Living with the Shame of Chronic Pain

By: Kari Hillborn

Coping with any chronic illness is intense but when it’s an invisible illness, the shame dial gets cranked right up! Our defenses and reactions to life become enhanced, as we are often disbelieved, questioned, and asked to prove our pain in the midst of such intense suffering. Fibromyalgia sufferers are all too familiar with the intense physical pains; brain fog, nervous system dysregulation, muscle spasms, depression, anxiety, I.B.S, chronic fatigue, joint pain, and numerous other health issues, but what nobody really talks about is the impact this illness has on our sense of identity.

Not only do we live through a tornado of life altering physical, mental, and emotional issues, but we must endure the impact of social judgement as well. Sadly, this doesn’t just come from the outside. Our own worst enemies and most harsh critics are usually ourselves. Think about how many times you’ve noticed your internal voice saying things like….

-You should be working more than you are, otherwise, you’re not a valuable, contributing citizen.

-You should be exercising until you sweat, or you’re lazy.

-You should be eating better, otherwise you’ll be fat and unhealthy.

-You should be devoting more time to your friends and family, otherwise people will stop loving you.

If you haven’t noticed these internal voices then start to quiet your mind for 10 mins a day and just observe what comes up. I guarantee that most of the thoughts that perpetuate our minds are not conducive to happiness or wellbeing. This is not uncommon. It’s what psychologist call the ‘Negativity Bias’ and it’s our brains ways of producing fear thoughts to keep us safe. Often, these thoughts produce such gut-wrenching shame which is internalised and leads to a cycle of unworthiness.

Shame from painWhat we don’t realise is that this constant berating to escape fearful outcomes perpetuates the cycle of abuse, as it creates such resistance that an internal battle between guilt and shame form, strengthening the neural pathways in our brains. Neuroscience shows that when thoughts are repeated, they become ingrained into our neural pathways this makes these subconscious belief systems harder to change. Sadly, by the time we recognise these thoughts as destructive, they have already been repeated so often that they become part of our programmed subconscious dialogue. They then create such internal feelings of shame and unworthiness, that we remain stuck. Haven’t we suffered enough?

Scientists have estimated that the average person spends 95% of time in these subconscious thought patterns. Leaving us just 5% to consciously create our own thoughts. Thoughts that are conducive to our future wellbeing but it doesn’t have to be this way! We have the power to change these statistics and start living the life that we deserve but how? If we want to reverse these unhealthy thought habits we need to start by bringing awareness to the thoughts and creating a new internal dialogue through meta-cognition. Here are some tips!

• Ask the right questions:

What are the root causes of the feelings of shame? Can I trace any back to my past experiences? When do I feel unworthy? Are there any patterns in the repetitive thoughts occurring? Where there any generational thoughts, beliefs or behaviours that led me to think this way?

• Create awareness around thoughts, habits, and behaviors:

Start to become the watcher of your thoughts and without judgement just notice what is being said.
What words or phrases are used? Who is talking? Have you heard these comments from other family members? What is the internal motivation for these thoughts?

• Acceptance:

Try to find acceptance by surrendering to the known. Trust that the universe has your back and that all is happening for your highest good.
When conflicting thoughts arise you might ask…

  • Why is my attachment to how I existed in the past so strong?

  • Why do I need external validation from others to feel worthy?

  • What is it I am truly searching for?

When I asked myself the last question, I realised the answer was LOVE. I knew that if I wanted to reach this goal with so many physical, mental, and emotional barriers, I had to go straight to the source and bypass the middleman to find this unconditional, soul enriching love. It was here my journey towards healing began and where I started to reframe my self-talk from one of fear to one of love.

I began using mindfulness tools, yoga, meditation, N.L.P, guided meditations, reframing, and hypnosis, and began creating a new system based on the neuroscience on transformation to sustain this state and I couldn’t believe how quickly the transformation started to take effect. Although I still experienced some pain I wasn’t suffering so greatly, because I was building a new identify for myself with the condition. One that was based on freedom and self- compassion regardless of my external conditions.

It might sound weird, but I now view Fibromyalgia as a gift. It forced me to learn to love myself unconditionally and showed me a deeper connection to my soul energy and my higher self.