When You Don’t Trust Your Body’s Response to Chronic Pain


When You Don’t Trust Your Body’s Response to Chronic Pain

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Is your body proving to be an untrustworthy narrator of your chronic pain or illness? Listening closely to your body means it always has your back.

The body and the mind are intimately connected, of course, but it can certainly feel like they are operating in different universes. Sometimes it feels like the body is working at cross-purposes to our explicit goals, needs, and desires. This is especially true if we have chronic pain or chronic illness, and that can be massively frustrating.

Trusting one’s body is something some people are lucky enough to take for granted. Their bodies function pretty normally and don’t generally cause any ruckus day to day. But for plenty of us, that’s not the case. Normal scenarios bring up stomachaches or migraines. Periods come with excruciating pain. Or, just on the eve of the big camping weekend, the back seizes up and won’t allow us to go.

[Read: “The Spiritual Meaning of Sciatica.”]

It’s quite common for issues of chronic pain and illness to come along with experiences of trauma or high stress, even from a very long time ago. Sometimes the body has formed an interesting take on the world—for example, that all people trying to love us are unsafe. It is operating according to that notion even when, logically, we know that’s not true. For some of us, this fear or resistance manifests in physical symptoms, which can actively prevent us from going ahead with what we want.

Does My Body Have My Back?

Muscling up—forcing ourselves to do the things we want to do even when the body is hurting us—is not necessarily the way through this quandary. It doesn’t always feel like it, but the body is always on our side, and its number-one priority is keeping us safe and alive. If the body is reading something as unsafe, it will do everything it can to try to make us avoid that thing—even if it’s objectively quite wrong in its assessment.

The good news is that we can be in conversation with our bodies. Think about what happens when you’re having an argument with someone and you don’t see eye-to-eye. If you yell at the other person and try to make them do what you want, how effective is that? Likely not super effective. But if you take the time to listen to what they’re trying to say and to understand where they’re coming from, it’s a lot more likely they’ll be able to listen to you too. You might even get to a compromise.

It’s the same with your body. If we can take the time to slow down and listen to the signals of our bodies—even the pain signals or the really uncomfortable feelings—we can often discover answers there about what the body is trying to help us avoid and what it might need to move forward.

Sometimes the body is quite clear about what it wants and needs when we pay attention. We may not always like what it’s asking for! But if we can take the time to honor what the body is trying to communicate while also moving towards our goals in life, we’ll tend to have a lot more success and a lot less sickness.

This isn’t to say, of course, that sitting down one time and listening to your body will cure your chronic pain or illness. Chronic issues are much more complex than that. However, being in a consistently loving relationship with your body, even and especially when your body is uncomfortable or in pain, is a practice of love. It’s building a habit of taking good care of yourself and teaching yourself what it’s like to have your needs consistently met. It can help us deepen our relationships with others even while we are getting to know ourselves better. And we may just learn that our bodies can be our own best allies.

If you prefer to do this work with a coach, counselor, or witness, see Julie’s Pathfinding program. Or try a guided audio meditation: “Listening for the Wisdom of Chronic Pain.”


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