This is the second part of our Chronic Pain Barriers Series. Follow this link to view part one.
In a recent study (Betty Ford Foundation, 2014), it was found that of 1009 chronic pain sufferers, or, 97% of the people sampled, had experienced an early life trauma compounding the problem with emotional pain. What is meant by an early life trauma includes sexual, physical, or emotional abuse, a childhood incident, family alcohol or drug addiction, or loss of a loved one at any time in the lifespan. According to the American Counseling Association, in their article, “Chronic Pain in America: Consequences, Treatments and Addiction” (2014), people who are chronic emotional and physical pain sufferers may not realize how emotional pain plays a role in concert with their chronic pain. Here is why. If the emotional pain was in place first, there is a much higher likelihood of chronic physical pain playing a part in their lifespan. However, the most important awareness is to understand the impact chronic issues play; eroding self- esteem and self-acceptance. Mainly, the events mentioned can impact a person’s self- esteem and acceptance distorting how a person relates to themselves, significant others, family relationships, and workplace relationships.
To begin, let’s define low self- esteem in order to gain a sense of its meaning. In general, people who have low self- esteem have trouble accepting compliments because they see themselves in a negative way no matter how the facts indicate otherwise. People with low self- esteem want approval from others chronically to stay connected emotionally. Moreover, people who have low self- esteem have difficulty setting boundaries because the fear of rejection is too painful so much of their time and energy is spent studying others to later obtain their approval. When this does not happen, relationships and interactions with others become unhealthy because the person with low self- esteem does not understand their own needs, only that of the others, being disappointed and angry. Unfortunately, many of the positive attributes, personality gifts and skills, and characteristics, of a person with low self- esteem are hidden away and overshadowed by false ways of negative self being. Sadly, many times depression, anxiety, and the onset or return of post- traumatic stress symptoms can have their origins in untreated low self- esteem.
Many people do not realize they suffer from low self- esteem, and that it is completely treatable. The origins of this way of thinking and being has to do with being exposed to an early life trauma in younger development creating values and beliefs that revolve around perfection and safety. By disarming this critic, intellectually and emotionally, reality of the situation can surface and bring about a much improved way of self- acceptance, safety, and personal internal security. For instance, no human being can be perfect, and therefore, since you cannot be perfect about something, you can make a mistake and be safe, not bad, guilty, or filled with shame and failure. The flip side of all of this is that most people who want perfections from themselves and others, have difficulty admitting it and can resort to procrastination supporting their low self- esteem cycle and patterns. People with low self-esteem have difficulty with self- acceptance but will tolerate low-to-high levels of abuse to remain in a relationship causing additional emotional stress and increased emotional and physical pain.
Low self- esteem has a purpose. It is to protect the person from dealing with difficult times. The problem is in order to thrive, these previous emotional issues must be resolved to give way to improved self- esteem and acceptance to move into recovery rather than managing chronic pain, or keeping it at bay.Learning about how to improve your own self- esteem and acceptance is critical to overall health and recovery. It is very doable!
Next time, we will talk about how low self-esteem impacts clinical depression and relationships.
Counseling Today, (2015) . Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, “Chronic Pain in America: Consequences,
Treatments and Addiction”, (2014). Techniques for counseling clients who have chronic pain,
August 2015, Volume 58 /No. 2.