Remember as children, if we fell or experienced injury, we had an immediate instinct to look around and take note of the expressions of the people around us. The way parents or friends or teachers would react to such a situation served to contextualize our experiences. Similarly, we look for other external cues to indicate whether or not we are ok. For example, whereas we might not immediately feel pain, evidence of blood, a new bruise, or wound might signal to us that there is something wrong. This is an important aspect of how we learn to make sense of pain, discomfort ,and other unfamiliar situations we experience, and this process is partially based on how the situation is presented to us.
A physical experience can be interpreted as good or bad, depending on how we frame it. We see pain being reframed as positive in many athletic pursuits. In yoga, many lineages are practiced in hot temperatures, where the experience of sweating profusely and physical exhaustion are welcomed and sought. Similarly, many rock climbers and other athletes cherish their callouses, broken skin, and scars as evidence of their hard work. This is not to say that a pain experience is entirely imagined or unreal. There are certainly many real and challenging experiences of pain and discomfort. However, the context and definitions we assign to such events certainly has the potential to intensify positive or negative aspects.
The psychological trip that we are always navigating is the gap between our expected reality and our present moment experience. When we are wounded physically, mentally, or emotionally, the painful experience is often accompanied with the feeling of: this is not how life is supposed to be. But what would happen if we stop fighting the reality that we are experiencing? Yes, this reality might be painful and truly hard. But, there is no alternative reality. So counterfactual thinking, often manifesting as “if only …” thoughts, can become a waste of mental effort and a source of further suffering. Research finds that engaging in this type of thinking, particularly when paired with symptoms of depression, can be emotionally damaging and disempowering . Furthermore, studies find that acceptance of pain, particularly in the case of chronic pain, predicts greater adjustment and emotional and physical functioning .
First, we acknowledge and accept the pain. Then, we invite a sense of ease and spaciousness into our bodies by allowing ourselves to be ok. It’s ok to feel pain. Embedded in every difficult moment is the truth that our experience can and will change. Peace comes in realizing and allowing space for this inevitable transformation. Remember the power of being held in the arms of someone who loved you during a time of pain and suffering. Remember the relief in hearing the words: “you are ok” or “it will be ok.” We can call upon these experiences to hold us together in difficult times. We can choose to actively participate in our own healing. Sometimes the pain and fear are too big to hold on our own. In these times it’s ok to call for help: find a friend, a professional, or a higher power to surrender our fears to. No matter what, remember that there is great power in being ok.
Markman, K. D., & Miller, A. K. (2006). Depression, control, and counterfactual thinking: Functional for whom? Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 25(2), 210-227.
McCracken, L. M., Vowles, K. E., & Eccleston, C. (2004). Acceptance of chronic pain: component analysis and a revised assessment method. Pain, 107(1-2), 159-166.