Societal messages constantly tell us that we need to control any and all pain before we can be happy.
What happens when this is not possible? I’ve said it before: In order for me to be pain-free, I would have to be rendered unconscious.
Control of “clean pain” -- biological pain that can’t be fixed -- is very attractive, but in a never-ending quest to control it, we end up with the pain controlling us. That’s when “dirty pain” begins -- we focus too much attention on the negative thoughts and feelings associated with pain.
One form of dirty pain is called “Mental Scripts.” These include what our mind tells us about our pain experience. Here are some examples:
A second type of dirty pain is called, “Avoidance Behaviours.” This means anything you do or avoid doing in order to try not to feel pain. This behaviour can be particularly perilous because the act of avoiding an experience due to some feared outcome does not always reduce pain, it can actually increase pain. Here are some examples:
A third type of dirty pain we subconsciously engage in is called “Values Discrepancy.” This means choosing avoidance and moving far away from the life that you want to live.
When you are knee-deep in Values Discrepancy you are living the antithesis of a life that you value. For example:
Avoidance behaviours (a form of trying to control) are indeed very seductive. They look like the answer. Have you ever seen an advertisement for any type of pain control? The patient takes the magic pill or treatment, the pain is completely resolved, and the patient is seen happily playing tennis or rolling around in the grass with their child.
Western culture rarely if ever shows us reality. The control paradigm is such that the more choices we make attempting to control the pain, the smaller and less meaningful our lives end up. We become stuck on the “Pain Chain.” For chronic pain patients, the manifestation of dirty pain typically looks like this: