The Hunt for the Impossible - Chronic Pain Personality Traits

The Hunt for the Impossible – Chronic Pain Personality Traits

chronic pain

I’ll tell you the typical patient that comes into my surgery.

She’s 30-60 years old, intelligent, high achieving and has often spent a lifetime helping and serving others.

This is one of the chronic pain personality traits I’ve noticed in my clinic. This has also been observed in large studies of people with chronic pain.

Many chronic pain patients are high achievers – slightly driven. Perfectionism is a common trait. Often they need to loosen up a bit.

People with chronic pain also tend to be demanding of themselves and can be very giving to others.

This psychological component to chronic pain is well worth looking into. It is the first step in unravelling the knot between physical and emotional pain, and finding your way back into a pain free life.

Chronic Pain Personality Traits: Perfectionism

Let’s examine perfectionism. This is an admirable trait if kept under control. If not, it can become one of those chronic pain personality traits which drives and prolongs pain.

In my experience, perfectionistic people are utterly trustworthy. They’re the kind of people who you would love to have working for you as they always do their job 120%.

Except the problem is: what is happening inside the person’s head while they’re busy doing a job better than anyone else?

In my experience, when you go back to childhood, that person was praised by someone in authority – usually a parent or teacher – for doing a job really well. They felt really good about themselves.

The next part is the key.

They then put the two together – like this:

doing a good job = being a good person.

On the flip side, if you don’t do a good job – then you’re a bad person.

This became a powerful pattern in their life. All the time up until the present, this person has a small voice inside them, urging them to do the best job possible – or they are no longer ‘a good person.’

How does this feed chronic pain?

For a perfectionist, there is a continual feeling of not being good enough. (After all, perfection is an impossible goal.) They continually push themselves and won’t rest until they achieve their incredibly high standard.

And little by little, over time, the added stress takes a toll on their system, pushing them closer to the cliff edge that is chronic pain. If someone who is a perfectionist already has chronic pain they won’t cut themselves some slack and take the proverbial ‘easy’ route – because doing this goes against the very fibre of their being.

They continue driving themselves and ignoring important symptoms because they want to get the job done (perfectly). What they don’t know is that they are teetering on the edge of a cliff and pushing themselves further down the chronic pain spiral.

The fundamental principle is this: perfectionists are often concerned about what others think. They believe others are judging them by a harsh standard. And in turn, they apply an even harsher standard to judge themselves. This is why it’s one of the key chronic pain personality traits.

The First Step…

If you recognise perfectionism in yourself, the key to breaking the cycle is first:

Recognize what is happening. This is a HUGE step and often half the battle

Experiment. Experimenting means letting go – just a little – of your firmly held convictions and the hunt for perfection.

See what happens if you stop half way through a task, rest, and continue it later. What happens if you are a little late to work? Experiment with stretching your rules – just a little – and observe that the world does not come crashing down around you.

Perfectionism can be one of those a chronic pain personality traits which flies under the radar. It can be a huge driver of chronic pain because the relentless pressure you put on yourself gives you no respite. The drive to do a job perfectly causes you to keep pushing yourself – even when you’d be better off pacing and going slowly through your tasks.

Any thoughts or comments? I’d love to here them in the comments section below!

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(8) comments

Raymond July 4, 2016

Great.unreal.made me think alot

Sandra July 17, 2016

it’s more effective to strive for excellence versus perfection. Your level of excellence can be refined and honed to ever higher degrees that reflect mastery and skills but tamp down the stress of perfection.

Debbie August 22, 2016

I read your article with interest as I am a long time perfectionist. What I find an interesting side effect of perfectionism is procrastination – you can’t do it perfectly so you never start. So all those little steps you can take to help relieve your pain you end up not doing because you can’t do all of them perfectly – or you don’t get the same result each time so you must be doing something wrong, so you stop doing it all together. I find this the hardest part to address.. when ‘cutting yourself a bit of slack and not being so hard on yourself’ becomes ‘cutting yourself so much slack you are almost comatose!’. Any suggestions for a recovering perfectionist who has well and truly fallen off the wagon?

    Naomi Kuttner February 28, 2017

    One strategy is to treat your actions like an experiment. So – you’re just observing what happens. No matter what the result, you’re going to learn. You’ll either learn what works for you – or what doesn’t, and both are valuable.
    This helps remove the pressure of trying to get it perfect first time, and frees you up to take imperfect (but timely) action.

Deryl Horne May 29, 2017

While I agree with this argument I feel that there is a blurred line between perfectionism and obsession. I would more accurately describe myself as obsessive. I fractured my pubic rami 16 months ago and my obsessive nature drove me to train in my gym EVERY day to get fit again. I am physically able to run 100 miles a week again as before but afterwards I get a neuropathic type of pain which I can make considerably worse by worrying about it. If I am distracted, it goes. I am obsessed with fitness and in many ways this is my number one enemy. What a paradox. I am a 66 year old woman

Kathy August 21, 2017

Would like to know how to get rid of shingles pain,still after 4 months,Thanks.

Ingrid September 4, 2017

I was born to a mother who did not want me and a father who tried to please her. Instead of perfection = I’m a good person, for me if I did not do everything perfect, I would be killed – literally. My mother was prone to rage attacks and loved wrestling and boxing. So she practiced what she saw on me. She called it discipline. She also threatened death when circumstances would not allow beatings.

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