What Is Your Pain Style?

pain personalities

If you recognize yourself in one (or more) of these five types, read on for advice on how to break unhelpful old habits and start healthier new ones.

Once upon a time, not so long ago, doctors thought there was one pain-prone personality, a bundle of characteristics that made it more likely you’d have pain, feel pain intensely and stay stuck longer in the cycle of suffering. Now, thank goodness, we know this isn’t true. There isn’t any pain-prone personality, confirms James Weisberg, Ph.D., co-editor of Personality Characteristics of People With Pain (American Psychological Association, 2000). But there are certain traits that correlate with pain. Pain, he adds, is physical sensation plus emotional reaction; we can certainly lower our emotional reaction to it, thus lowering our overall pain perception. Pain expert Christina Lasich, M.D., author of High Heels to Hormones: A Woman’s Guide to Spine Care (iUniverse, 2008), sees things similarly. Everyone comes into a painful experience with a certain set of personality traits. Some might have more resilience, for instance, or more anxiety when facing an accident or illness, and those traits can amplify or reduce the pain experience, she explains. Put another way, some emotional and thinking styles make pain worse, while others ease it.

The first step to turning down the volume on your pain is to become aware of what’s helping you and what’s not and that includes how you act, think and feel. In other words, the building blocks of who you are. Read on to see if you recognize yourself in any of the following five styles of coping with chronic pain all are pretty common, but not necessarily healthy. If one or more sound familiar, don’t worry; you’ll also find tips from healthcare providers and people living with pain to help you bring out your best self and feel better faster.

The Pleaser

Motto-Don’t mind me; I’m just here to make you happy.

Pleasers would be the ultimate yes-men, except that they are frequently female. They’re the folks who just can’t say no, says Christina Lasich. The inability to say no comes from deeply entrenched believes, namely that people won’t like you, that they’ll be disappointed in you and even that setting limits will lead to the loss of your friends, family or your job. The problem, of course, is that saying yes to everything can force pleasers into what Lasich describes as an unsustainable pace that pushes the body beyond what it can handle, leading to more pain. Pleasers may also hold out on their healthcare providers, says John P. Garofalo, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at Washington State University, in Vancouver, which can obviously hinder treatment. Like many women who become nurses, Sharon Puckett, 48, of Atlanta, is a natural nurturer. In fact, she’s so good at taking care of others that she overlooks her own needs. It’s not just hard for me to say no, it’s also hard for me to ask for help, she says. So I do too much, and that makes me hurt more. Pleasers like Puckett, who has chronic regional pain syndrome in her right upper body, are likely to take on too much, agreeing to things even when their plate is overfull. Spouses, friends and colleagues, meanwhile, may come to expect the pleaser to take care of everything.


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