Pain comes in many different guises – mental, emotional, physical and spiritual – and there is no life on earth without it. Moving from bracing to embracing is an important part of dealing with pain and building our levels of Authentic Resilience. Leaning into pain, paying attention to what it is, and how we respond to pain will enable a new perspective. How can we rewire our relationship to pain?

Leaning Into Pain

We should not shield ourselves from pain, but rather learn to live with it. But exactly when do we pay attention to pain and when do we not? Serious pain of any kind has to be confronted, because denying or suppressing it has severe consequences physically, mentally and emotionally.

However, not all pain needs our investigative attention – learning to tolerate and even ignore certain amounts of discomfort, unease, concern, annoyance, anxiety, nerves, apprehension, fear and pain is an important part of building our resilience levels. A flourishing, healthy, resilient person has most probably learnt to move past and tolerate a good deal of pain in one way or a another…

  • A child falls in the playground and skins their knees, they cry and look immediately to the caregiver for a sign. The caregiver does a quick investigation and sends them on their way to play… they stop crying – they are aware of the pain but able to ignore or tolerate it because it’s been acknowledged and put in its place of ‘not serious, don’t linger’.
  • An athlete or ballet dancer literally ignores or tolerates pain on a daily basis in order to improve their fitness and strength and reach for excellence. Yet, when the pain feels different, they pay attention. The second they are injured in any way, a healthy athlete will stop, confront the pain and deal with whatever the next steps need to be. They will not ignore it or tolerate it as the consequences for that stupidity could be dire.

Paying Attention to Pain gives us Options

A useful trick that nurses use when a patient is writhing in pain is to ask them to describe their pain in careful detail; the mere act of having to think and breathe already calms them. Stepping outside of our pain in order to observe it, pay attention to it and describe it already changes our relationship to that pain. Those with illnesses who have to live with physical pain on a daily basis, often learn to rewire their relationship to pain, finding ways to work with it rather than against it so that it doesn’t become all-consuming.

Emotional pain is the same, we don’t always get to choose whether we are in pain or not, but we do get to choose how much we suffer as a result. Maybe it’s easier to understand this by reversing it – think of those you know who choose to suffer a great deal, even when they aren’t in a lot of pain, by obsessing and worrying over every little thing that could go wrong, or every single little ache and pain they feel. They are stuck in their own suffering. Severe emotional pain and loss is devastating, and it doesn’t always break us. It is possible as human beings to prevail and endure incredible tragedy and emerge more grateful and engaged in life (and its mess) than ever before.

The Power of Perspective

Rewiring our relationship to pain is powerful. This is just one of the reasons that journaling is such an effective tool because it helps us to separate from our pain and pay attention to it as an observer – so that we don’t become the pain – then to put it down on paper, to analyze it, reflect on it and make meaning from it thereby rewiring our relationship to it daily.

Hence my helpful acronym for PAIN:

P – Pay; A – Attention; I – Investigate or Ignore; N – Navigate

Remember that to move from bracing to embracing will help you soften. Become more aware of your self-talk and train the voice in your head to speak more encouragingly and positively. Lean in and pay attention to the pain, then choose to ignore or tolerate it if it’s not serious and confront it if it is. Confront whatever your reality might be whilst holding onto and cultivating hope. When things feel too damn huge to handle then prepare mentally (mental visualization is powerful medicine for mastering pain and fear – those who are unprepared can be unhinged by the smallest of things) and break it down…




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Written by Gabi Lowe

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