Footstep 2

Acceptance

Accepting persistent pain as part of your everyday life is a huge help. Rather than struggling to avoid or reduce your pain, you can learn to observe, understand and accept it.

This is not easy – it can be hard to accept that you are not the person you were. However, as you accept things have changed, you can switch your energy and focus to living well.

Here are some things you can do to help with acceptance...

“It is hard to accept that pain will not shrink away from your life. Acceptance means being willing to take steps to move forward, despite the pain. It is about shifting your attention from what you can’t change – the pain – to what you can change in your life.”

Why is acceptance important in managing persistent pain?

Often, waiting for health care teams or specialists to explain and fix your pain can lead to feeling frustrated and stressed. Many people with pain are stuck in this turmoil. It’s normal, because our human brains tend to focus on trying to fix a problem rather than looking for helpful ways to live with it. Many people have found, by trial and error, that the way forward is to be more accepting of their pain.

This is not easy and it is certainly not about giving in or resigning yourself to pain. It can be hard to accept you are not the person you were and that your life is different now. However if you can accept that things have changed, then it's easier to switch your focus and energy towards living well. Your day to day life will then be led by your plans and ideas of what is possible, not by the pain.

You can experiment and learn all the time and use action plans and goals to keep on track. This is self management. The other footsteps in this guide will help you learn the skills that you need, including how to pace yourself, how to set yourself goals and manage your moods.

Donna’s story

Donna found that acceptance didn’t happen overnight. It was something she learnt to do over time:

“You don’t just suddenly wake up and go: ‘I’ve accepted my pain’. It’s a long journey you’re on and the road is twisty and you can come off it now and then. It was a gradual thing – I can’t tell you the day I accepted I would always have persistent pain, but I knew I’d got there when I was no longer battling with my body.”

Learning the skills of acceptance

Acceptance is not the same as ‘giving up’ or ‘putting your head in the sand’. It is an ongoing journey of change in which people with chronic pain recognise that their real-life situation is difficult. It may not be what they would have chosen, but they can begin to look at themselves, their own thoughts and feelings, and the future in a different, more helpful way.

To help you explore this further, and learn some skills to help you on your journey towards acceptance, here are some activities you can do...

Three activities for your journey to acceptance

1. Focus on what you can change

Changing your outlook on yourself and your future can be hard work and takes both time and being ‘willing to let go’.

Many people with pain have been on long journeys to try and answer the ‘why pain’ question. They have spent a lot of time seeking an explanation and solution for their pain. Sadly it is impossible for persistent pain to be cured or fixed. We now understand a lot more about pain, the brain and pain nerve networks. We know that to remove persistent pain permanently is an impossible task. In fact often people find that when they focus on trying to solve their pain, their pain systems actually become more sensitive.

So instead, try to focus on the things you can change. Consider:

  • slowly adjusting how you do things
  • accepting and adapting to being a different person
  • thinking and viewing yourself and life differently
  • patiently and steadily shifting the focus towards what you really want to do each day
  • shifting your attention from the pain to your breathing
  • using some techniques from mindfulness like mindful stretching or meditation
  • finding the best type of support and help

2. Think about opportunities

Having chronic pain may give you an opportunity to look again at what life means to you.

It can be about finding a new and hopeful meaning in your current life situation. Events that may seem negative can also be seen as openings for growth, interest, a different path or new understanding.

Now think about the opportunities that you have had, or could have, since experiencing chronic pain. They can be small things, not just major ones. (If it’s diffcult to do this alone, try talking talk it through with someone else).

Write down five positive changes or new opportunities that have come about since you had chronic pain. Remember that they don’t have to be big things – anything counts.

Writing down these opportunites can help you change your focus from what you have lost, to what is more positive – both now and in the future. Try doing this exercise every few weeks, and you’ll gradually start to see more opportunities and look on your situation with more aceptance.

3. Use mindfulness to regain control

Mindfulness is about the kind of awareness that you bring to a situation. It means being in control of what you pay attention to, and for how long. It can be a helpful way of managing distress and many people have learnt to manage their pain more successfully using it.

The aim is to be in a ‘state of mind’ that is more helpful to managing and living with pain. This state of mind helps the brain to process pain in helpful ways, and is soothing and calming.

When you focus on your pain, it can lead to distress and unhelpful negative thinking about yourself and the future. This increases tension within your body and leads to more worrying or anxious thoughts. Finding different ways of directing your awareness – for example by practising relaxed breathing, without becoming distressed – can really help manage pain. In turn, this can change the way that you experience the pain.

Mindfulness aims to balance ‘reasonable’ and ‘emotional’ thinking. It uses a ‘wise mind’ thinking approach to being with yourself as you are in your life, in the here and now.

Find out more about mindfulness and relaxation in Footstep 9.

Resources for you to use

Tame the Beast

Leading neuroscientist Lorimer Moseley and his colleagues have created a a great little animation that explains the journey to acceptance and living well with pain.

Your Journey with Pain

Use this leaflet to help you start on the journey of acceptance and learn where you want to focus your life despite the pain.

Acceptance: key ideas

  • Acceptance is an ongoing journey of change, that takes time
  • People who accept their persistent pain find that it has less impact on their day to day lives
  • Acceptance is not about giving in, but changing your focus towards what you want to do with your life
  • Many people use mindfulness to manage their pain more successfully