You may have many reasons to feel angry, frustrated, and put upon by your pain, your treatment experiences, and the way your life has become disrupted. This is not surprising. Anger often accompanies chronic pain. Some people with pain are more likely to turn their anger inward, feeling frustrated and disappointed in themselves and their bodies. Other may be more likely to turn it outward, toward their doctors, their families, boss, or co-workers. Although anger is understandable, it may not be helpful and may impair pain management. In a recent review of anger in chronic pain, Dr. Zina Trost and her colleagues note that anger has been found to be associated with greater pain intensity, lower pain tolerance, worse treatment outcome, work disability, poor coping, and disturbed sleep. So, even though you have the right to feel angry, your anger may be a barrier to effective pain management. In some cases, anger may even be one of the causes of pain.
What are the Elements of Anger?
Before you can get it under control, it is helpful to understand the elements of anger. Dr. Trost and her team describe three basic dimensions of anger: goal frustration, blame, and perceived injustice. Let's talk a little about each.
No doubt about it, pain can interfere with working towards your goals. It can disrupt the goals of day-to-day life as well as your long-term goals and grand dreams. Severe pain may be especially likely to interfere with goal progress, leading to anger and frustration. You can turn you away from your anger by resolving to work on whatever you are capable of – don't give up. Last week, I talked about the importance of working on one goal at a time. That doesn't mean that you can only have one goal. It means that you should carefully select and plan your goals and work towards them with purpose. Make sure that you start smal
l and be specific, outline all of the tasks and subtasks and put them on your calender. Use an electronic calendar so you can send yourself reminders. Track your progress so you can reward yourself and make adjustments as needed. Having goals, even simple ones, makes a difference.
There may be someone who caused your pain or you may place blame on your providers if you feel that your care has not been adequate. It is understandable that you would feel angry. However, blame causes anger. Anger impairs your ability to cope. So focusing on blame does nothing to help you. It will not take your pain away. You may use a redirecting technique to reduce thoughts of blame. When you find that you are thinking about who is to blame, rehashing what they did, and why you have the right to be angry, simply notice that you are having the thoughts and turn your attention elsewhere.
It is unfair that you are living with pain. No one deserves a life of pain. A sense of injustice is a common trigger for anger. Anger management programs often focus on helping the individual to come to terms with the idea that life is often unfair. Being angry about that fact only makes matters worse. Challenging your own beliefs about fairness may help you to deal with this anger trigger.
Anger is a complex emotional and psychological experience. I hope that today's blog will help you to evaluate whether anger might be making your pain problem worse and get you started on the road to less anger and more effective pain management.
About the Author. Dr. Linda Ruehlman is a social/health psychologist and researcher, co-founder of Goalistics, and director of the Chronic Pain Management Program, an interactive site that helps people with chronic pain to manage their pain and live richer, more effective lives as well as Think Clearly about Depression, a self-management program for depression.
DISCLAIMER: This blog is provided as an educational and informational resource only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional psychological or medical advice.