posted in: Stage 4, Stage 4: step 5

Compassion: Empathy in the Face of Chronic Pain

Empathy is an inherent part of the human experience.




Being labeled as a “chronic pain patient” is one of the worst aspects of an already terrible problem. It’s impossible to be truly seen or heard if you are viewed in only one dimension. There can’t be empathy in the presence of being labeled. It’s similar to experiencing the “locked-in syndrome” that some head trauma patients experience. They have full understanding of their surroundings but have no ability to communicate back.

Most physicians are empathetic by nature and are drawn to medicine because they want to “make a difference.” But the rigors of training and practice often cause them to disconnect from their compassionate selves. Many medical professionals have succeeded by pushing themselves to the limit by being self-critical. It is not possible to be compassionate to others if you are not accepting of yourself. Perfectionism: the ultimate victim role

If you suffer from chronic pain you are probably frustrated having the label of “chronic pain patient” placed on you. There are also other unpleasant labels and they aren’t fair. The goal of treatment now becomes to “live with the pain” instead of curing your pain. You might as well be in hospice care–except there is no end in sight.

The burnout rate of physicians is consistently around 45-60% and is still rising. It’s impossible to reach out to others when you are trying to survive. The combination of professional burnout and being labeled creates a situation where the decision-making process regarding your care may be distorted.

“A Course on Compassion” was held in 2011 and was attended by medical and non-medical professionals as well as many patients. The intent of the course was to increase an awareness of the importance of compassion in your care as well as to provide some tools to deal with the interferences to connecting with one’s own empathy.

Dr. Howard Schubiner was one of the keynote speakers and  outlined the Neurophysiologic Disorder (NPD), which he calls Mind Body Syndrome (MBS). It is an important diagnosis for you to consider as there is a high probability that at some of your symptoms are arising from this disorder.

Compassion requires awareness but cannot exist in the same room as anger. Anger must be effectively processed and compassion nurtured.