It is important to understand the nature of pain, because this gives us insight into how to overcome it.  When you think of pain, what comes to mind?  Many people think of pain as an unpleasant SENSATION that occurs when their body is being distressed or damaged. The dictionary definition (Microsoft Home, 1999) corroborates this: "Pain is an unpleasant sensation occurring in varying degrees of severity as a consequence of injury, disease, or emotional disorder." For example, when you cut or burn your finger, you experience a sharp sensation of pain in the finger. Painful sensations come in many different varieties, including dull aching, soreness, sharp piercing, smarting, burning, throbbing, grinding, crushing, and so on. Pain is much more complex than most people realize, however. The experience of pain is composed not only of Sensation, but also Emotion, Attention, and Thought.  If we make an acronym out of these four components, we have SEAT. To understand pain and suffering, we need to understand the SEAT of pain. After Sensation, the second component of pain is Emotion. The sensation of pain automatically leads to an emotion, a fight or flight reaction. Think back to the last time you had severe pain. You probably would have done nearly anything to escape from the pain. You might have been angry that you had to suffer, you might have wanted to fight the source of the pain, or you might have been fearful that the pain would not end, or that it would recur. If you had a physical injury, say a cut finger, you may have been horrified to see a deep gash or an exposed bone. The emotions of anger and fear, and the attempt to fight or escape, are themselves unpleasant. There is an old saying that "The attempt to escape from pain IS pain." The emotions aroused by pain also create profound physiological changes in your body that intensify the sensation of pain. For example, if you have migraine headaches and you attempt to fight or struggle with the pain, it will cause the blood vessels in your head to dilate. This change in your blood vessels intensifies the pain, unfortunately. The third component of pain is Attention. Severe pain captures your attention and prevents you from thinking about anything else. Your entire being is consumed by pain, and you become a prisoner of it. The feeling of being trapped by the pain increases your frustration, which is another painful emotion. If only you could turn your attention away from the pain, or somehow ignore it, you could function normally. Unfortunately, attempting to evade or ignore the pain is just another attempt to escape, which only intensifies the emotional component of the pain. The fourth component of pain is Thought.  There are several ways thought enters into the experience of pain. Suppose you have severe back pain-- you might think something is crucially wrong with you, that you are an invalid or abnormal, and that your life is ruined forever.  You may think that your condition will worsen and that you will deteriorate and be unable to work, unable to provide support for your loved ones, that people will lose patience with you, or that you might end up suffering on the street without friends or help from anyone. These thoughts are horrifying by themselves. They can make you fearful or depressed, and may lead to other emotional difficulties including the attempt to escape from the whole situation by suicide. Even if you think your pain is caused by stress, you can conclude that you are a bad or unworthy person because you don't have adequate skills to deal with life's stresses. When all of these components of pain are working together, pain turns into suffering.  The four SEAT components of pain tend to reinforce one another and increase your suffering. Attempts to escape from the pain or fight with it make it much worse. Futilely trying to turn your attention away from the pain increases your emotional suffering, as does thoughts about how horrible your situation is.  This is not mere theory or idle speculation, it is something you can experience and verify for yourself.  The next time you are in pain, notice the four SEAT components. Pay attention to these components, because you may discover a key ingredient to pain relief. What can we do to break out of this net of suffering? To counter pain, we need to work effectively with all four components. That is the subject of our next lesson -- psychological techniques to overcome pain and suffering. ======================================= Evaluation of Headaches - A Dangerous Symptom? People who have severe headaches are often worried that the headache is an ominous sign of a more serious disorder, for example a brain tumor. Fortunately, headaches are rarely ominous signs, because severe or frequent headaches are not always the most serious ones. There are some situations that demand immediate medical attention, however. Here are a few from the Harvard Health Letter Special Report on Headache: * A severe headache accompanied by fever plus a stiff neck that resists being bent forward -- this can often signal meningitis. * Any headache accompanied by impaired neurological function, such as difficulty speaking or walking, paralysis, imbalance, or double vision -- this could be caused by bleeding, a clot, an abscess, or a   brain tumor. * Sudden excruciating pain, sometimes referred to as a thunderclap headache -- this could signal bleeding into the head. * A headache that slowly but inexorably worsens over days or weeks,   especially if localized in one area -- this could be caused by a blood clot or tumor. * Constant severe throbbing pain in the temple of a person over 60 -- this may indicate giant cell arteritis. * A daily headache, particularly a dull one at the back of the head,that starts in the early morning and gets better as the day goes on -- this can be a sign of hypertension.

The Nature of Pain and Suffering / Evaluation of Headaches

© 2016 by Dr. Ken Pfeiffer