The Mighty Logo

Why I Think of My Chronic Pain as a Wounded Animal I Need to Befriend

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

One of the most workable metaphors I’ve found for myself for making peace with intense, long-term pain is the metaphor of befriending and soothing a wounded animal.

What would we do if we found a wild animal shivering, scared, hurt, and bleeding in our home? Would we get angry and try to forcibly remove it? Would we leave the room, close it up tight and lock the door?

Pain can seem like a dangerous beast, ready to lash out at any moment. Maybe we back away. We feel scared.

We treat it as an unwelcome invader. We want it out of our body as fast as possible. We try to find the animal control person to have it removed.

Getting Used To Being Present With Pain

Yet, in the case of chronic pain, it refuses to budge. We try to ignore it, maybe metaphorically locking it in an empty room inside ourselves, but it’s still in there growling or howling or simpering all the time.

In the case of the wounded animal, we might try opening the door slowly, entering the room a little ways or justcstanding in the doorway. We would let it know we’re there and we’re not going to hurt it further. We would let it get used to our presence. We would look at it with kindness and just be with it. We might sit down so we don’t appear threatening.

The animal then begins to appear differently to us. We stop seeing only its fangs and claws and notice the caked blood and dirt on its fur and that it needs care and how frightened it is and alone. We begin to have compassion for it. We speak soothingly to it.

The Ally Beneath The Matted Fur

We lose our concern with getting rid of it right away as we become more and more interested in helping it, and taking care of it. Instead of trying to forcefully expel it from our experience, we decide to include it.

After all, it’s already in the house.

We may move a little closer and notice its reaction. We see how it gets used to our presence, how our caring attention seems to allow it to relax a little.

Over time, it let’s us get close enough to clean its wounds and care for it. We see how it relaxes under our gentle touch. We notice that it is a beautiful animal beneath the encrusted blood and matted fur.

We accept that it’s already here and won’t leave through force. We learn to treat it as if, underneath the fangs and the claws, it carries a valuable gift for our lives, something we need to know, to understand, to be with, to accept, to grow into.

As we befriend the animal, we may find a potential ally; a fox, a dog, a wild cat or a majestic bird of prey. It holds an energy and an intelligence that is available to enrich our lives.

Approaching Pain With Trust

Of course, in order to help the animal, to become its caretaker, we must change our perspective. We must move from seeing the animal as a dangerous nuisance to a potential friend and ally.

We might approach our intractable pain in much the same way, creating a relationship of trust based on respect, even if we are still a bit wary and choose to keep our distance at first.

This requires allowing the possibility of something being present there in the experience of pain that we may not have seen at first, something that might not be part of our usual experience – something wild and unkempt and lost, perhaps  – but valuable nonetheless.

We slowly allow ourselves to get closer to the pain we carry, to see it with different eyes and, instead of trying to control it and kill it as the only answer, we spend time getting to know it, making peace with it, and finding out what unexpected gifts of wisdom and strength may lie within the seemingly unapproachable and frightening aspects of the wounded beast within our pain.

Getty Image by AleksandraKuzmina

Originally published: August 15, 2018
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home