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A lot of patients think I’m nuts when I say pain is a gift

May 31, 2009
By MATTHEW GOODEMOTE, For The Leader-Herald

I would like to spend this week going a little deeper into the topic of pain.

Today I want to discuss how pain offers a gift if you are willing to look for it. I would also like to include emotional pain in the discussion.

I have a lot of patients who have looked at me as if I were nuts when I suggest that pain is a gift, but I mean it and I think it is time to give some examples that might help modify your perspective.

I have come to see how pain is what motivated me to find peace. Pain comes in different forms, of course, but whether it is physical pain or emotional pain, the search for relief is what compels us to act.

Unfortunately, pain can distort our perspective so that the gift it's offering is overlooked or missed completely.

Steven Covey wrote a classic business book called "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People."

He tells a story about perspective that I think is well worth the time, so here is my version of what he said.

Steven was on the subway riding to a meeting. In the subway car with Steven were a man and his two young boys.

The boys were wild. They were terrorizing the entire car and as Steven watched he got angrier and angrier.

In his head he told himself all kinds of stories about what a horrible father this man was.

"He wasn't even paying attention to his kids. They could hurt one another or someone on the train and the father didn't even care." Steven imagined that father was just one of those people who don't really care about their kids. "The kind of father who wasn't involved and certainly wasn't trying to raise "good" kids like he was "supposed to."

Stop for a minute and remember a similar situation you have experienced where you saw an adult taking care of kids in a way that you just knew was wrong.

We all can find an example about how our family members raise their kids wrong, or how our in-laws do something we don't like.

Or at least we can all recall the stressed-out parent at the grocery store who just couldn't seem to get the kids to calm down.

Well, Steven had had enough. He marched over to the father and let him have it.

He told the father what a horrible parent he was and how he should take better care of his kids and he should etc.

The father looked up, kind of dazed and confused, and said, "I'm sorry. I just left the hospital where I found out that my wife just died. To be honest, I am not sure what to do about anything right now."

Steven was stunned and instantly his perspective changed.

He discovered the truth, which is that we don't know what is happening in someone else's life. Even when we think we know someone, we can't really know what others are experiencing.

Steven's emotional pain (the frustration he felt from being around kids out of control) led him to act.

Unfortunately, his actions were distorted at first. The dramatic situation shook off the cobwebs and his relief came in an instant.

He realized that his pain was more a problem with his perspective than a problem with the father.

Perspective shifting is what leads to peace. When you are in pain, whether it is emotional or physical, pain is holding a gift. Be open to find it and you may be surprised at what you find. You may just find that all is well, even when it's not.

I was speaking to a patient last week with serious back injuries. He was working at a job where he had no passion, merely a paycheck.

He was injured on the job and has been struggling financially, physically, mentally and emotionally.

His whole world is coming down all around him. His life has slowed to a halt and he is "going crazy."

I suggested to him that this was a gift.

He could not work overtime and miss time with his family.

In fact, he was around his kids all the time.

His injury allowed him the time to spend with his kids that he wouldn't have had without the injury.

He confessed that it was great spending time with his kids and watching them grow.

I then told him that the physical pain was another opportunity for him to be a man of character. He had the opportunity to teach his children that even when times are tough, they are still OK. They are still together.

They get to spend time together.

They get to experience what matters most, each other. hen I said that this was a call to rise up and be the man he wanted to be, a leader in his house.

He got the great gift of having his whole existence fall apart so he could find his life again and get back on track.

He now had the opportunity to be the man he had promised himself to be.

He got stopped so he could stop talking the talk and start walking the walk!

Often we crave a slower life, one where we get to spend quality time with our kids or with loved ones.

But when we actually have that time, pain often distorts our perspective and we see things as not working out.

Sure, they are not exactly how we planned them to be, but they are what we wantedan opportunity to live the life we dreamed of.

A few weeks ago, patient was talking to me about an argument she was having with a loved one.

She was mad because she had asked for him to support her with something very important to her. She had a lot of emotional pain about this situation.

After months of complaining to him about how he never helped in a time of need he came to help.

Now she was so mad that it had taken months for him to help.

I was stunned. Here he is doing exactly what she asked him to do for months and now she is mad at getting exactly what she wanted. Does this sound familiar?

So, I said, "He is giving you exactly what you asked him to give you and you are rejecting it."

She said, "Yeah but it took him months."

I said, "So what, I see it as it only took him months."

We have this expectation of others that they will fulfill our wishes and when they don't, it is because there is something wrong with them.

This is the source of the pain. Maybe our perspective needs some modifications.

For some people, getting the courage to act outside of our comfort zone takes time. For me, it literally took years.

My wife wanted me to help her when she was sad early in our marriage.

So I did what helped me the most. I left her alone. For me, when I get stressed the best thing to do is go off on my own and get some perspective.

As it turns out, this was not a very helpful practice for my wife.

She wanted me to comfort her, listen to her and be with her. My technique created a lot of pain for her, which in turn created a lot of pain for me.

Then one day by pure grace I decided to stop and just stay peaceful inside and despite what I thought was helpful, I stayed open to what she wanted from me.

A miracle happened, the pain subsided and I found the gift of staying peaceful.

This single event has carried over into all areas of my life. Emotional pain was a gift because it was the catalyst to compel me to find relief.

So often we talk about what matters most in our life and even pray for it, but when it comes, we reject it. We push it aside. I have learned that all this does is keep the cycle going and cause more pain.

Pain is a gift because it stops us.

Two minutes ago, I was talking to my daughter about stresses she has at school with her friends.

I said that when she feels bad, it is her body's way of stopping her so she can find herself again. When she worries about what others think of her, she feels bad.

When she stays true to herself she is, she feels good.

I asked her what I am asking you, "Do you like feeling good or bad?"

If you prefer feeling good physically and emotionally, then find the gift the pain is offering you.

Stop for a minute and consider what matters most in your life, or what you want most in your life.

Then start from there. Follow what is true inside and see where it takes you.

If you genuinely want peace, then start by finding peace, even for a minute out of an entire day. For me, it started with morning and evening prayer rituals.

The peace became easier to find and pain reminded me of how important it was to get relief again.

When we stop it, becomes easy to see that pain is merely an alarm clock reminding us to stop and find out what matters most in our life.

I have seen so many times that when our perspective is focused on pain, we see distortions and end up missing the relief that is available. I have also seen that when the focus is on peace, there is an incredible grace that finds us and redirects our life back on track.

The gift is there, and even though it sometimes takes years to find it, it is always worth it.

Matthew Goodemote, a Gloversville native, owns Community Physical Therapy & Wellness. His Health & Wellness column will answer your questions and discuss topics that are relevant to your everyday way of life. If you would like to ask a question, e-mail Matthew at



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