How to Tame Pain’s Voice Inside Your Head

I’m prone to ovarian cysts, which sometimes rupture — an experience that feels like being jabbed in the gut with a stick that is currently on fire.

It happened to me today in a swimming pool.

A dull aching pain in my side quickly grew and then exploded into a cluster of stinging heat and cramping that spread throughout my lower back and abdomen.

Over the years, I’ve learned these “explosion” events are largely harmless. There is nothing a doctor can do to help me when cysts rupture, other than recommend I rest and take some Ibuprofen.

So, that it what I did. I slooooowly waded out of the pool, drove home, put a hot pad on my gut, and took some Advil. Three hours later, I felt as good as new. End of story.

Except that wasn’t the end of the story.

Because for me — for anyone who has ever experienced chronic pain — being hurt is never that simple.

Our pain programming

People with chronic pain have a little voice cued up in the back of our heads that asks a version of the same insidious question whenever we get injured or ill…

“What if this never stops?”

It’s a question that has been carefully programmed into our heads over the course of many months (and sometimes even years) when we were introduced to pain that refused to leave or change. That experience made us call into question everything we thought we knew about ourselves, sowing seeds of doubt that now blossom whenever anything goes wrong in our bodies.

Sure enough, as soon as the pain exploded in my body today, that voice was back with a vengeance whispering, “What if this ISN’T a cyst?” “Maybe something’s really wrong with me.” “What if it’s something much worse, something that will make the this horrible pain become even more horrible?”

I had to work very hard in that moment to quiet that voice and reduce the tension that surged through my body threatening to make everything that felt awful feel even worse.

Start talking back to yourself

If you have chronic pain, it’s likely that voice isn’t a whisper any longer. It’s a loud monologue — one that NEVER ENDS.

The voice probably doesn’t just ask you questions anymore, it tells you all sorts of “facts” like…

  • “This will NEVER end.”
  • “No one can EVER help me.”
  • “I am hopelessly alone.”

You must learn to tame this voice and stop the constant flow of unhelpful messages. It will be key to your recovery from chronic pain. (It certainly was for my own.)

Trust me, that voice in your head isn’t your friend. Those questions and comments aren’t designed to actually help you. All of those words are simply negative noise being programmed into your brain, making you run in the opposition direction from hope, just like a mouse runs away from cheese if it gets an electric shock each time it reaches for it.

If you want different results, try talking back to that voice.

If it says….

  • “This will NEVER end,” say to yourself, “I don’t actually know that.”
  • “No one can EVER help me,” say to yourself, “That’s not really true.”
  • “ I am hopelessly alone,” say to yourself, “That’s an exaggeration. I just feel that way.”

Say whatever you like. Just talk back to yourself. Give yourself new programming with new thoughts — more positive ones, even if you do not fully believe them to be true right now. Each time you do, it will plant a tiny seed of hope in your brain, and over time this hope will grow.

Yes, you may hear that negative voice again in your lifetime. (Accidents happen. Bodies get sick. Ovaries act like jerks.) But you’ll be a different person next time — a person who knows how to finally find some peace and quiet.

Jennifer Kane is the author of Chronic Pain Recovery: A Practical Guide to Putting Your Life Back Together After Everything Has Fallen Apart.
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