When Mindfulness makes you feel worse – about pain.


By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Back pain

Coping with pain.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

What are you doing to avoid feeling pain?

The question came up in a discussion of mindfulness about people who feel unable to be mindful, to meditate, because every time they do they become overwhelmed by extreme pain.

What do you do if you would like to use some of these introspective self-examinations approaches but when you stop what you are doing, even for a moment, you begin to suffer from painful memories of the past?

Here is the dilemma.  I am not one to think that to have a happy life we need to excavate every trauma and pain you have experienced. I do in fact see times when cross-examining clients about past trauma can be harmful. The last thing I want to do in therapy is to re-traumatize someone who is suffering. But there is value to cleaning out the wreckage of the past.

One recovery saying that often rings true is “we are only as sick as our secrets.” Lots of dysfunctional behavior, substance abuse, excessive spending, sexual addictions, and other compulsions are ways of trying to avoid having to feel those feelings which are so unpleasant.

Depression, PTSD, anxiety, and a whole host of mental and emotional problems are also maintained by wounds from the past that have not healed.

We know that if you are feeling physical pain, just ignoring that pain is not a good idea. Athletes can sustain long-term injuries if they do not listen to their bodies and stop playing when they are in pain.

My take on this is that if when you try to meditate or be mindful and all that comes up is an overwhelming pain, you need to seek professional help to process and work through that pain. Otherwise, you are at high risk to keep running from the pain until one day your escape mechanism stops working.

Plenty of alcoholics and addicts will tell you that one day their drug of choice stopped working. Any effort to deny the pain can only work for so long and then eventually you will have to face the problem you have been running from.

Drugs and alcohol are common ways of trying to escape feelings but there are others. Using drugs in this way is a very dangerous habit. The relief from the pain is short-lived. When the drugs wear off the pain returns, only now it feels even more overwhelming. So you use again. The intervals between uses get shorter and the amount you need to use gets larger and there you are one day at your upper limit and still feeling the emotional pain.

Most of us are not good at reading our body sensations. We humans often confuse thirst and hunger, resulting in consuming excess calories and weight gain. We also confuse physical and emotional pain. Physical pain may be managed by medication but emotional pain, most of the time you need to feel it, in a safe environment, in order to heal it.

America is currently facing an epidemic of prescription drug abuse.

One reason for this abuse is that people are using prescription pain medications, designed to treat physical pain, for treating emotional pain. The short-term relief results in long-term addiction. If you describe your pain to the doctor as all over in your body he may prescribe medication. If you tell the truth that you have felt this way since you lost your job or partner, the prescription will be some counseling.

The technical term for this is prescription drug abuse. It is easy to get addicted. Pills are quick and easy. They work for a while, then the pills create other problems like addiction. Counseling takes time but it helps you recover.

Mindfulness is meant to help with this, but it can be hard to just sit and stay with a pain for a while and really find out what this pain is all about. Sometimes we need to work on this emotional pain a little at a time.

I have heard this approach to reducing emotional pain described as “peeling the feelings onion.” You peel off a little, tell your helper about what you are feeling, and why then you cry. When the crying is done go back to the peeling. Repeat until all the pain is peeled away.

If you find that when you are alone or you try to clear your mind the only things that race in are those old memories of pain and hurt then you need to start healing those old wounds.

We humans have a bad habit of continuing to hold onto negative emotions long after those emotions have had any benefit. Not being able to release stress or regret can keep the torture of the past alive long after the incident should have been forgotten.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seem like the right time to publish it.

Story Bureau.

Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.

Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.

Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?

Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

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4 thoughts on “When Mindfulness makes you feel worse – about pain.

  1. Pingback: List of Feelings Posts | counselorssoapbox

  2. Pingback: 15 Ways to avoid recovery | counselorssoapbox

  3. Pingback: 5 things you need to ask yourself about mistakes to avoid making them again | counselorssoapbox

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