A Blissful Transformation

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The Mind Influences How We Perceive Pain

Posted by Susan Bliss on November 21, 2010 at 3:37 PM

In a Wall Street Journal book review dated August 21, 2010 by Wes Davis, the author weaves us through a series of painful events that the author, Melanie Davis experiences and studies.  This "... suffering highlights the challenges that doctors face in treating pain. Ms. Thernstrom's pain, which may have been triggered by overexertion while swimming, happened to begin on the day she became involved with a former boyfriend; the love didn't endure, but the pain did. Over the years the frustrations of romance intertwined with the discomfort she felt in her body. "Dating and physical therapy," she writes, "struck me as bleakly parallel: small, futile-feeling gestures that require faith to believe they will eventually lead you somewhere."

The meanings that patients attach to chronic discomfort (this is happening to me because of x, or hurting like this reminds me of y) can help them deal with suffering, Ms. Thernstrom says, but such metaphors and explanations can also get in the way of improvement. Chronic pain often results from disarray in the pain system itself, but if a patient assumes, for instance, that the discomfort she feels is the symptom of a tragic disease or that it signals continuing tissue damage of some kind, the anxiety itself can feed into the pain cycle. Other patients, as if remembering the Latin root of the word pain—poena, or punishment—may believe at some level that they deserve to suffer." 


This is exactly what I can help with: Beliefs and attitudes towards pain and suffering.


More quotes from the article: "Advances in functional imaging, a technology that graphically reveals the effect of thoughts and emotions on the perception of pain, are beginning to reconcile the biological view of pain with the older, spiritual view. "Pain is now understood to be neither sensation nor emotion alone," Ms. Thernstrom explains, "but rather an experience that draws upon both: the elusive intersection of three overlapping circles—cognition, sensation, and emotion."




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