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Internalizing Chronic Pain

Listening to brain activity? Recently I returned to physical therapy because the whiplash from my car accident has gotten to an unbearable level.  Part of my program involved a massage where the therapist works on the areas that are causing pain.  I had an interesting interaction the other day.  The therapist was working on the nerves in my neck and it hurt like he!!.  As he was working he finally said, “I am trying so hard to read your body, but you do not give ANY indication of pain whatsoever.”  I was confused.  He said that most people, when they are in pain, at the very least have a quickening of breath, curling of toes, involuntary movements of some sort.  He said he could feel based on the muscles that I had to be in a lot of pain because he could feel the muscle spasms, but I gave no sign whatsoever that I was in pain.

I laughed.  From a therapy standpoint, that is sociopathic behavior, and I told him so.  He laughed, but was perplexed and concerned.  “Do you have a high threshold for pain?” he asked.

“Given everything I have gone through, I think I have a higher than average threshold for pain,” I told him.  I have had my spine cut apart and screwed together like a puzzle.

“Everest isn’t for everyone,” he told me.  “But I would love to know where you are internalizing the pain.”

He spiked my curiosity and this post- where do we internalize our pain?  I came to a few conclusions:

1-     I have become good at hiding my pain over the 2+ years because if I said “Ouch” or walked the way I want to walk, hunched over and grimacing in pain, or even if I talked about my pain as much as I feel it, I would have no friends and no one that would want to be near me.

2-     I have gone through procedures and tests that require me to stay still when having needles jabbed into me, so I have learned to stay still despite high levels of pain.

3-     I internalize my pain through my moods.  My chronic pain has absolutely caused a LOT of emotional issues, such as depression, anger, irritability, hopelessness.

I believe that long-term chronic pain hurts more than just our bodies, it hurts our emotions.  The side effect of living with pain and trying to look and act “normal” is that all the pain in my back and neck gets shoved into my head.  I think about it, worry about it.  It comes out as irritability, depression, hopelessness.  It comes out in my quiet time when I try to watch TV and rather think of how I will make money without being able to sit at a desk, or when I cry in bed because the pain changed me so much that I feel it makes me responsible for destroying my marriage.  It comes out in IRRATIONAL ways because I know that some of the thoughts I have about my pain, my future, my anxiety are NOT true, but the pain has worked its way into my psyche and caused a shift.

Living with pain often means internalizing it just to be able to fit into society.  Think about how you are physically feeling at this moment.  What if you were to verbalize that and show it through your words and actions?  Do you?  I would love to hear from my readers because I have a hunch most of us internalize pain…

Photo courtesy of Daniele Oberti via Compfight

Internalizing Chronic Pain

Tracy Rydzy MSW, LSW

My name is Tracy and I am a licensed social worker. I was working as a Social Worker, when an emergency spinal surgery 2 years ago changed my life and my career. I live with chronic pain and, as a result, I have taken my social work and writing skills, and made them into this blog. This blog is a humorous, informative, no-holds barred honest look at life with chronic pain, depression and disability.”

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APA Reference
Rydzy MSW, T. (2013). Internalizing Chronic Pain. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 2, 2020, from


Last updated: 26 Nov 2013
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