Chronic pain and fear are virtually always found closely together, since both conditions are related and tend to feed each other in a vicious cycle of suffering. Among my coaching clients, I tend to see fear as a universal problem that is sometimes more affective on the quality of life than the pain condition itself.
Fear focuses the mind on the body and all of the sufferings that are happening therein. It is impossible to escape from chronic pain if one is afraid that everything they do or do not do might exacerbate their symptoms. Of course, this ever-present fear worsens pain, perpetuates its duration and often prevents people from enjoying life to any significant degree. In essence, most people who have chronic pain are prisoners of pervasive fear, anxiety and worry.
Pain is a variable and transient state for most people and can also be greatly diminished by the application of various types of treatment modalities. However, fear can become a truly permanent part of the personality structure of many chronic pain sufferers, decreasing satisfaction with life even on days when the pain is at its lowest levels.
It has been scientifically proven that negative emotional states increase perceptions of physical pain. Worry, anxiety and fear are some of the most negative of all emotions and have been linked to increased suffering in people with all manner of health issues. Meanwhile, chronic pain and illness are known to be fear-generating mechanisms, with patients stressing about what new suffering tomorrow will hold for them, as well as what they have to do, or not do, in order to avoid the worst degrees of agony.
In getting to know my clients, their internalized fear regarding pain is usually easy to route out and expose to them. Most clients can recognize the obvious negative effects of fear in their lives when it comes to anxiety caused by their pain.
However, in virtually every single client, I tend to find deeply repressed fears that relate to far more widespread issues than simple pain. Instead, targeted dialogs allow clients to self-recognize their underlying fears regarding many more subtle things in life, such as the fear of failure, the fear of abandonment, the fear of reprisal, the fear of dependency, the fear of competition, the fears of their pasts, and the ever-present fears of their own repressed feelings, conflicts and deepest early traumas. All these fears are inherent parts of the anxieties that most clients equate directly to their pain, even when the underlying origins of the fear go much, much deeper into the integral workings of the psyche.
Many innovative philosophers, doctors and psychologists have written about the role of fear in all aspects of life. Fear can be a guiding factor for many people that single-handedly prevents them from ever reaching anywhere near their full potential.
I know the destructive power of fear from a very personal level, realizing how this powerful emotion has been an active component of my own suffering for much of my life. In fact, I can clearly trace the sources of my fears to events that were deeply experienced in early childhood and decades later, I still carry the scars that have caused such damaging fear to guide my life.
However, simply being aware of this fear, and the level of threat it causes in my mind, has allowed me to progress forward and demonstrate courage in the face of adversity. I am no longer afraid to do or not do. Instead, I constantly seek out my fears and challenge them to a contest of wills in which I must triumph in order to continue moving forward in the direction of my choosing. This is a much better option than having the course of my life unconsciously dictated by fears that remain trapped within and domineering, rather than be exposed, de-mystified and negated by conscious controls.
Fear is normal. Fear is natural. People who have pain and people who are ill have much to fear. However, not recognizing the power of fear is a damning oversight that is guaranteed to keep anyone an inmate in a jail of suffering for life. Instead, I welcome you to explore your own fears using professional coaching or other introspective processing in order to coexist with your anxieties, if not conquer them completely.
Next time, we will discuss some effective ways of overcoming your fear.