The purpose of pain and fatigue

A person who is unable to feel any pain, usually won’t live very long.

Although pain is very unpleasant, it serves a purpose. Without pain, you would not know when to stop using a body part that is injured. By continuing activity you would damage the wound even further and make it difficult for healing to take place.

Although fatigue is unpleasant it also serves a purpose just like pain. A marathon runner often hits the so-called ‘wall of fatigue’. To continue the marathon a runner must become aware of the phenomenon and what it means. A trained human can complete a 42 kilometre marathon without dying. Yet the body gives you the signal that you need to stop.

Both the pain and the fatigue are created in the brain and serve a purpose, to protect you from danger by making you stop activity. There is no real pain in the body and there is no real fatigue in the body. The brain detects a danger and creates a symptom to make you aware of the danger. This is a natural process and is perfectly normal in acute pain and fatigue. In chronic symptoms however, the same principle is responsible for our symptoms, to protect us from danger. A different kind of danger, not physical. Which is first of all good news, nothing structural is damaged in your body.

The mask of the ego

If a threat is not physical, it must be psychological. This doesn’t at all mean that the symptoms are imagined. The pain and fatigue are very real and intense. The symptoms are created by the part of the brain that handles the emotions (the limbic brain) and that gives us a good indication of where to look for answers.

In a simple analogy, our psyche has the battle of the inner-child vs the inner-adult. The inner-child is vulnerable and looks for instant-pleasures.  The inner-adult is the part of you that is conditioned to comply with long term strategies from your caretakers, e.g. to not be angry and work with their demands. Both parts are crucial in your development as a functioning human being. In a person with chronic pain and fatigue, the inner-adult is overly active and the inner-child is overly suppressed. This has happened and developed as a coping strategy in a difficult childhood. Some form of neglect caused the child to not safely attach to their parents.

The child has formed an ego or self-image where the “weaknesses” and threatening emotions (anger, fear, etc.) of the inner child are pushed away in favour of the strategies of the inner-adult. This happened as a desperate strategy to please our caretakers, so that they wouldn’t reject us and our (short-term) survival wasn’t threatened. The self-image is the mask (Greek: persona) that we show to the world. Expressions of ourselves that don’t fit the ego are buried behind the mask (in the body). For our ego, these (negative) expressions could literally (still) be a death-threat. They have to remain unconscious.

When you ask people with chronic pain and fatigue whether they ever experience anger, they usually deny ever having these emotions. That in itself is very unhealthy, anger is a normal emotion that serves to protect us from continuing a path that is harmful for us. The anger for these people is expressed in the physical body, behind the mask, as a symptom. A symptom that protects us from experiencing the emotion as an emotion, as that would be a death-threat for the ego.

It has become an accepted and successful approach to look and to treat the pain and fatigue as distractions. To distract you from your shadow in a desperate attempt when they almost enter your conscious awareness. The obsession and strategies to deal with your symptoms is the ultimate distraction to protect you from the death-threat for the ego.

Indication of the shadow

As perfect as we like to think of ourselves, every human has a shadow side. The more visible the shadow of a human is, the safer they usually are. “Beware of the person without a shadow!” is a proverb with lots of truth in it. The seemingly perfect individual is the most haunted of us all and is capable of the darkest deeds. If you are in search of a partner, don’t pick the perfect person(a).

If you see yourself as good, look for the part of you that is bad and embrace this part of you. If you see yourself as a strong person, embrace the part of you that is weak. Healing literally means to become whole again. Like the yin and the yang, together forming the whole entity of who you are.

Discover what your ego hides for you in the unconscious (the body behind the mask) and reprogram your unconscious mind by confirming that these parts of you are accepted. Slowly and one at a time will you then experience some suppressed parts in your conscious awareness. If you are open to them, your unconscious mind will learn that it is no longer a threat to your existence. You are safe now and you can safely express those parts of yourself. Soothing your inner-child to safety plays a crucial role in recovery.

When you feel that you are a good person by following all the strategies from the inner-adult, you will most likely feel bad when you can’t perform the strategies any longer due to pain. If you saw yourself only as a strong person, the fatigue will cause you to feel weak now. The symptoms are forcing you to see a different side of yourself. A part that you have not acknowledged before.

Growth and self-actualisation

When you suppress (negative) emotions for decades you will notice that feeling the so-called positive emotions will become harder. You will literally become numb for life and in need for more extreme situations to feel anything at all. We have learnt to achieve happiness and well-being through effort and hard work via the inner-adult strategies.

It might sound as a shock that happiness and well-being is your natural state of being. Pursuing any strategy to arrive at your natural state is foolish and childish. But unfortunately very few people understand happiness as our entire society is based on achieving happiness in the future. It is not the completed task that provided us with a sense of well-being, it was the fact that we stopped chasing it for a fraction of time.

The balance of the yin and the yang and the ability to stop achieving who we already are, is what makes us whole and heal. Healing has little to do with fighting viruses and vaccines (controversial  sentence alarm!!!). The books that I recommend in the self-study section on this website are all about this subject and I won’t go much into detail in this blog. But understand that behind every disease is a purpose. It somehow serves us in our path to wholeness.

Yin and Yang

We like to think of ourselves as a developed and a wise species, yet the shadow (diseases) of human nature shows us that at the same time we are foolish and undeveloped. At the time of the Corona crisis, we are fighting this shadow with all means. It will become obvious that we are doing it in a foolish and undeveloped way. The collective shadow has once again manifested itself. Chasing anything or fighting anything will reveal to us the pointlessness of our masks and efforts.

This will become that. If a person chases freedom, he will become imprisoned. If a society chases health, it will become unhealthy. If someone feels unworthy and copes by appearing smart, she will chase knowledge and start living life via fragile concepts and loses contact with the physical world. Eventually she will lose the connection with her body and herself, feeling more unworthy.

If a person(a) hides his feeling of not being enough for himself. The inner-adult will compensate for this feeling by impressing other people. He will develop perfectionistic tendencies and everytime he is involved in this coping strategy, he adds weight to his shadow. On top of that, this personality enrages his inner-child that needed healing. This rage is once again hidden for the persona as it doesn’t fit his self-image. After many years of coping this way, the unconscious emotions are nowhere to be hidden anymore. The mask is starting to crack, what a perfect time to create pain and fatigue.

Some people with ME/CFS are relearning to accept the feeling of being stuck, others report: shame, guilt, fear, unworthiness, loneliness, not being enough, being a failure, etc. Once again, healing (or to become whole) is the purpose. The purpose of pain could also be to destroy our egoic pride, so that we are brave enough to see what our pride was afraid of. Be both parts of life, yin and yang, and allow yourself to be nothing in particular.

The ultimate suffering

As long as pain, fatigue and disease still have a purpose in our lives, it reveals us that we are still primitive and in need for these symptoms to heal or to become whole again. The split of the mask and the shadow in a human being is the ultimate suffering for us to live in. The numbing and suppression of our nature and to live life in a mechanical way is the ultimate suffering. Don’t convince me or yourself that your pre-symptom life was great, it wasn’t. You were already suffering and if you didn’t notice it, your mask had no cracks in it, yet.

The message

Sometimes the message is to be kinder towards yourself, or to cease your coping strategies, to live life in the present moment and without goals. The purpose of pain and fatigue are there to protect you, to heal you and to guide you towards the most fulfilling life possible. Stop resisting it! Embrace your symptoms or disease and say “yes!” to it. This could be 50% of your healing and allows the shadow to reveal itself. Face your fear of the symptoms, your anger of being struck down and ask openly what it is that the symptoms are saying to you.