When we hear of torture that makes people reveal secrets they would never have revealed otherwise, some people might say “Well, they’re just weaklings. Why couldn’t they last through the pain and just keep their mouths shut?” But the prevalence of pain relievers in pharmacies across the country and around the world seems to say that we humans actually don’t have a lot of pain resistance.
This LiveScience article, The Pain Truth, calls pain a “silent epidemic,” and it certainly is–it’s an epidemic that is downplayed and even trivialized by those who do not suffer pain as often. Pain is not merely a physical symptom of illness; it also has an emotional component of suffering, which in long-term cases leads to personality changes and life changes. I have experienced these firsthand.
My Personal Experience with Chronic Pain
Pain has been a constant companion of mine for several years, with old lower-body injuries galore, headaches and migraines, and random shooting pains that seem to have nothing to do with any injury at all. I didn’t realize how much my personality had shifted to deal with these various pains, however, until we discovered and began to treat some of the pain sources.
Getting rid of my constant burning headaches with chiropractic therapy opened my eyes first. For the first time in MONTHS, if not YEARS, I was able to go about my day without having to spend at least part of it lying in bed trying to tame a headache. How liberating! And how surprising! I could finally live without having to constantly endure the “ice pick” in my temple. Some of my friends and family commented on this change, saying that they were glad to see me smiling again–I had been suffering such pain for so long that I didn’t even realize I wasn’t smiling much anymore.
Other effects of pain on my personality were subtler, but only just. I was much more irritable and more easily frustrated–after all, my life was being controlled by a force I couldn’t stop, so anything else that slipped out of my control was that much more infuriating. Plus, with the lower-body pain, I had had to shape my life’s day-to-day rhythms carefully so that my ankles and knees would not get aggravated with too much activity/standing per day. (Usually, standing in line for 10 minutes = ankles are DONE for the day.)
Pain had, in essence, transformed me into a cranky, isolated, less active version of myself. I hated this change, but I literally could not do anything about it until at least some of the sources of pain were treated. And that, I think, is universal for all pain sufferers.
Why Pain and Its Personality Effects are Not Well-Understood
Unfortunately, pain is a feeling and not an observable condition; even scans of your body cannot see the sensation of pain, only can see potential causes of it. And others cannot feel your pain as you do–thus, they cannot truly have empathy unless they have suffered the exact same condition.
Some folks, however, don’t even make any attempt at empathy, telling chronic pain sufferers to “suck it up, take an Advil and quit complaining,” etc., not understanding or caring how insensitive and insulting they’re being. (These kinds of people are just about as infuriating as my chronic pain itself.) This dismissive attitude only adds to the mystery and confusion around pain, since some people just don’t experience it as much and therefore cannot understand why it affects us so strongly.
That’s why I’ve written this article and added my own personal experiences; pain can have a huge effect on your personality and indeed your whole life, especially if it goes a long time without being treated (as mine did). Pain is not something that only weak people feel or talk about–it’s a human condition which causes suffering (both emotional and physical), and so it must be treated seriously.