LifestyleSpiritual WellnessWhat Is Your Pain Personality?

What Is Your Pain Personality?

Not too long ago, doctors believed in one pain-prone personality. If you possessed certain characteristics, then you might feel pain more intensely and stay longer in the cycle of suffering. Nowadays, those in the health field acknowledge that this issue has more nuance. There isn’t one pain-prone personality, but certain traits do correlate with pain. Find out your pain personality and how you can use that information to lessen your pain.

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Background on Pain Personalities

According to James Weisberg, Ph.D., co-editor of Personality Characteristics of People With Pain, pain is “physical sensation plus emotional reaction”. By lowering your emotional reaction to pain, you can actually reduce your overall pain perception.

Pain expert Christina Lasich, M.D., author of High Heels to Hormones: A Woman’s Guide to Spine Care, expands on this point. Everyone comes into a painful experience with a certain set of personality traits. Some people may have more resilience when facing an accident or illness, while others may have more anxiety. In turn, these traits can amplify or reduce your pain experience. As a result, some pain personality styles make pain worse while others make it better.

The first step to turning down the volume on your pain is awareness of what’s helpful and what’s not. The following 5 pain personalities are the most common.

The Pleaser

pain personalityMotto: Don’t mind me; I’m just here to make you happy.


Pleasers are the ultimate yes-men, and often have trouble saying “no”. This deeply entrenched mindset usually stems from believing:

  • that people won’t like them
  • that people will be disappointed in them
  • that setting limits will result in losing their friends, family or job

Saying yes to everything can force pleasers into an unsustainable pace, forcing them to push their body beyond what it can do, leading to more pain. Pleasers may also downplay their symptoms when talking to their doctors, hindering treatment.

Many pleasers overlook their own needs. They may find it hard to say no or ask for help. So they do too much and exacerbate their symptoms. Pleasers also are likely to take on too much and will agree to things even when their plate is full.

How to Break the Cycle

Assertiveness training can teach pleasers to set limits and ask for help. When creating boundaries, they shouldn’t emphasize their pain. Instead, they should make it clear that everyone needs to take some responsibility.

Taking guilt-free time for themselves may also help. The world won’t fall apart after one nap. But a nap might do wonders for their symptoms. Pity moments are fine as well, but limit them to a half-hour. When the time is up, move on to visualizing mood-boosting images.

The Inflexiblepain personality

Motto: It’s my way or the highway.


Inflexibles are often compared to type-A personalities. These competitive perfectionists often hold themselves to exacting standards and believe there’s only one right way to do things. Inflexibles may have a hard time accepting their physical limitations, often insisting on doing as much as they’ve always done. In fact, they won’t change their routine even if it hurts them.

Inflexibles often end up exacerbating their aches and pains. They also tend to get easily frustrated or angry when things don’t go according to plan. Many studies have linked anger to pain, and show that anger can increase sensitivity to painful stimuli. An “it should have been better yesterday” attitude toward pain can do more harm than good. Therefore, recognizing impatience and slowing down in its presence is important.

How to Break the Cycle

A little self-acceptance can go a long way toward breaking inflexible habits. For example, if they can feel their frustration mounting, breathing exercises and progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) can help.

PMR is a simple relaxation technique in which each body part, starting at the toes and moving up to the head, is gently tensed and relaxed. If pressed for a time, a quick body scan to see where the tension is strongest can calm inflexibles down and release muscle tension and soreness.

It’s also important for inflexibles to open themselves up to new ways of thinking and doing. Rather than tackling giant tasks all at once, break them up, doing a little bit every day. In addition, rigid thinking may prevent inflexibles from trying alternative therapies, medications, relaxation techniques and integrative approaches that could be useful.

The Catastrophizer

pain personalityMotto: It’s only going to get worse.


Catastrophizers tend to dwell on their pain, falling into a spiral of pessimistic thinking which can lead to increased pain and sensitivity. They often get caught up in disabling thoughts like:

  • “My pain is killing me” and
  • “I can’t take it anymore”

A knee-jerk reaction to always assume the worst can trigger anxiety. What’s worse, it can impair important decisions. For example, some catastrophizers are less likely to take their medication or follow their pain-management strategy.

How to Break the Cycle

In order to stop a downward spiral, counter a negative thought with a more realistic one. Catastrophizers should ask themselves:

  • “Haven’t I been able to endure this pain before?” or
  • There are other jobs out there I’d be good at and enjoy, right?”

By reframing these thoughts, catastrophizers can set more realistic conclusions and challenge blanket statements about their life. A cognitive behavioral therapist (CBT) with experience treating chronic pain and mental health is an extremely effective resource. If the dark thoughts keep on coming, start by acknowledging the catastrophic thoughts and try to interrupt them with logical thinking and breathing exercises. If that doesn’t work, going for a walk and thinking about something else can help.

The Extreme Optimist

Motto: It’s all good.


Optimistic thoughts can release dopamine, a mood-boosting and pain-mitigating neurotransmitter. However, if that optimism leads to unrealistic or wishful thinking, including a belief that the discomfort will magically improve without any effort, it could pose a problem.

There are two kinds of optimists: active optimists and extreme optimists. Active optimists hope things will get better and take an active role to ensure that they do. Extreme optimists, however, may ignore their pain or fail to bring it up with their healthcare team or loved ones.

They may also fail to follow through on their treatment plan, believing that their health will take care of itself. An “it’ll go away on its own approach” can hinder healing. Extreme optimists need to learn to save themselves pain by addressing it head-on, instead of waiting.

How to Break the Cycle

Extreme optimists should learn to see pain as a signal from their body, like thirst or hunger, and pay attention to what it’s trying say. If the aches say it’s time to opt-out of an activity, it might be worth facing that reality rather than doubling down on pain-inducing activities.

If there’s any unusual pain, act on it: see a doctor, stop an age-inappropriate activity or change the way something is. Try progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) to improve body awareness and make it easier to identify where pain signals are coming from. That way,  the pain is addressed before it worsens and becomes harder to treat.

The Stoic

Motto: Pain? What pain?


Stoics live like they aren’t hurting at all. In fact, they may even have a higher pain threshold than others. That can make it hard for them to adjust to their pain, accept it, and make the necessary adjustments to cope with it.

When they push themselves to their breaking points, it can cause long-term damage, especially to their tissues and muscles. Pain is a warning that can indicate damage is being done to the body. Stoics not only push themselves too far but also don’t allow for proper recovery and rest when their body needs it.

What’s more, stoics have often grown up in families dynamics where they weren’t allowed to give in to any kind of discomfort. Some stoics will distance themselves from all intense physical or emotional sensation, while others may adopt a cold facade to mask their severe anxiety.

How to Break the Cycle

Self-awareness and self-acceptance are key to keeping stoic tendencies in check. The biggest step is to accept the pain and the situation. Stoics should learn to tell themselves: “I can’t tough this one out.”

The long-term goal is for a better understanding of the body and to find more effective and healthier ways to cope with and lessen the pain. Stoic can do this by better budgeting their time and energy. In addition, they can acknowledge feelings, moods and pain at all levels they feel.

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