A Metaphor: Pain as a Friend

Becky Curtis, Override Coaching Director

Viewing pain as a friend may seem counterintuitive at first, as pain is typically associated with discomfort and distress, and friends are not. However, my perspective is rooted in the idea that pain can serve as a valuable and informative companion on our life journey. 

The role of pain 

Pain is most often thought of as an enemy, but are there situations where pain is our friend? Yes! Leprosy (Hansen’s disease) patients can lose the sensation of pain due to damaged peripheral nerves. As a result, people with leprosy suffer medical complications and death due to the absence of pain signals. For them, the sensation of pain is a friend that lets them know when they are in danger. 

Pain is the body's way of signaling that something is wrong. It acts as an internal alarm system, drawing attention to areas that need care and attention. Just as a caring friend tries to warn you before things go wrong, pain alerts you to potential harm or damage – prompting you to take necessary actions to address the underlying issues. This is how we survive.

Chronic pain as an error signal 

But sometimes that friend ends up hurting you more than helping you. We all have had friends like that. 

Chronic pain is a dysfunctional type of pain, hurting you for no good reason. 

So what do you do when a human friend hurts you? You might recognize the friendship is dysfunctional, confront your friend, set boundaries, attempt reconciliation – any number of things. When it seems that your friend’s intentions are simply malicious, you might decide to turn your back on that friend and not be friends anymore.

We have a similarly complicated dynamic with chronic pain, and eventually we want to find a way to and the friendship with chronic pain (not acute pain). 

While acute pain (that pain you feel when you touch a hot stove or slam a hammer on your thumb) helps keep us safe, chronic pain is just an error message that causes unnecessary suffering. Yet it’s usually not easy or quick to say goodbye to chronic pain, and it requires a great amount of courage and growth to do so. In the meantime, we can still treat pain – even chronic pain – like a friend.

Pain has a role in personal growth 

Embracing pain as a friend means recognizing that challenges and difficulties often lead to personal growth. Difficult experiences can teach us important lessons about ourselves, our resilience, and our capacity to overcome obstacles. In this sense, pain becomes a wise teacher guiding us through the lessons of life.

Facing and enduring pain can build resilience and inner strength. Like a friend who encourages you to face challenges head-on, pain can push you to discover untapped reserves of strength and courage within yourself. Overcoming pain fosters a sense of empowerment and confidence.

Chronic pain also demands our attention and presence in the current moment. Instead of trying to avoid or numb the pain, acknowledging it allows for a deeper understanding of its source. This mindfulness can lead to a more profound connection with oneself and the ability to navigate difficult emotions with greater awareness.

Chronic pain often serves as a powerful motivator for change. Just as a concerned friend might encourage you to make positive shifts in your life, the discomfort of pain can inspire a reevaluation of habits, lifestyle, and priorities, leading to positive transformations.

Experiencing pain can enhance our appreciation for pleasure and joy. Like a friend who helps you appreciate the good times by contrasting them with the difficult ones, pain can amplify the beauty of life's positive experiences.

Sharing pain can also deepen connections with others. When we open up about our struggles in group coaching, for example, we often find empathy and support from those who have faced similar challenges. Pain, in this sense, becomes a common ground that fosters understanding and compassion in relationships. 

Shifting perspectives on pain 

While embracing pain as a friend doesn't mean seeking out unnecessary suffering, it does encourage a shift in perspective. By acknowledging the role of pain in our lives and approaching it with curiosity and resilience, we can extract valuable lessons and foster personal growth. 

This mindset reframes pain from being solely an adversary to becoming a companion in the complex journey of life.

Through intentional treatment and a supportive care team, our hope for you is that you will learn to navigate your relationship with chronic pain, such that you can reap the benefits from what living with pain has taught you but also put chronic pain in its place so it is no longer wreaking havoc on your life.

Posted on 
November 24, 2023

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