The message behind pain
Updated: Sep 19, 2022
“Pain doesn’t just show up in our lives for no reason. It’s a sign that something in our lives need to change.”
— Mandy Hale*
Many years ago, I heard a phrase that changed my perception about why we do what we do, and why we act the way we act:
"Everything we do in life has only two purposes: seeking pleasure or avoiding pain."
I’m paraphrasing, but that was the message. Frequently, I have found myself trying to find a third reason but, inevitably, I always end up staying with the same two.
I do not plan here to present an all-out defense of pain. Actually, what motivates me to talk about it is trying to offer a less frequent perspective on why it exists, and the purpose of its presence in our lives. I don't feel well about demonizing pain as something to simply run away from. It makes sense for us to try to avoid it but, precisely, one of the essential conditions to do that is to not ignore it.
As I usually do, let me reiterate that these are not professional opinions, but my own, coming from my experiences with physical and emotional pain. The definitions, ideas, and concepts that I will share below, are the result of my learning over years of treatments and therapy, both physical and psychological.
Why is pain necessary?
Physiologically, pain sends a signal to our nervous system that our body, or an area of it, is exposed to a risk of injury. Due to this, a series of mechanisms are triggered with the sole objective of avoiding damage to our physical integrity. It is wise to conclude, then, that living without pain would be extremely dangerous.
Similarly, when talking about emotional pain, the concept of a protective mechanism is also present.
In general, when inquiring about what emotional pain is, or what causes it, we will be told that it is a mixture of emotions, a sensation or suffering that has no apparent cause, nor is it rooted in physical distress. However, this type of affliction tells us that there are certain situations that are detrimental to our emotional well-being, and that it is necessary to make adjustments to reestablish a healthy balance in our lives. It has also been proven that, on many occasions, physical pain is a direct consequence of an emotional disorder, such as work stress, anguish due to a breakup, or suffering caused by the loss of a loved one.
In short, pain is necessary because it is the principal and main indicator that something is wrong, that we are in danger, and that it is necessary to investigate what is happening to us.
Pain doesn't have to be your friend, but it should be your ally.
Listen to him carefully. It might as well save your life.
Is there any hope in our fight against pain?
Physical? Yes. Emotional? Definitely.
It is true that, not being a doctor myself, it would be extremely irresponsible of me to offer any kind of certainties but, with all the incredible advances in medicine, we have real reasons to feel hopeful. That is why, in those moments when despair rages, we must inform ourselves, seek help, and do our research about available alternatives. Many times, however, even with all these scientific advances, medicine cannot promise us a cure, but it can alleviate our pain. This is a hard reality to accept, one I’ve had to deal with recently. However, while I must accept that there are things that will never be the same again, I am grateful to have access to treatments that promise to help me overcome my pain. In the same way, I renew my commitment to continue to do everything within my reach to keep any injury or harm to my body at bay.
Medicine, therapy, exercise, nutrition. These are all not just great tools, but also must-haves.
Finding the message behind our pain
Whether physical or emotional, as I mentioned earlier, pain is an alert, a message that something is not working as it should. In itself, pain is not a “system failure”, but rather proof that our defenses are working properly.
When we decide to treat our pain, it is also necessary to ask ourselves what the adjustments that we need to implement in our lives are. Modifications in our exercise routine? Adjustments to our nutrition? Getting away from certain situations that are toxic to us, immersing ourselves in anxiety and stress?
Ultimately, we need to ask ourselves: what is the message? It is necessary to discover and understand it to avoid greater damage.
Thinking about the future
Personally, I am reluctant to settle for how things are now. And please, do not misunderstand me; I trust, accept, and respect diagnoses, but I do not allow them to limit me. Following suggested treatments and acting responsibly does not mean that my expectations of living a full life are limited. If these pandemic times have taught me anything, it is to think clearly about what I want and set out to achieve it, regardless of how distant my goal may seem. I have stopped accepting the "I can’t", "it is very difficult", or "that will not happen". And although it may sound strange, my main focus is not the goal, but the road. As you progress, no matter how slowly, the finish line will continue to approach. More often than we think, we give up our dreams before even taking the time to calmly consider them. Life sets us many traps and, one of the most effective, is the one that sells us the idea of “leaving it for later." As Napoleon Hill ** said: “Don't wait. The time will never be just right."
Do not wait until tomorrow to start working on your improvement, whether it is physical or emotional. Do not put off visiting a specialist, who can shed light on what causes your affliction, until the next week.
Start walking towards the goal today, without worrying about how far you will advance. Just move forward, and your goal will continue to get closer. A finish line is always promising.
After all, what else is a finish line, than the back side of a new beginning?
* Mandy Hale is a blogger, New York Times best-selling author and speaker. She is also the creator of the social media movement, “The Single Woman.”
** Oliver Napoleon Hill was an American self-help author.