Turning Reactions into Responses
The pictures below show how reactions to pain can be turned into
responses to pain. Reactions are automatic and you need to become
conscious of them before you can turn them into responses. Read
on after the pictures to find out more about turning reactions
People naturally react to pain. They don't want it because it hurts,
it is unpleasant and interferes with their enjoyment of life. These
reactions are automatic but, unfortunately, instead of helping
to get rid of the pain, they can actually make it worse. If you
learn to spot your reactions and change them to responses that
you choose, you can resume control of your life and, in time,
your pain until it disappears or is an insignificant part of your
Your family and friends may be able to
help you identify your reactions. Some of the most obvious reactions
to pain can be seen in the body.
People tense up and hold their breath. It is common for them to
get restless and keep changing their position. However, some people
the opposite and freeze. Do you know whether you make faces or
sigh and make other noises. Perhaps you hold parts of your body
your neck, back or head. These reactions tend to increase the pain
by tensing the muscles and aggravating already sensitive parts
of the body. Instead of reacting
you could choose to respond. For
- Instead of tensing up you could relax.
- Instead of holding your breath
you could breath gently.
- Instead of changing your position constantly
you could let yourself be still.
- Instead of making faces, holding
yourself or sighing, you could let the experience in and let
the pain be.
It takes time and patience
to learn to turn reactions into responses.
We begin this process in the "Path out of Pain" course
and you will need to keep being mindful and changing your reactions
into responses again and again and again.
Have you noticed that your mind goes over the same old things
when the pain increases. Do any of these sound familiar?
It's never going to get better.
I can do.
There's no hope for me.
The future looks bleak.
I can't go on.
My life's not worth living.
I can't do anything
I used to do.
We call this sort of self-talk "catastrophizing" because
you see your situation as a catastrophe and
then panic. When you think this way you can feel overwhelmed
by fear, anger,
anxiety, frustration and despair. However,
you can actually stop catastrophizing,
and defuse the panic by changing your self-talk
from a reaction
to a response using coping statements.
|REACTIONS or Catastrophizing
||become RESPONSES or Coping Statements
|It’s never going to get better.
||It’s only temporary: The pain does
|There’s nothing I can do.
||There’s a great deal I can do to
manage this myself.
|There is no hope for me.
||This setback is only temporary.
|The future looks bleak.
||When I live in the present I can find satisfaction.
|I can’t go on.
||I can handle it step by step.
|My life’s not worth living.
||I am finding new things to enjoy.
|I can’t do anything I used to do.
||There are many things I can do.
With these responses your feelings can change.
There may be relief and a sense of control.
Hope can follow,
as well as
There are a number of other techniques and
practices which can help you gain control. First it is
always worth reminding
Hurt is not necessarily harm.
Pain does not mean you have damaged yourself,
simply that you may need to make some adjustments
you are doing and
are doing it.
can become "just a sensation".
This is when you peel off the layers of
resistance and find the pure sensation.
You won't suffer as much when you find
sensation. Exploring the pain by describing
it to your self can help. Remember... its
size, density, texture and colour. This
method is described in a meditation on
one of my
tapes called "Opening to Pain".
The third practice
is to learn to dissociate from the
You pretend that it is not
part of you,
from the pain.
Have you noticed that you don't experience
as much pain if you
become interested or involved in something
else? You could think of something
pleasant or remember times when you have
had fun and were relaxed. Perhaps you could
an absorbing activity
so that you ignore the pain. Yes, focussing
closely on the pain by exploring
it and the opposite, or ignoring it both
work. It is when you become absorbed in the
pain becomes unbearable.
Summarising these approaches now:
- Hurt is not necessarily harm.
- Explore the pain by describing it
to yourself. Remember pain is just a sensation.
- Dissociate or
separate yourself from the pain.
- Distract yourself by remembering
something pleasant or getting involved in an absorbing
What feelings do you have when you are
in pain? Do any of these sound familiar?
- I get scared of the pain and about
what's wrong with me.
- I hate the pain.
- I feel I must get rid of it.
- I panic because there is nothing I
- I feel overwhelmed.
- I hate losing control.
- I get angry with the pain, or my
family, or my doctors, or my employer.
- I feel frustrated by my limitations
and lack of progress.
- I worry about
what is wrong.
- I can't stand the pain.
You could change these reactions into
responses in the following way.
- Could you face your fear?
- Could you focus on accepting the
pain as it is now?
- Could you be curious
about what the pain is telling you?
- Could you let the pain be
and it will let you be.
