The Chronic Pain Experience – Stage 2 – Anger
“This pain makes me angry…”
The need for certainty is our need to know that we understand our environment and have the skills to manage what is coming next so that we can feel secure.
Realizing that you now live with chronic pain, and the life you knew before is never again to be, is a life-altering experience!
It reminds me of the description that Carl Jung gave of the first earthquake he experienced. He stated that he no longer felt that he was standing on solid ground, but on the skin of a giant animal. His whole concept of “earth” had changed in one short experience.
The same holds for us as we reflect on one experience that has brought chronic pain into our lives. Things about ourselves we thought we could always rely on; simple things, such as comfort and movement are now compromised and uncertain. We are now forced to reevaluate the way we understand ourselves.
It is no wonder this painful uncertainty can make us angry.
Four Reasons To Be Angry
These are some primary reasons to be angry and it is easy to see how they can apply to chronic pain.
The prevention of progress, success, or the fulfillment of something.
When I think about frustration turning to anger, I am reminded of the story of Moses in Exodus Chapter 32.
Moses had just received, written by the hand of God no less, stone tablets with the Ten Commandments on them.
When Moses saw that the people were worshiping an idol, he became angry and threw the tablet down and it shattered. (Well THAT’S no way to treat a gift from God right?)
The story of the children of Israel from Egypt can be seen as a cautionary tale full of blocked goals. Throughout the story, Moses gets angry, and God gets angry…
And when your goals are blocked and your life plans need/have to change, you get to be angry too!!
Annoyed impatient or discomfort in the body
When you look up the definition of irritation you find it has two meanings.
- the state of feeling annoyed, impatient, or slightly angry,
- inflammation or discomfort in the body part caused by a reaction to an irritant substance
When applied to chronic pain, the second definition precedes the first. Nagging discomfort in your body will cause you to become a bit irritable in your mood.
It takes emotional energy for you to constantly accommodate the presence of pain.
This gives you less emotional energy for experiencing that which brings you joy. The very presence of pain will deplete your energy.
It is quite understandable that your situation will cause you to become angry.
The use of something to a bad effect or bad purpose
Do you remember your first thought when you realized you were in pain?
It often goes something like this, “ I guess that wasn’t a good idea.”
Chronic pain can often arise from what was supposed to be a rather good intention.
Kinda like Max’s Experience…
Max was the star quarterback for his high school team. No one was surprised when Max received a full ride to the university of his choice. He was relentless on the field and that is what made him great!
Max persevered through some minor injuries he obtained from playing and stayed engaged in the sport he loved.
He used his success to help others. After he graduated from college, Max became involved in inspiring youth. He was known as a beacon of optimism. He became active in his church and enjoyed being a husband and father.
It was sometime around his 40th birthday when his football injuries from his younger years started catching up with him. After a series of doctor appointments, tests, x-rays, and consultations, he was diagnosed with post-traumatic osteoarthritis.
Max began to realize all the injuries he acquired in his youth were not forgotten by his body – his body had been consistently abused. It wasn’t so bad in the beginning, but over time the pain grew worse because of that abuse.
He had to drop many of the responsibilities he held in the community and at church. Max has always envisioned himself being an active dad.
Unfortunately, the reality of his pain keeps him on the sidelines these days. He can barely manage a full day at the office, and when he is home he snaps at his wife and children, not because of anything they did, but because of his chronic pain. The injuries he paid little attention to in his youth have now stolen the quality of his life.
Next, there is Margie
Margie had a bucket list. She was an avid hiker and she loved the outdoors. Her plan was to hike the ten highest peaks in the world before she was fifty. In order to reach her goal, Margie was out almost every weekend conditioning for a hike, or she was relaxing, recovering from a hike. Margie didn’t give it much thought when her hips started hurting her during one of her summits climbs. She decided to ignore the pain and keep to the plan.
Her hips never fully recovered after that hike – aka abuse, but Margie is not a complainer. She just took some over-the-counter pain relievers and kept with her mission to complete her bucket list not realizing the continued abuse would later bring some major consequences to her body.
The good news is – Margie did hike her ten tallest peaks before she was fifty.
Now Margie is fifty-five and she has trouble walking. She has chronic pain in her hips. Instead of enjoying activities in her post-fifty life, Margie is struggling to make it through the day.
When she was younger she felt invincible. However, chronic pain has made her feel isolated and bored. When her friends try to share their adventures and accomplishments with her, Margie finds herself angry, hurt, and left out all while suffering with the pain from the past abuse she put her body through.
In both of the examples, events that were meant to be enjoyable or improve their life turned out to carry painful reminders that life doesn’t always turn out as we planned.
You may be in a situation where you are carrying chronic pain from physical abuse that you suffered as a child or adult. This too has left you with a daily reminder – life is not how it should be.
The lack of equity or justice
Often we find that chronic pain is the result of nothing more than good intentions. It seems that one moment we are living an active life, and the next – we are faced with the reality of chronic pain,
Sam was putting up Christmas lights on the house. He had been looking forward to this day for months. Decorating for Christmas was always one of his favorite events at his house.
Hanging Christmas lights was something Sam did when his kids were small and now that his grandchildren are visiting, he has even more motivation to get those lights up! So, he wasn’t quite sure what happened when his foot slipped and caught in the ladder, sending him head first onto the ground. All he really remembers is waking up on the ground.
