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 wouldn’t know when to stop using an injured body part. You would damage the wound even further by continuing activity, making 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-kilometer marathon without dying. However, your body gives you the signal that you need to stop.

The brain creates both pain and fatigue, and they both have the same purpose: to protect you from danger by forcing you to 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 it. This is a natural process and 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. 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 to your development as a functioning human being. An individual experiencing chronic pain and fatigue exhibits an overactive inner adult and an overly suppressed inner child. This occurred and developed as a coping strategy during 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 favor 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 egos, these negative expressions could literally 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. For these individuals, anger manifests as a symptom in their physical bodies, hidden behind a mask. 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 at and treat 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 you employ to manage your symptoms serve as the ultimate distraction, shielding you from the ego’s imminent threat.

Indication of the shadow

As perfect as we like to think of ourselves, every human has a shadow side. The more visible a human’s shadow 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.

If you see yourself as good, look for the bad part of you and embrace it. If you see yourself as a strong person, embrace the part of you that is weak. Healing literally means to become whole again. Together, they form the whole entity of who you are, like the yin and the yang.

Uncover the hidden aspects of your ego in the unconscious, the body concealed beneath the façade, and rewire your unconscious mind by affirming acceptance of these aspects of yourself. Slowly, one at a time, you will then experience some suppressed parts of your conscious awareness. If you are open to them, your unconscious mind will learn that they are 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 believe that you are a good person by following all of the inner adult’s strategies, you will most likely feel bad when you can’t perform the strategies any longer due to pain. If you see yourself only as a strong person, the fatigue will cause you to feel weak now. The symptoms force you to see a different side of yourself. A part that you have not acknowledged before.

Growth and self-actualization

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 require more extreme situations to feel anything at all. We have learned to achieve happiness and well-being through effort and hard work via inner-adult strategies.

It might sound like a shock that happiness and well-being are your natural states 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 was 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 a second.

The balance of yin and yang, as well as the ability to stop achieving who we already are, are what make 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 of this website are all about this subject, and I won’t go much into detail in this blog. However, understand that every disease has a purpose. It somehow helps us on our journey to wholeness.

Yin and Yang

We like to think of ourselves as a developed and wise species, yet the shadows (diseases) of human nature show us that at the same time we are foolish and undeveloped. During the Corona crisis, we were fighting this shadow by 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, start living life via fragile concepts, and lose 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 every time he is involved in this coping strategy, he adds weight to his shadow. On top of that, this personality enrages his inner child, who needs healing. Once again, the persona conceals this rage, as it doesn’t align with 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.

Others with ME/CFS report experiencing feelings of shame, guilt, fear, unworthiness, loneliness, inadequacy, and failure. Once again, healing (or becoming 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 is 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 to us that we are still primitive and in need for these symptoms to heal or to become whole again. The split between the mask and the shadow in a human being is the ultimate suffering for us to live in. The ultimate suffering is the numbing and suppression of our nature, as well as our ability to live life mechanically. 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 to yourself, to cease your coping strategies, and to live life in the present moment without goals. The purpose of pain and fatigue is 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, allowing the shadow to reveal itself. Face your fear of the symptoms and your anger at being struck down, and ask openly what the symptoms are saying to you. What is the purpose of your pain and fatigue?