Depression and Pain

It hurts when you put your hand on a hot plate… so does that mean you take painkillers and keep your hand on the hot plate, because it’s your hand’s own fault for feeling pain?


Your human emotions serve as your feedback mechanism on your life’s journey. They’re like the dashboard display on your car. When your dashboard indicates a problem, it means you need to fix something with the car. It doesn’t mean the dashboard is broken.

If your car can’t move forward because you’ve run it into a tree, and your speedometer indicates 0mph despite your flooring the accelerator, is that the car’s fault? Do you exclaim, “Damn this stupid car! I hate my car!” because it can’t barrel through the tree? People would think you’re crazy. But that’s exactly what so many of us do with our lives. Maybe getting stuck was your fault and maybe it wasn’t, but remember you’re still the driver. You aren’t going to get unstuck by blaming the car; that will only perpetuate your stuckness.

When you’re not enjoying life, that’s a message you need to listen to. Feeling bad about your life doesn’t mean you have emotional problems or that you’re psychologically damaged in some way. Your feedback mechanism is doing its job just fine. You’re supposed to feel bad when your life is out of whack. You just need to interpret the message properly and then take action to correct the situation.

For example, if you’re feeling chronically apathetic, depressed, or bored to tears with your life, perhaps the message is this: Your life sucks!

That is to say… your current life situation is not at all what you want. You don’t want to keep experiencing what you’re experiencing.

Now upon receiving this feedback, many people, for one reason or another, respond as if the emotional feedback was itself the problem. Maybe we need therapy or drugs or escapism to fix those pesky negative emotions. That’s like blaming your car for running out of gas. It’s supposed to eventually run out of gas. That means it’s working properly. Likewise you’re supposed to experience these negative emotional states when you’re veering off course from what you want. That means your emotional feedback is working properly. Be thankful when this happens because this feedback is extremely valuable.


[Treating others who were insensitive to pain] dramatically reinforced what we had already learned from leprosy patients: pain is not the enemy, but the loyal scout announcing the enemy. And yet–here is the central paradox of my life–after spending a lifetime among people who destroy themselves for lack of pain, I still find it difficult to communicate an appreciation for pain to people who have no such defect. Pain is truly the gift that nobody wants…

In the modern view pain is the enemy, a sinister invader that must be expelled. And if Product X removes pain thirty seconds faster, all the better. This approach has a crucial, dangerous flaw: once regarded as an enemy, not a warning signal, pain loses all its power to instruct. Silencing pain without considering its message is like disconnecting a ringing fire alarm to avoid receiving bad news.

…People who view pain as the enemy, I have noted, instinctively respond with vengeance or bitterness–Why my? I don’t deserve this! It’s not fair!–which has the vicious-circle effect of making their pain even worse. “Think of the pain as a speech your body is delivering about a subject of vital importance to you,” I tell my patients. “From the very first twinge, pause and listen to the pain and, yes, try to be grateful. The body is using the language of pain because that’s the most effective way to get your attention.” I call this approach “befriending” pain: to take what is ordinarily seen as an enemy and to disarm it and then welcome it.

From Pain: The Gift Nobody Wants (by Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey)

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