On Christmas day, instead of partaking in the traditions of the season and enjoying the rising of the Christmas lights with his kids and grandkids, Sam is managing the pain of a broken back.
Five years have passed since this accident, and the pain hasn’t gotten better. He has his good days and his bad days, but the pain has been consistent ever since.
Then there is Sarah…
Sarah’s surgery to remove the cancer was a success! She has been cancer free for almost eight years. However, Sarah’s nervous system has not forgotten the trauma of the surgery.
Sarah suffers from radiating pain since the surgery. She is truly grateful that the cancer is gone, yet showing all of the gratitude she has does not keep her from suffering the daily nerve pain.
We have all heard the story of the drunk driver causing a fatal accident and walking away seemingly unscathed. If you have been a victim of someone else’s irresponsible behavior, then you are keenly aware of how unfair life is.
Anger is a natural response to this type of situation.
Chronic pain can be the result of many factors that are out of our control. Sometimes we are mad at a person for causing our pain. Your pain could have arisen from something in your environment such as physical violence, or a car accident.
Take Joe for example.
He was waiting at a traffic light when a car came from behind him and hit Joe squarely. The impact of the car was so fierce that it sent Joe sliding under the car in front of him. Did I forget to mention that Joe was on a motorcycle? It took paramedics and a few tools to pry Joe out from under the car.
Fast forward…. five years later, Joe still suffers from chronic back pain. The person who caused the accident walked away without any injuries at all. That is unfair.
For some people, it is their bodies that just let them down. It seems we all have a family member who seemingly abuses his body with alcohol or injuries and seems just to sail through life without a care.
Others of us have something in our bodies that has just never been quite right. We seem to have inherited the back pain gene, or the arthritis gene. Either way for no fault of our own we are in pain. It is unfair that some have no pain and others have more than their share.
How Anger Expresses Itself
I often hear people say they aren’t angry, or they shouldn’t show anger. It is important to understand that anger is a primary emotion. Anger is mentioned in the Bible more than 500 times. This makes it extremely important that we take the time to understand our anger.
Let’s take a look at the three ways anger expresses itself.
1. Outward aggression or violence
This happens when a person is visibly angry. It is accompanied by shouting or a loud voice, throwing things, hitting people or objects, verbal threats and abusive language, swearing,, and slamming doors. Let’s be honest, we have all witnessed this type of anger and it is scary.
2. Inward aggression or violence
This show of violence is also destructive. With this type of anger, the person places him/herself as the object of anger. It is accompanied by self-loathing comments, isolation from social support systems, and self-harm such as hitting or cutting, or denying self of necessities.
3. Non-violent passive aggressive
This is the expression of default for those who deny they are angry. Anger is a primary emotion and it will be expressed. The symptoms of this type of anger are: always being late to events or occasions, ignoring people or topics, refusing to speak to people, using derogatory phrases or words, being sarcastic or sulky without saying anything overtly angry, or admitting that you are mad.
The Purpose of Anger
Now that we have explored some of the causes of anger and how it is expressed, let’s take a moment to look at the purpose of anger.
We know that anger is a primary emotion. Its purpose is to tell us that something is wrong and needs to be attended to.
When our lives seem to be spiraling into the unknown, anger gives us a sense of temporary control. We use anger to assert aggression toward someone or something so that we can stave off feelings of helplessness.
Often, we are told by society or maybe trained by our parents to turn away from anger and ignore it to “turn the other cheek”.
Let’s explore the benefits of turning toward our anger. Take a minute and honor your anger.
Thank your anger for telling you something is wrong. When things just are not working out for us, when we see our whole lives changing without our permission, our understanding of our lives and ourselves is just falling apart and we can’t seem to find a way to put it back together. We have lost our mobility and opportunities and we don’t even feel comfortable in our own skin.
It is in these times that we can agree with our anger and extend compassion to ourselves. We can embrace our failing bodies with tenderness and understanding. We can grow in empathy and understanding as we extend grace to ourselves first and then to those around us. This is when we can recall the golden rule…
“ Love your neighbor as yourself” – Matt:19:19
As we embrace all our emotions and learn from them, we can then realize we have been presented with an opportunity to grow as human beings. We learn that our future may be uncertain, but we are not alone.
Our anger is not bad or good, it just is.
Here are 3 things you can do today to help with your anger
Acknowledge – your anger is telling you that something is wrong. You can take a moment and completely agree with your anger without feeling guilt or shame for being angry. It’s a natural response to the unfairness of life.
Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry – but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry. Don’t go to bed angry. Don’t give the Devil that kind of foothold in your life ~ Ephesians 4:26-27 (MSG)
Redirect – shift your thoughts from anger to hope. As seen in the verse above, we are created to acknowledge anger and move through it, not camp out in it. The next step is to redirect your attention away from your situation and towards hope.
“Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.
Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into His most excellent harmonies.” ~ Philippians 4:8-9 (MSG)
Reach out – whether you realize it or not, you are part of a community. Sometimes asking for help is the hardest thing to do. Remember, you are part of a Christian community. Through trial and error, you will be able to surround yourself with friends who can understand and encourage you. Seek professionals who specialize in chronic pain. Working together, we will assist you along your path of healing.
“The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts we don’t.
If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.” ~ 1 Corinthians 12:25-26 (MSG)
If you are interested in learning more about clinical hypnosis to gain the skills to manage chronic pain, contact me here and we will strategize together to help you plan your path of pain management.