Attention vs Distraction to Pain​

As humans, it is natural for us to want to avoid uncomfortable things and try and control things we do not enjoy. When it comes to pain, the most natural thing to do, and often the most common advice people are given, is to distract themselves from the pain with physical and/or mental distractions.

There is some evidence this strategy does work for reducing pain in the short term. However, there is an equal amount of evidence demonstrating that it worsens pain in the long term.

The biggest challenge for anyone is to realize that instead of distracting ourselves, avoiding pain, controlling pain, and demonizing pain, that by attending to pain, there is more to gain than to lose.

This is normal, but by staying with it, paying ATTENTION rather than trying to be DISTRACTED, and using your OPEN and AWARE skills, you will start to learn more about other important things in the area that is painful.

The result of using these skills is learning details and nuances about your pain that reveals hidden pieces of information about your body, your thoughts, and your emotions. These details would have been impossible to see without continual focus and attention to your pain, and with absolutely no effort to change or control it any way. What we resist, persists. 

As you OPEN UP and GAIN AWARENESS by intentionally paying attention to feeling your pain, you will start to experience clarification of the borders of where you are experiencing pain.

Often when you first begin using your attention, you may experience your pain in a relatively broad area, sometimes even your entire body. As you keep your attention on the pain, you may notice the area gradually shrink in size and become more localized. There will always be an area where it is more defined and most intense. Don’t be surprised when the area of pain shifts or moves, even moving to the other side of the body, while you pay attention. This is a normal pain behavior!

Now a VERY important warning! Sometimes pain will go away with directed attention. Do not fall into the trap of using attention as a way of “getting rid of pain” or trying to control your pain. The entire purpose of ATTENTION to pain is only to clarify the experience and other sensations, thoughts, and emotions that are present in the area of pain.

In the long term, only things that are clarified can change. Being unclear of what you are experiencing is one of the biggest barriers to long term work with pain.

Picture of Leonard Van Gelder
Leonard Van Gelder

President, Founder

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