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Living with Pain: Cultivate Yourself

Living with Pain: Cultivate Yourself

One of the most common challenges of living with chronic pain are the losses that you may experience. Changes in your roles can be especially difficult. Your role as spouse or partner, friend, worker, mom or dad, brother or sister, athlete may be feel different now.  You may no longer be able to work,  you may have shifted to part time status, or you may have to do a different kind of work altogether. Relationships often change and you may even have lost some friendships. Your personal characteristics (e.g., kind, funny, hard-working) may be diminished by pain too. For example, if you have generally been a caring person, pain can't take that away from you. But, it may make it harder for you to care for others, because pain naturally causes people to focus on themselves. If people have often told you that you are funny, you still have the creativity that makes you funny. However, severe pain may dampen that creativity when it makes you tired or dulls your thinking a bit. As a final example, you may have found that you are less reliable than you used to be – because pain is not always predictable.

In a study by Samantha Harris and her colleagues,  participants with chronic pain reported the loss of approximately 4 roles and 7 personal characteristics or traits. These losses are very real and painful. Dealing with loss can trigger anxiety, anger, and/or depression, making coping with pain more difficult. It takes time and hard work to come to grips with such changes. In this blog post, I want to focus on how pain may impact your personal characteristics. How can you find yourself in the midst of chronic pain? How can you  manage pain and still

be yourself?

Select a Characteristic and Cultivate It One Week at a Time

One way to find yourself again is to focus on a single personal characteristic and cultivate it one week at a time. Start by looking at the examples of personal traits below. Use the list as a way to think about what matters most to you about the kind of person you are.

  • Kind
  • Friendly
  • Caring
  • Thoughtful
  • Pleasant
  • Quirky
  • Honest
  • Funny
  • Gentle
  • Hard-working
  • Organized
  • Reliable
  • Open-minded

Select a trait to cultivate – choose one from the list or think of one that is not on the list. Pick something that really matters to you. Next, consider what situations, state of mind, activities, time of day, day of the week, or people help you to cultivate this aspect of yourself? Who triggers your funny side? Who helps you to work harder? What situations help you to recognize your kindness? What time of day are you most likely to be most reliable? Once a week (e.g., every Sunday night) select your “trait for the week“. Make a list of everything that might help you to cultivate that trait for the coming week.  Post your list someplace where you will see it each day. Work on letting that part of yourself grow a little each day. After a week, continue with the same personal characteristic or select a different one. You are still yourself and you can keep growing, even though you have pain.

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.



  1. Marilyn says:

    A great exercise. How about: enthusiastic, well-informed, cheerful, upbeat, creative, good planner, encouraging to others. I think I’ll put one a week on my calendar that pops up every time I open the computer, to remind me. Useful!

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