‘Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional’ M Kathleen Casey

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‘Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional’ M Kathleen Casey

I was sat in a group recently with cancer patients who were at different stages of their journey. Some had only recently finished treatment and some had finished some time ago and one member highlighted the difference between pain and suffering. She explained pain as a natural physical response to any injury or surgery affecting the physical body but suffering is a mental activity that defines our relationship with ourselves.

As defined by the International Society for the Study of Pain, ‘pain is an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage.’ We all experience pain; it’s a natural protective body response to injury. If we didn’t have it we wouldn’t know when we were injured, we wouldn’t know when we are healed. Pain helps to keep us heathy and well, without it we wouldn’t survive. Pain can be real or imagined. Our body systems can malfunction due to excessive stress when there is no actual problem but there is still pain.

Suffering is defined as 1. to endure death, pain, or distress, 2. to sustain loss or damage, 3, to be subject to disability or handicap. Whereas pain is an experience, suffering is a perception.

So how do we manage pain and avoid suffering?

“The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.”                              — Nathaniel Branden

Accepting the pain is important. Your body is responding to something. But don’t let the pain define you. Not all of you is in pain, just part of you and for a good reason. When you begin to accept the pain rather than fight it, you can start to get it in perspective. There is a lot of evidence about the psychology of pain, we have the ability to increase and decrease pain by shifting our perception of it.

So how did the woman in the group manage her pain and avoid suffering?

  • She recognised the first step was acknowledging this was possible.
  • She used her pain from her cancer surgery to remind her she was alive every day
  • She chose to focus on the good things in her life that had become even more important to her since her cancer diagnosis.
  • She recognised this wasn’t easy when she woke up in agony from the scarring but like anything, the more she actively practiced a different relationship with the pain, the less she suffered and her energy could be taken up with
  • Enjoying what she had in life rather than getting bogged down by what she’d lost.

It’s a skill but when you accept pain, you can create some space to change your relationship to it to minimise your suffering. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it is possible.

Are you suffering more than you need to. Cancer coaching can help shift your perceptions in radical ways. Do get in touch if you want to discuss anything that strikes a chord in this blog.