Living With Chronic Pain

Anger Feeds Pain

Anger is a natural response to chronic pain. The “why me?” Wondering how you’re going to deal with it can seem overwhelming and endless. The persistent pain can make us feel edgy, ready to lash out over the slightest issue. Anger is a healthy reaction, but persistent anger, anger that hasn’t been dealt with and lingers can make everything worse. It alienates our friends and family. It makes healthcare providers less inclined to listen and bottom line- increases your pain. In fact, anger alone can cause pain:

  • Research shows that negative emotions such as anger can increase sensitivity to pain, making you feel worse.

  • Anger can increase muscle tension that can increase pain.

  • If you suppress anger and turn it inward, you may feel depressed, your self-esteem may suffer and you may feel hopeless and helpless.

  • Directing anger at others causes relationships with family, friends, coworkers and your doctor to suffer. 

Without a better outlet, anger is too often directed at those only trying to help. It is never acceptable to take anger out on loved ones because the pain becomes too much to handle, as though it’s to be expected. It is not. It’s never justified to take out your frustration on someone who has done absolutely nothing to merit it. This just sets them up to live a constantly stressful, unpredictable existence waiting for the next battle. This is enormously detrimental, especially when they have no way to minimize or prevent attacks because they’re not the cause. There’s no way for them to predict when it will happen because it has nothing to do with them. And if no work is being done to try to address the problem, they have the depressing knowledge that their life will always have this anger looming over them. Adults would be demoralized by this, can you imagine a child’s response?

If caretakers and medical providers can’t get past the anger then treatment options are never addressed and the anger builds. Creating a self fulfilling prophecy that no on cares or understands. 

Pain is a complex phenomenon that has emotional and physical components. A powerful emotion physiologically and emotionally, anger often feels good-but only for the moment. It can be a motivating force that moves you to action. But there are good actions and bad ones; it’s vital to distinguish between the two.

Many people confuse anger and hostility. Anger is a response to a situation that presents some threat. Hostility is a more enduring characteristic, a predisposition, a personality trait reflecting a readiness to express that anger. Anger is usually anything but subtle, causing potent physiological effects. You feel it in your chest. You feel it in your head. You feel it coursing through your body. Anger can be insidious, instead of hope and acceptance, it encourages a cycle of rage and defeatism.

When anger is the response to pain it generates a need to pass the pain along to others. “Let them feel what I feel.” Eventually the anger leads to self-pity, and the “poor me” attitude. It’s a way of making others pay when you suffer. This is never a path to an enjoyable and fulfilling life surrounded by people who care.  

Here are ways to keep anger from harming your life:

• Identify anger and acknowledge it. Anger is one of those emotions whose expression is sometimes subject to taboos so that people can grow up unable to recognize it. They feel its physical discomfort but can’t label it.

• Once you label your emotional state, then you can begin to recognize and deal with it. Feelings are fluid; you need to stop and define what you’re doing so you can understand what you’re feeling and how to move through it appropriately.

• View your anger as a signal. It is not something to be escaped. It is not something to be suppressed. It is something to be accepted. It is a sign that some deeper threat has occurred that needs your attention.

• Make yourself aware of the purpose your anger serves. Things that have a positive purpose seek betterment, growth, love, enhancement, fulfillment. Things that have a negative purpose are motivated by a sense of deficiency- anger at your boss or a situation. Look within and identify the motivation.

• If your anger is deficiency-motivated, driven by a wish to rectify a wrong you believe done to you, work on acceptance. Give up your obsession about the wrong. See that the opposite of anger is not passivity but being more assertive in your goals to a healthier, happier life. (see last weeks post).

• Often anger is the result of believing life should always be fair- it isn’t. Things happen to good people. There is no plot to “get you”. Believing you’re owed something “because I’m a good person” just feeds feelings of betrayal, hopelessness and loss, fueling more anger and despair.

• Notice your own complaining. It’s a passive way to cry out for attention and make others aware of you pain and suffering. It also effectively shuts down progress. You can’t move forward if your obsessing about the here and now. 

Transforming anger into passion and positive purpose is the real goal. We hurt, that’s our reality, nothing can diminish that. But anger only reinforces the pain pathways making it worse. Let it go and find better alternatives to dealing with it. Everyone, including yourself, will thank you.


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