Pain, Suffering and the Mindset of Relief


I’m a big proponent of the importance of mindset across the board; in success, in training, in habit formation and in, a piece that gets missed, pain relief.

Why is mindset important? How does attitude help?

The notion is that the mind and body are not separate entities.

Can you remember a time when you felt great happiness or enjoyment in your life?.. those feelings of euphoria and pleasantness lifting you up… Almost making you feel lighter on your feet, easier to be around perhaps even more motivated to not just survive, but thrive. Those feelings associated with the emotional and psychological state trigger very real physiological responses in the nervous, endocrine and immune system. Those responses aid our physiological performance and recovery.

It's the age old discussion, is it love or is it chemical/hormonal? Perhaps it’s both. Our understanding and ability to comprehend love changes our physiology and the changes in our physiology allow us to experience what love feels like.

Not again, this is another “think positive” posts, isn’t it..? No, it’s not.

I’m not trying to make the case that you need to think positively all the time, as if it were a realistic expectation of everyone. I’m also not saying that “thinking positive” isn’t useful, I think we just need to clearly define what that is and what it usefulness is in a given scenario.

One example, I wouldn’t tell someone grieving over a loss to simply, “think positive.” Sometimes time is a fine healer of things like that.


Life is undulating and so is our attitude about it. That contrast is necessary. I’m simply making the case that, when we falter, we should have something to tether us back to resilience and practicality.

The attitude and mindset we have in a given scenario is critically important to our success and quality of life. It's ubiquitous and the importance of it doesn't leave when we enter the realm of relief from pain, even though it's seldom appreciated.

A helpful point for some people is that while felt pain and suffering may be concurrent, they don't have to be. They aren't married absolutely.

To borrow from Cassell (2011), “people will tolerate even very severe pain if they know what it is (its significance), and if they know that it will end” (p. 10). Consider birthing mothers, or getting a tattoo these are both examples of painful process’ that we undergo willingly in order to see someone or something come to life.

So what's to be done? How do we begin to build a mindset of relief and/or recovery?

There's several things that you could potentially do but ideally we can find an element in which suffering is contributing to the distress you are feeling while experiencing pain. Some useful reflection could include asking questions like, is the pain I'm feeling challenging; “Who I am as a person?”, “My financial security or/and plans for the future,” “My ability to function/perform tasks/be active and move,” “my ability to be social”... etc

Paraphrasing my friend, Dr. Bronnie Lennox Thompson, when someone begins to feel that things they once enjoyed or the anticipated route they had planned to go is compromised, that someone may undergo greater levels of distress until that sense of self and/or purpose is revitalized.

Borrowing from Cassell again, an appropriate assessment of suffering might include questions like, “Am I suffering?”, “I know I have pain, but are there things that are even worse than just the pain?”, “Am I frightened by all this?” ,“What is the worst thing about all this?” (Cassell, 1999, p. 532)

These questions can be powerful for not only instigating a search for realistic answers but in considering that, as Dr. Bronnie Lennox Thompson puts it, at least part of the loneliness (and frustration) of suffering occurs because the individual experiencing it may not be able to articulate what it is about the situation that provokes suffering and could be addressed to alleviate it.

To me, it seems that, for those who have yet to reach this point, having answers or knowledge as to what's going on provides us one level greater in empowering us even if we don't necessarily have the immediate solutions. It gives us something to work with in our ability to seek out resolution.

Take care and look out for the next installment,

Taylor Sun, CNS

Cassell, E. J. (1999). Diagnosing Suffering: A Perspective. Annals of Internal Medicine, 131(7), 531-534. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-131-7-199910050-00009

Cassell, E. J. (2011). Suffering, whole person care, and the goals of medicine. In T. A. E. Hutchinson (Ed.), Whole person care: A new paradigm for the 21st century (pp. 9-22). New York, NY: Springer. Retrieved from doi:10.1007/978-1-4419-9440-0