Pain - A Primer


People sometimes ask me what counselling and therapy feel like - they harbor many fantasies, carry misconceptions and offer erudite observations of the process, but what I often say in response is that counselling and therapy can be richly rewarding, even though the process can often feel painful.

Pain is a funny thing - when you are consciously aware of it, pain can be unbearable and frightening. However, it is possible to live in pain without conscious awareness - in such cases, pain isn't felt, isn't present, but it is certainly there.

Modern life offers many opportunities for pain avoidance. The popularly frowned upon ones are food, drinks, gambling, drugs, sex - but work, sports, gaming, relationships and other seemingly positive pursuits can also be opiates to pain. So long as pain is successfully managed beyond the realm of awareness - be it via drugging to oblivion, or an all-consuming relationship - it will continue to exert a hold over the individual so that whatever salve is applied eventually loses its allure and efficacy and itself becomes a source of pain.

This is most obvious when we discuss addictions. A drink to 'take off the edge' can feel relaxing and rewarding, but until the reason why relaxation and reward are required is examined and dealt with, the drink is but a temporary measure - and the greater the pain, the greater the amount of comfort is needed. How many drinks will it take to take the edge off living?

Beyond addiction, though, any displacement activity or object merely serves to distract from the underlying existential causes. 'Making peace with pain' is hardly an attractive proposition, but it can be liberating. Imagine being able to appreciate your friends without envy, to love your partner without fear, to enjoy yourself doing something without dreading the end of the experience - some kind of pain is at the root of all these feelings, and it is only with careful exploration that it can be understood, appreciated, and learnt from.