- You could feel calm and in control
if you repeat your coping statements.
When you panic you react
by desperately seeking help or giving up. Do you
react in this way?
- I reach for the painkillers.
- I rush to my doctor to find out
what's wrong and get help.
- I must
have physio, chiro, or massage.
- I withdraw from everyone and
- I carry on regardless.
- I lie down.I cancel all my engagements.
Instead of reacting you could act.
The first step would be to notice
your self reacting
relaxation, self-talk or music.
Then you could use some of your
self-management techniques. Go
to "10 Tips for Flare-Ups" to
discover more ways of self-management
Here are some further suggestions.
Instead of withdrawing, you could
a friend or
someone who understands.
than carrying on regardless and
aggravating the situation, plan
to do less and
take things one
step at a time.
Could you do something
enjoyable instead of lying down?
What about taking a bath or watching
hot or cold
don't have to
go to the physio for this.
Pain is Potent
It's worth remembering that pain
is potent and that it evolved
as a signal
us of threat
is wise to treat
as a warning signal when it is
acute because it could mean that
is wrong. However,
has become chronic,
is not a warning
signal. The pain is due
to pain sensitisation not tissue
It can be hard
to remember this
when you have
We respond to threats with the
stress response or fight and
I say fight,
There is only
out and that is to learn to flow
instead. There are many ways
to flow but here are some ideas;
- Learn to let go.
- Accept how it is now.
- Discover the opportunities.
- Replace rigidity
Water flows around rigid objects
like stones. Trees
bend in the wind. How
could you flow
when you have
Chronic pain andacute pain
Remember chronic pain is not a warning signal like acute pain but you
may need to listen to it in a different way.
Two common strategies are:
To stop when it hurts
- To ignore it and keep going.
Neither one a good strategy. They represent
two ends of a continuum. Your response to pain needs to be much more finely tuned. Sometimes
people begin the second strategy and turn to the first because they can't keep it up. They have to
leave work or stop most activities around the house. We could call it an
all or none reaction or black and white, without any shades of grey.
We have alread discussed many ways that you can turn your automatic reactions into responses which
you consciously choose.
- You can
change your body's reaction.
- You can
change your thoughts.
- You can
change your feelings.
- You can
turn reactions into actions.
Learning to dance with your pain
A fixed reaction is very limited and dancing, or being in step with your pain, offers
much more flexibility. Remember the cartoon when the self-manager says "let's dance" to
the pain. You may need to;
- slow down
- pace yourself
- use less effort
- have a break
- do less or sometimes do
- plan better
- let go your fear
To be able to dance with your pain you need to stay mindful.
This means watching yourself all day to notice how you
are moving, breathing, feeling, sitting, standing and relating.
is a full-time job but with practice it becomes automatic
our tendency to be unaware. Which would you prefer?
Listening to your pain
When you listen to your pain it could be telling you something
deeper. Many people with chronic pain syndromes don't
get better because
they are not prepared to listen to these deeper
meanings. Let's start with the possibility that the pain
could be telling you something about the way you live
been very busy?
...too busy to relax, have fun or take care of yourself?
Perhaps you think it is selfish to
take care of yourself. Remember, "We
are human beings not human doings".
Work, Rest, and Play
Has you life got out of balance or has it always been
out of balance. Remember the old expression, 'Work, Rest
Play'. How much
rest and play do you have? You may be curious to discover
that you avoid
doing? Are you avoiding intimacy or aloneness, strong
emotions like fear, anger or grief? Now you have chronic
are probably experiencing
all of these. Chronic pain is
certainly a very hard lesson but perhaps it is a wake-up
call... to live
consciously or mindfully, to face your self and even love
yourself. Have you always put others first and ignored
your own needs?
It's possible that chronic pain is telling you that "time's up".
You can't put your needs on hold any longer.
Wouldyou describe yourself as a perfectionist, or do you
expect a lot of yourself? Perhaps you never have enough
time to do
everything. If you
need to get everything just right and feel under
pressure to fit it all in you will experience a lot of
stress. Perhaps you weren't even aware of the stress because
has become habitual.
Sometimes chronic pain triggered by an injury, or
just developing over time, can be linked to unresolved
traumatic experiences in your life. Even painful childhood
can be expressed through
chronic pain. Psychotherapy
which addresses those old wounds, can be a very important
part of the healing process for some chronic pain sufferers.
Keep listening to your pain - it
may have a lot to tell you.
Finally, 3 simple rules when
your pain increases.
One - Catch yourself reacting.
Two - Calm down.
Three - Be still and open to the pain.