How can thoughts affect your pain? What can you do about it yourself? In this blog I will go deeper into an exercise to look at thoughts in a different way.
The role of thoughts in pain
Pain can arise in many ways. The alarm system in your brain collects information all day long. Signals from your body, how you feel, where your attention is, what you do, and so on.
Thoughts are also an important source of information. What you think and what you believe in can have a strong influence on how you feel and what you do!
Let's take an example. Sjaak has a lot of problems with his lower back. Lately he is not well in his skin and he regularly reports sick because of his pain. It is Wednesday when Sjaak wakes up and immediately feels his back. He thinks 'it's that time again... back pain. I just unsubscribe for my work, nobody is waiting for me there in this way'.
By taking this thought very seriously, he deregisters. He feels gloomy all day long. It could even be that his pain increases in the long run, because Sjaak becomes less active because of all the gloom.
It would probably have helped him more if he had thought: 'it's that time again.... Back pain again. Let me do my exercises and see how it goes. Maybe I can talk about it at work with Klaas - who had such a back pain last year but now had a standing desk'.
Practicing with thoughts
In order to practice with your thoughts and turn them around in a positive way, you will first have to learn to recognize them. You can read more about that here. When you know which thoughts often play a role in your life, you can adjust them.
One of my favorite exercises is "the lawsuit". In this exercise you take one thought, and two parties. One party is for the thought, the other is against. Let us take the example of Shaak. The most important part of the thoughts of Shaak is: Nobody is waiting for me this way.
Let's assume that the other party's lawyer is going to prove that nobody is waiting for Shaak. He could say: Dear Judge, here is Shaak. He often has back pain and is therefore regularly ill. He is unreliable for his colleagues. He sometimes fails to meet deadlines due to his absence. No one is waiting for this gentleman, Sjaak might as well be dismissed.
The defence could say: 'Dear judge, Sjaak is no exception. No less than 20% of the population is currently suffering from prolonged pain. In fact, at Sjaak's office there are several people with similar complaints, many colleagues will understand. And despite his back pain, he is still doing a good job, I asked him. We should not fire Sjaak, but support him.
The judge could judge that people are indeed waiting for Sjaak. And perhaps I should add that Sjaak has to look for solutions himself, in consultation with his boss - because he's not going to get much further if he keeps on taking himself down.
How to do this yourself
If you have thoughts that often bother you, you can do this exercise yourself. Take a piece of paper, write down the thought and the arguments for and against. You can even work it out with someone you trust and both choose a role. Consider what the judge would decide. Can you make this judgment your own?