When you are driving home from work, you will not remember every car, house, tree, and store that you will pass. Your conscious brain is only about one millionth as strong as your unconscious brain. Most of your movements behind the wheel are on automatic pilot. You will remember only a few aspects of the drive and maybe none of it if you are “lost in thought”. It is the reason that rehabilitation physicians emphasize function over pain relief in their treatment of chronic pain. As you become more active and functional, your focus will be diverted onto your life and the pain circuits will be of less importance. If your life revolves around first getting rid of your pain and then you feel that you will then be able to live your life, “forget it.” You are done. Your pain will progressively occupy more and more of your conscious thoughts. If you are just engaging in activities to distract yourself from your pain you will have the same problem. Your pain is still running the show. Moving forward with your pain
It has been pointed out for centuries that the only person that you can change in life is you. This is a challenging concept for me in that from the time I decided to become a physician my energy was focused on fixing everyone around me. I did not perceive that I needed any work. In retrospect I was focused on others both to divert attention from myself and also was trying to “save others to save myself.” This has been the most humbling part of my journey. Not only was I broken, I was really broken. It was under such severe stress that the façade finally broke down.
The key to any success that I have experienced in helping others with their problems has been from me being able to be more connected to myself and therefore being able to talk to others from a human to human perspective. My patients figure out to heal themselves on their own. In fact when they re-connect with who they are and where they want to go there is no stopping them. It is similar to opening the door to a caged wild animal. I have learned to just give advice when asked and stay out of the way otherwise.
There is a strong natural tendency as patients begin to experience success with these tools to try to engage their family members in the process. Although I do insist that both halves of a couple engage they have to do it completely separately and both have to do it on their own free will. Any energy focused on the other’s progress is counter-productive.
This step has an infinite number of possibilities. I have just a few overall guidelines:
- Become aware of your energy spent on “fixing” those around you.
- Develop an awareness of your own “flaws” and then learn to embrace and accept them.
- Read an excerpt daily from The Art of Living by Epictetus (modern translation by Sharon Lebell). His focus is almost completely on the journey inward.
- Deliberately research and choose tools that will allow you progress down this road inward.
- If you are pursuing this journey still holding onto the idea it will change those around you—forget it. It is one of the paradoxes of life. Until you truly detach from the outcome it is counterproductive. Conversely once you truly commit to your own growth, life around you will change dramatically.
It is repetition that will continue to reinforce the more functional pathways that you are laying down. Don’t stop.
When you no longer have anxiety and anger controlling your life, you can engage in your life with zeal. Maslow’s Miss is the ultimate paradox of the human existence. It is not that you will get rid of anxiety and frustration. It is that they no longer control you. You will connect with yourself, family, friends, and the essence of your existence. Adversity, including chronic pain, will not control you. New brain pathways will be created. It has been astounding how much of an effect this approach has had in decreasing my patients’ pain. I would never have predicted this sequence ten years ago.