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—View from the far side of the recliner
Alright, I finally got this pain thing written. It took longer than most posts, is probably a lot heavier on information and less on the humor. At least what I consider funny.
And then there is pain, the phenomena that led me to hypnotherapy in the first place. Pain is huge! A large part of the pharmaceutical industry is based on pain, as are all kinds of non-prescription devices, lotions, balms, powders, supports, pads, wraps, hot packs, cold packs, liquids and pills. Many, if not most of the visits to physicians, massage therapists, physical therapists and chiropractors are for pain. Pain is good for business. Pain is business. It certainly has paid a chunk of my bills since becoming a PT in 86.
You can’t trust Pain.
Generally people try to avoid pain. There are situations when some people seek physical pain to relieve psychological suffering but that is the exception. Pain is (kind of) nature’s way of saying “Don’t do that” and (naturally) “this going to hurt you worse than it is going to hurt me”. Nature can be kind of a jerk sometimes. It turns out that pain can be worse than the engine light on a dashboard for giving an accurate warning of when something is seriously wrong. Stubbing a toe, stepping on a nail, hitting your thumb instead of a nail, hangnails, cold sores, dental work, touching something hot, and first degree burns, all of that can really hurt a lot and yet doesn’t cause serious tissue damage and won’t kill you. There are many things that don’t cause pain, especially in the early stages that are life threatening. Cancer, aneurisms, parasites, high blood pressure and infections often begin unannounced and continue to develop silently until it is too late or at least much harder to treat. Where is pain when you need it?
The way senses work.
For what are usually considered senses, touch, hearing, smell, taste and vision, if the sense organs themselves and the wiring is intact, the stimulus pretty much comes through without a lot of interpretation. The stimuli come from specific sources; light and sound waves, tasty and smelly molecules, heat, cold and pressure. Once the stimulus is received then all kinds of associations can happen. When I smell musty dampness I have a happy association with my grandparents’ basements and diesel fumes I associate with great car trips. When someone else smells musty dampness or diesel fumes there are likely to be very different associations. Basically it seems that no matter what you are thinking or feeling prior to the stimulus, orange is orange both the color and the taste, the same type of coffee smells the same. Whether you focus on the stimulus or not, it pretty much gets through unaltered. The same stimulus tends to be perceived as being the same at different times and by different people. The color orange is the same today and tomorrow and to you and me.
Pain is different.
Pain is processed through a number of places in the brain and there are different types of pain, acute vs. chronic, pulsing, burning, crushing, tingling, hot, cold, numbing, pinching, sharp and dull. Believe me there is a very long list. Pain can be very localized, over a larger area or seem to be in the entire body. Unlike the specific stimuli for the “regular” senses, pain is much more varied. Pain is a phenomena in which the same stimulus is experienced differently at different times and by different people. The amount of other stimuli you are receiving at the same time can affect the amount of or even if pain is perceived. Sitting in a chair totally absorbed in the sights and sounds of great movie while eating popcorn is a totally different pain experience than sitting in the same chair without any other stimulation. What you are thinking and the mood you are in have a huge effect on pain perception.
Not your happy place.
Think about a child that going to get a shot. You may have been through this one yourself. If the kid’s parents are stressed and keep saying “be brave, this isn’t going to HURT”, the kid is thinking “why do I have to be brave if it isn’t going to HURT?”. Big brothers can always make things worse by saying “I bet you’re going to cry, I had a shot and it made my arm black and blue and the needle was this BIG!”. The kid has to sit there in a drab room for a very, very long time (for a young kid just sitting still for five minutes is torture). Nobody is talking about happy things, or singing songs, playing with or reading to the child sitting. The adult/s may even be checking or talking on their cell phones. Someone might suddenly remember about the time that Uncle Bob passed out when he saw the needle. The nurse comes in couldn’t care less, barely says anything other than “sit still”. Poor kid. That shot is really going to hurt.
A better place.
Now imagine the same kid in a room with interesting decorations, maybe music or even kid friendly videos, parents and siblings talking about pleasant things, maybe enjoyable activities that are going to happen after the visit to the doctor. During the wait the child is encouraged to move around maybe playing with a toy. Someone might let the child play on a cell phone. When the nurse arrives he/she talks to the child in a nice unhurried way. When it is time for the poke someone distracts the child in a direction away from the nurse perhaps with a picture and/or story about when the kid was feeling especially good and strong. Wow! Done already? Let’s go do ____ (whatever is the next happy thing on the list).
Same shot but a totally different experience. Child birth, surgeries, dentist appointments and chemo/radiation therapy can be experienced in very different ways.
It’s all in the Mind.
Much of pain is fear, fear that you won’t be able to deal with the pain, expectations that a procedure will be painful, perhaps based on exaggerated stories, TV, movies or even an imagination gone wild. Contrary to the old saying “ignorance is bliss”, ignorance can actually be fear which leads to increased pain. Sometimes ignorance is just ignorance, but I don’t know. Just knowing that you can have control over pain gives you some control over pain. Watching a video of a woman calmly delivering a baby using hypnosis can both negate unrealistic fear and set up the expectation that it is possible to have a baby in a natural and relatively relaxed manner. There are many techniques that can help deal with pain. In addition to education I often use breathing techniques, visualization and hypnosis to give my clients the tools they need to control or eliminate pain.
In a hypnotic trance a person can eat an onion thinking that it is an apple, feel one arm become weightless while the other becomes so heavy it can’t be lifted, that the room becomes very hot or cold, hear or smell things that aren’t there or can’t see. Pretty impressive. The mind’s grasp on the senses can be tricked and that can be both entertaining and a good demonstration of the reality of the effect of hypnosis. But as far as making a real improvement in someone’s life tricks don’t count for much. The real deal, the thing that gets me so excited about hypnotherapy and the other techniques is the power they give people to achieve their goals, overcome stress and anxiety. The thing that started the whole thing for me was working with people in chronic pain. I’ve used the techniques on myself (as blathered about in previous posts) and many patients/clients. It’s all in the mind and it’s real.
Next time someone says “It’s a pain”, you can say “yeah but it doesn’t have to be”.
Next post will probably be about something interesting called Enneagram.
Feel free to contact me with any comments, requests and of course if you know someone who might be interested in these posts please send them on.