The tipping point in successfully solving chronic pain is becoming aware of your anger and processing it. When you are upset your body is full of stress hormone and as each organ system responds, you may experience many physical symptoms. When your anger drops these symptoms will diminish and usually disappear when your body’s chemistry has normalized. A phrase I often hear is, “Who would have thought it was the anger?” The effects are profound.
The problem is that you have to first recognize and acknowledge your anger. I did not have the awareness of being angry until I was 50 years old. I was a master at disguising it and I still am. My disguises took many forms:
- Being Right
- “I’m frustrated”
- I don’t have enough time
- Blaming others when I was upset
Taking on the world
Addressing my anger was not a choice at the time it occurred. It exploded. I did not handle it well but within a few months after coming out the other side my physical symptoms disappeared. I have remained almost symptom-free – unless I go back in the victim mode. It turns out that I still have an endless number of ways of doing this. About two years ago I realized that taking on the world’s suffering was one of them. Getting upset about something that you have absolutely no control over is a common way of going into and remaining in a victim role. I had an endless number of causes in my head – world hunger, women’s rights, child abuse, etc. I became over-identified with them and thoughts about these issues consumed a significant amount of my consciousness. I was so used to being in this state of mind that I thought it was normal – except many of my physical symptoms began to return.
One evening I was on a rant about a situation that was upsetting to me. I was complaining how I was being treated and lack of responsiveness to my ideas. My friend asked a simple question, “What is your role in creating this adversity?” At that moment I realized that I was exhibiting a lifelong pattern of trying to change things that I had no control over and remaining upset. It was another my manifestation of my needing to stay in the victim mode. I was raised in a chaotic environment and I was a true victim but it was also a core pattern that I didn’t recognize as a problem. Being a victim is a powerful role and no one ever wants to give it up – especially me. Here is a letter from an old high school buddy of mine that reflects the problem. He is suffering from ongoing disabling back and leg pain.
“…… violence in nature is difficult for me, but human cruelty to others is incredibly upsetting. I have been this way since childhood. I am very sensitive and I almost do not feel at home on this planet. I feel wired and tired at the same time.”
Finding meaning in the midst of suffering
I suggested that he read two books. One was Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. He was an Austrian psychiatrist who survived the WWII concentration camps and found meaning and purpose in the midst of extreme suffering. The other is The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt that tells the story of the discovery of an ancient Greek manuscript that contained the poem, The Nature of Things by Lucretius. This finding was a factor in ushering humanity out of the dark ages.
No one is asking you to be happy about the severity of suffering experienced by many at the hands of others. You don’t have to accept it. It is important to do whatever you can in your sphere in influence to make the world a better place. However, mentally taking on the totality of the misery of the world and remaining upset about it is another way of remaining a victim. Your life energy is diminished and the net result is that you are not able to be a source of light to those close to you. Even Lucretius, in the midst of the darkness of living in ancient times pointed out that all each person can and should do is to live a full, rich and meaningful life.
Both of these books drove home that the history of the human race is extreme suffering and we are the luckiest people to be alive in this modern era. I can get stuck on what is wrong and contribute to the world’s collective suffering or I can step up, learn to enjoy my life and be a conduit for happiness. I make this choice multiple times every day.
“Apocalypse Got You Down?” – NY Times, November 2019