Last time I told the story of a pinched nerve in my right shoulder. Several minor injuries and stresses over years finally mounted up into this crazy pain and numbness all through my right arm and hand. I was agonized, frightened and confused! Fortunately, I found the right doctor, whose advice was:
Step One, Lessen the Pain
Therapeutic massage, a sling, and lots of Advil and ice packs took the edge off my pain, and within 24 hours I was able to move my arm again.
If I hadn’t gotten the pain under control, I wouldn’t have been able to do the stretching and mobility exercises I needed to do in order to address the underlying problem: traumatized muscles which had clenched down and were now pulling on each other and causing ever greater pain and numbness.
This experience seems a good metaphor for something I see in my students all the time. By the time I meet a new student, I’m confronting a kid who is not only struggling in his schoolwork, but who has built up negative emotions. Chances are he’s immobilized his mind in certain ways as an effort to avoid the pain of further learning experiences.
Step One is to lessen that pain. I do this by being supportive and enthusiastic…by pointing out the student’s strengths so he can regain perspective and feel better about himself…and by focusing, especially the first few tutoring sessions, on material with which he can feel success.
Step One: Lessen the Pain also applies in our personal relationships. How many relationships implode because the partners struggle against each other in exhausting, repetitive, non-productive ways? How often do attempts to communicate result in both people clenching-down on their emotions and positions? Thoughts and feelings become ever more extreme, more defensive, more distorted. After a while the pain is intense, random, crazy!
Often what a troubled relationship needs first is relief from pain and intensity. The treatment I give my new students applies here, too: support, positive messages, the selection of experiences where success will happen.
Once the pain is lessened, then learning and progress can begin.