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7 Ways to Let Go of the Shame Surrounding Chronic Pain


It doesn’t make any logical sense that anyone would feel guilty about living in pain, but I have.

In our goals-oriented culture, we’re supposed to keep on keeping on and not complain. We worry that if we let ourselves withdraw from participating fully in life for more than a very brief time, we will be left behind. Or worse, it will mean that we are simply not good people. Good people take short breaks and then keep going, keep trying, never give up and never say die. In fact, it is considered almost a sin to do nothing, to step out of the constant stream of work, entertainment, and busyness.

But once I was injured, I couldn’t do that anymore.

I was forced to slow way, way down and I felt bad about it. I thought I should try to take care of all the things I used to take care of. I thought I had to hide my pain, pretend it wasn’t there and attempt to do as much as I would normally do. I thought I was supposed to just “grin and bear it.” But that didn’t heal me. It only made things worse.

As the length of time I was in pain lengthened, I experienced a subtle, creeping, persistent feeling of shame and failure. Here are the seven things I learned to tell myself to counteract my feelings of shame and guilt around living in persistent, unhealable pain:

1. I am not wrong for being in pain.
Being in pain is not my fault. I am not wrong, guilty, bad or screwed up. Being in pain does not equate with being weak, bad, or needy, nor does it mean I am inadequate as a person.

2. I am not on anyone’s timetable.
Pain keeps its own timetables and no one has the ability to read them completely accurately, not even my doctor. My body is on its own healing schedule that can’t be forced.

3. It’s OK for me to do less.
While in pain, my ability to attend to the every day tasks of life is compromised.It’s part of the package. I give myself permission to do less, and to be honest with others about how much I can and can’t handle.

4. I can ask for help.
Sometimes shame and guilt about needing help makes me reluctant to ask for it, but everyone has times in life when they need to depend on others to help them or take over what they can’t do. This is my time. I will ask for the help I need as clearly and honestly as I can.

5. I can 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 me, whether it is from charity or government assistance. At times I have put money into the collective pot and now I need to draw money out. It’s the way it’s supposed to work.

6. I can stop trying to make other people feel better.
Making other people feel better can take the form of a) not expressing what I need so I don’t burden others, b) downplaying my continued pain so my doctor or other caretakers feel better about the job they’re doing, or c) attempting programs or exercises that I’m not ready for because I am responding to someone else’s urging, or avoiding blame for not trying harder.

7. I know that healing is my current job.
My real job, for now, is healing. I won’t judge myself harshly according to what I used to be capable of doing. I am handling another aspect of my life right now that requires a great deal of time and energy.

In doing all of these things, I am taking care of myself, which has to be my highest priority right now  — without shame or guilt.

Do you feel shame or guilt because of chronic pain? Tell us in the comments.

Photo credit: AntonioGuillem/Getty Images