Stages of Pain: Psychological Effects of Chronic Pain
The fact of the matter is that chronic pain wears on you. It’s difficult to bear not only physically, but mentally. Since more than 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain, the psychological effects of pervasive pain are far reaching in our society. Understanding the psychological issues that accompany chronic pain is important for pain specialists and patients alike.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief have been used to break down and describe the experiences of people when they are grieving, giving a name and potentially helping people cope with feelings that seem all-powerful when you’re experiencing them. Chronic pain, both the diagnosis and experience, presents similar emotional upheaval. One PsyD, a Doctor Jennifer Martin, created the ‘7 stages of Chronic Pain and Illness’ to offer pain sufferers and physicians with a similar delineation. It’s important to remember that a person may experience these stages out of order or may circle back to an earlier stage. She describes them as follows:
When people realize that their pain may not be going away, it’s tough to swallow. They often experience shock and denial, which may prevent them from seeking out the help that they need to obtain proper treatment.
Pleading, Bargaining, and Desperation
Patients in this stage look for anything that may fix their condition or act as a bandage. They often bargain, either with themselves or a God, to make it better, all the while blaming themselves and experiencing tremendous guilt.
Once people understand that there’s no magical fix for their condition, they often experience anger. They may be mad at anyone related to their condition, including family, friends, care providers, employers, and anyone else they can tie their decline to.
Anxiety and Depression
Living with a chronic illness can be scary and may bring on anxiety. It may also lead to depression. This occurs when a person feels hopeless, exhausted, and experience intense grief. This depression isn’t necessarily a mental illness, but an appropriate reaction to this type of change.
Loss of Self and Confusion
Chronic pain may lead to patients losing an integral part of their life. They may not be able to do the things they once did any longer, which can lead to an identity crisis of sorts.
Reevaluation of Life, Roles, and Goals
At this stage, people begin to come to terms with potential limitations and life changes. They begin to find a way to live their life within their new normal. Changing expectations of what things should be can help chronic pain patients find happiness despite their condition.
This doesn’t necessarily mean being alright with the way things are now. It simply means they’ve accepted the reality of their condition and are taking steps to live within that reality. It means choosing to move forward despite chronic pain.