“Cry wolf often enough and you eventually get eaten by the wolf, even if the wolf is you.” Ouch, those are some bleak words with which to commence an article, I know! But that harsh quote by Kris Kidd, the Los Angeles-based poster boy for Millennial self-destruction and angst, is as relevant to chronic pain as it is to anything else. We all know it – sometimes our worst enemy is no one else but ourselves. It’s one of the most diabolical contradictions of human nature – the very person (i.e. oneself) that one would expect us to guard like no other is the very one that becomes our favourite emotional whipping boy.

Equally bad is that our very self becomes our favorite physical whipping boy too. Self-sabotage is something too many of us do all too well. Psychology Today defines self-sabotage thus: “Behavior is said to be self-sabotaging when it creates problems and interferes with long-standing goals. The most common self-sabotaging behaviors are procrastination, self-medication with drugs or alcohol, comfort eating, and forms of self-injury such as cutting.” There may be those who suffer from chronic pain and read that definition, thinking, “Jeepers, that sounds just like me”. Self-sabotage lends itself to chronic pain in the simplest way possible – pain begets pain.

Dr Andrea Bonior pinpoints five types of behavior typical of self-sabotage, three of which are especially pertinent to those suffering from chronic pain. They include dwelling on ‘if only’. You know – ‘if only I didn’t have this pain there is so much I could do with my life’ and the like. Yes, and as the saying goes, ‘with if you can put Paris in a bottle.’ Lest we forget that President John F. Kennedy lived with constant and debilitating back pain and had to wear a back brace just to cope with it. He was a picture of youth and healthy vigor, but privately was a man in near-constant pain. Yet Kennedy was able to lead the free world and inspire a Camelot White House.

Bonior also speaks of how being afraid of your thoughts or burying your feelings are also forms of self-sabotage. These are gambits that Dr Jeanette Raymond assures will too often result in chronic pain. Chronic pain sufferers will know all too well how often certain thoughts and feelings are simply too scary and they will hide behind their pain in order not to confront, or deal with, their feelings. Those feelings and fears are there for a reason – and not owning up to them only makes out mental state worse. And a compromised mental state too often results in compromised health.


Photo by Andrew Worley on Unsplash

The solution is simple – we need to be self-vigilant and self-aware. It’s what Mark Tyrrell calls “getting you out of your own way”. And Tyrrell reckons we do it because of things like the ‘familiarity of failure,’ a feeling of unworthiness, and an unconscious need to be in control. Does a ‘familiarity with failure’ square with what people suffering with chronic pain have to endure? Perhaps it does if that pain is equated with some type of ‘personal failure’ or another, however irrational that may be. It’s what Lauren Zelewski means when she candidly speaks about how chronic illness makes one feel somehow “like a flake”.

And does self-sabotaging actually make the person feel somehow ‘more in control’. Well, before you scoff at that notion, please remember the many studies that have shown that those suffering with anorexia nervosa see their getting thinner and thinner as a means of their ‘control’ over their bodies. Delusional, yes, but that ‘control’ is still very real for the anorexia sufferer. Are those delusions all that different to the chronic pain sufferer who drinks excessively, even when knowing that it will only exacerbate their pain? Or all that different from the chronic pain sufferer who doesn’t do needed physiotherapy because ‘Why bother? The pain won’t go away’?

Whatever chronic pain one has to endure there will be the physical and mental realms thereof. Too often the focus is almost entirely on the physical. Yes, suggestions of doing yoga or ‘de-stressing’ may be proffered, but, for the most part, treatment tends to be honed in on the physical pain itself. But what that pain is doing to someone in their mind and in their spirit is equally important. Because when these are unattended and turn on the body, then the ugly, destructive wolf that is self-sabotage will rear its head. Actually, that’s unfair to wolves, who for the most part are wonderfully intelligent, beautiful animals who have gotten a raw deal by humans for far too long! So let’s rather call self-sabotage the beast within us, shall we. And we are scared because fear is often at the center of self-sabotage. So one must learn to tame the beast – or get rid of it altogether. In the brilliant words of Zora Neale Hurston, “Grab the broom of anger and drive off the beast of fear!”

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