The Trauma of Chronic Pain


* a very difficult or unpleasant experience that causes someone to have mental or emotional problems;
* a serious injury to a person’s body

~ Merriam-Webster

Having Chronic Pain and the personal and lifestyle changes that occur as a result of it,  the fact that the pain is not going away, can cause major mental, emotional and psychological repercussions.

Learning to recognize and address these is a vital component of pain management…

We have learned quite a bit about trauma: how to discern, handle and come to terms with it. Keep in mind that that time-the time it takes for trauma to pass- is a uniquely individual one, so give yourself as much as it takes. And too, know that everyone who knows Chronic Pain may not know trauma as a result but that, for many, it is a natural part of the process of learning  to live with a life in pain.

The Gradual Realization of Chronic Pain

Chronic Pain only comes to be known as a chronic condition as time goes by, and coming to terms with the idea that the pain may not be going to end, despite all our best efforts, is a slow process. With any kind of luck, and thankfully so, its something most will never have to face but, for those of us who have come to that crossroads, we may not even recognize the trauma that the process has caused us. 

After a traumatic event many experience a period of denial.

Chronic Pain is frequently misinterpreted by those near to us. In our desire to deal with and control the pain (which, for many of us entails attempting to address it psychologically) and solve (if possible) its underlying condition(s), the strength we exhibit and/or our own denial over what is happening to us may result in those close to us not even being aware of the degree of pain and suffering we are experiencing. After all, if we are hiding our pain, either consciously or not, intentionally or otherwise, it is difficult for others to understand or sympathize with it. Once we realize that pain is now our constant companion, our support network and personal relations may already be in a state of distress, further compounding the degree of trauma we are facing.

In its infancy, Chronic Pain is challenging on multiple levels for all concerned but once we have moved physically, mentally and emotionally from acute to chronic pain (normally somewhere within the 3-6 month mark), we can utilize the tools learned for dealing with trauma to great affect!

Using the Steps and Tools for Dealing with Trauma to Help Us Learn to Live with Chronic Pain

First and foremost– once your pain has moved beyond the acute state: Don’t “keep a stiff upper lip”.

Let people close to you, your support team, know, in whatever way is natural for you, that you are living with pain that has become chronic, what that means and how you are feeling about it: frustration, anger, fear, grief, shock or whatever your reaction to the situation may be. You can even discuss how you have been trying to use your inner strength to deal with your condition or how you yourself have been struggling with the fact that the pain was not resolving itself and/or denial. This lets people close to you know what is happening to you, gives your emotions a chance to air out (as opposed to being bottled up) and fosters understanding. By including your family and friends in the process, even though answers are nor readily available and they can’t fix us, they feel valued and openly included in the journey.

Step 2– Learn to recognize the signs of trauma (not everyone with Chronic Pain necessarily will experience these). Symptoms of trauma include:

Feeling tired and/or generally exhausted, difficulty sleeping, nightmares, difficulty concentrating and with memory, and changes in moods including libido. Emotions that are a normal part of living with, and through, trauma include- sadness, anger, fear and helplessness, anxiety, shame and embarrassment.

*If any of these emotions endures or feels out of control you may need extra help addressing your experience including seeing a psychologist and perhaps a Psychiatrist. Psychiatrists can help with medications such as tranquilizers, Valium or Ativan and/or anti-depressants such as Paxil or Lexapro that help to stabilize your moods until you’ve been able to get past the trauma. Many of these medication also have been shown to help with Chronic Pain.

Step 3-Utilize whatever spiritual resources and practices that form a part of your normal lifestyle.

Keeping up with your previous forms of prayer and worship will strengthen you more than ever now and too, can help you maintain vital supportive relationships. If your spiritual life has been undeveloped up until now this may be the very best opportunity to reach out and explore this facet of life that so many derive meaning and solace from. The possibilities are countless.

Step 4- Be aware of the healing value of work and hobbies, keeping yourself busy and productive are vital to your well-being. Even if you can not do as much or the same things as before it is critical to find what you can do and enjoy. They will distract you from the pain and sense of trauma and too, leave you with a sense of control and productivity.

Step 5-  Get back into a daily routine. Starting and getting into a routine is important- it will offer you the most comfort as humans thrive on structure including a regular healthy diet and form of exercise (if possible).

Step 6- Remember to give yourself time to adjust.

Living in constant pain causes dramatic changes to your life- physical, mental, emotional, financial, and psychic.  Living with Chronic Pain may dramatically alter many aspects of your life but the sooner you can transition into a new way of living, one that addresses your new needs, the better. Concentrating on caring for yourself needs to become a priority. Trauma is real, as is Chronic Pain, and support networks are emerging and medical science continues to learn about the nature of the condition. The human body, mind and spirit are amazingly resilient and adaptable.

And although you may feel alone or as though it will never end at times, hang in there, learning to pace yourself (and too, avoid pain triggers) takes time, so be gentle with and kind to yourself, see 1-6 above and repeat as needed.


Author: ChronicPainDailyReflections

I manage a web-site, Chronic Pain Daily, created for and in support of those living in chronic pain. The site helps with the day-to-day spiritual, mental, emotional and physical needs of those with constant pain, whatever its source.