It doesn’t make any logical sense that anyone would feel guilty about living in pain, yet often we do.
Our modern culture puts a premium on keeping up, carrying on, being strong, not complaining and toeing the line. We leave almost no room for the body’s natural requirements for rest and true refreshment and relaxation. Even our vacations tend to be short and filled with activity.
We worry that if we allow ourselves to withdraw from activity and participation in the game of life for more than a very brief interlude, we are simply not good people.
Good people take short breaks and then keep going, keep trying, never give up and never say die.
Pain Is A Natural Part of Healing
We may feel we must hide our pain, pretend it isn’t there and do as much as we would normally do. We think we have to just “grin and bear it.”
Since we don’t have a positive context for pain as a natural element of the process of healing and recovery, we see it as something to fight, overcome, and eventually eradicate. If we can’t do that, we’re somehow letting ourselves be run by the enemy. We feel guilty when we can’t make it stop, when we can’t quickly return to our lives, our duties, and our commitments.
We’re under pressure to heal for all kinds of reasons: we want to get back to work, our kids need our attention, our relationships are strained, the medical bills are piling up, we’re tired of being in pain.
Doctors, therapists, workmen’s compensation systems and insurance companies often have an expectation for what they feel is an appropriate amount of time within which our bodies are expected to heal. If we aren't responding positively to treatments, or we require a more lengthy recovery period than is considered the norm, we may feel shamed for not having healed already.
Feeling Bad About Feeling Bad
We may feel on some deep level that we are letting ourselves and everyone else down. We are concerned that we are burdening others as well. We don’t want our loved ones to worry, and we want to relieve them of having to do the things we can’t do for ourselves.
As the length of time we are in pain and unable to work lengthens, we may experience a subtle, creeping, persistent feeling of shame and failure.
It begins to feel like we are somehow less than a whole person since we are unable to fully contribute to and participate in life. This can lead to feelings of depression, uselessness and meaninglessness.
Antidotes for Shame & Guilt
Being in pain is not your fault. You are not wrong, guilty, bad or screwed up. Being in pain does not equate with being weak, bad, or needy, nor does it mean you are wrong or inadequate as a person.
2. You Are Not on Anyone’s Timetable
Pain keeps its own timetables and no one has the ability to read them completely accurately, not even your doctor. Our bodies are on their own healing schedule that can’t be forced.
3. It's Okay To Do Less
While in pain, your ability to attend to the everyday tasks of life is automatically compromised. It’s part of the package. Give yourself permission to do less, and be honest with others about how much you can and can't handle.
4. Ask for Assistance
Sometimes shame and guilt about needing help makes us reluctant to ask for assistance. Everyone has times in life when they need to depend on others to assist them or take over what they can't do. This is your time. Ask for the help you need as clearly and honestly as you can.
5. Receive Financial Assistance Graciously
One pervasive perception we have in our culture is that people who accept assistance are mooching off society. The truth is, the money is supposed to be there for you, whether it is from charity or government assistance. At times we put money into the collective pot and at times we need to draw money out. It's the way it's supposed to work.
6. Stop Trying to Make Other People Feel Better
Making other people feel better can take the form of a) not expressing what you need so you don’t burden them, b) downplaying your continued pain so your doctor or other caretakers feel better about the job they’re doing, or c) attempting programs or exercises that you’re not ready for because you are responding to someone else’s urging, or avoiding blame for not trying harder.
7. Know That Healing is Your Current Job
Your real job, for now, is healing. Don’t judge yourself harshly according to what you used to be capable of doing. You are handling another aspect of life right now that requires a great deal of time and energy.
When you heal, you will have a stronger sense of appreciation for the life you have, and a greater capacity for compassion toward yourself and others.
Your priorities may be rearranged for a while, or forever, but that’s not always a bad thing. Let yourself learn whatever this time with pain is trying to teach you.
Sarah Anne Shockley is the author of The Pain Companion: Everyday Wisdom For Living With and Moving Beyond Chronic Pain and Living Better While Living With Pain.
She is a regular columnist for Pain News Network. Visit her at www.thepaincompanion.com for resources for people in chronic pain and more information on her work.