don’t do anything about it, it has the potential to grow worse. If you ignore that thorn in your foot, it could fester. Ignore the feeling of emotional hurt, and you could spiral into depression.
For the purposes of this discussion, we can consider three types of pain (this is not a medical categorisation).
When talking about pain, I find that most people think of a physical or medical problem. When injury, short-term or long-term illness, or another medical problem causes pain, if that pain continues to worsen, your doctor is your first port of call.
Hypnotherapy can help many people with chronic pain, allowing them to reduce or even quit pain tablets, but you should always follow your doctor’s instructions to look after yourself. The lack of pain in such a case doesn’t mean that the cause has gone — all that’s happened is that the messenger has been silenced. (Generally, with hypnotherapy, we convert the pain to something small like a tingle, but let it increase when you are about to do something silly — like pick up something heavy when you have a bad back — or when the problem changes and needs new attention.)
Phantom pain (pain in a body part that is no longer there, such as an amputated arm) belongs in the medical category, because it is to do with how the brain’s internal map works. However, phantom pain often responds to treatment other than drugs. Your doctor should be able to point you in the right direction. Complementary treatments can also work, depending on a variety of factors.
I know no one who has never known strong emotional pain. Emotional pain, as with physical pain, is a messenger. If you have a breakup, you could feel the pain of loss. You might feel that this is something that you can do nothing about, but remember: Pain is a message.
Your task, when you feel pain, is not to wallow in it and become depressed (although it’s tempting to do so!). Your task is to ask, “What, specifically, is the problem?” And, “What can I do about it?”
If you feel bad after a breakup, you can ask the messenger — the pain — what is the specific problem? Maybe you feel scared that you’ll always be alone. Or you feel that you’re not good enough or worthless. Or that you’ve lost out. Or something else.
Whatever the problem, address it head on. What can you do about the problem that you have? For example, if you feel worthless, how can you regain your sense of worth? You can call on the help of a good friend, a counsellor, a therapist, a life coach — whatever suits you best.
Psychosomatic pain is a fascinating problem, yet awful for the sufferer. This is where the brain manufactures a physical pain instead of an emotional pain. In other words, the messenger, which should be giving you an emotional pain to tell you of a problem, is a bit confused (or maybe it isn’t — it gets complicated) and is giving you a physical problem instead.
Your first call would be to a doctor, because it feels like a medical problem. You might get a chest pain and worry about having a heart attack; or stomach pains that feel like something awful is happening there. Your doctor checks it out, tries this and that, sends you to a specialist, but the pain won’t go away. Because your brain manufactures the pain, pain tablets don’t seem to do the job. Eventually, your doctor returns a diagnosis of psychosomatic pain.
What to do?
It’s a tricky area. For some people, when the pain lingers long beyond the original problem (the messenger has got used to giving the message and doesn’t know when to stop!), we might find that a simple placebo does the trick. But that doesn’t work for everyone.
Your first question, as described above, is to ask, “What, specifically, is the problem?” My fellow hypnotherapists and I have found, for example, that a chest pain can be caused by heartbreak. That’s an almost literal interpretation by the body! Instead of feeling, say, loss, the sufferer feels heart pain.
Through hypnosis, life coaching, counselling, or some other suitable method, it’s often possible to chase down the real problem behind the pain. Once that is done, addressing the problem and finding a solution will lead to the pain disappearing.
What happens when we can’t find the cause of the pain? Under hypnosis, it’s often possible to work with your subconscious mind in finding a solution, and thereby resolving the problem.
Resolving the problem
Whatever the cause of your pain, always believe that there is a solution. It might be medical, it might psychological, or it might need complementary help. But look for the solution, and don’t give up — when you’ve tried everything, sometimes another look will find something else that you haven’t tried.