Pain Personalities

As a practicing surgeon, I performed appendectomies many, many times.  I noticed that no two patients respond to pain the same way.

However, I have noticed patterns that I call the 5 Pain Personalities ©.

I believe that your pain personality is a temperament trait shaped in childhood.

Part of it has to do with your own innate pain wiring.  However, another part has to do with the way you were taught to interpret the pain signals–physical or emotional or  financial– and respond to them.

If you watch toddlers fall, you might see them look to their parents before they react. The child who hears, “You just went BOOM. You’re okay.” learns to respond much differently that the child who is swooped into the parent’s concerned arms.

While your pain personality is largely unalterable, you can adjust your response to pain so that you take the fastest, most direct route to health. It’s like making adjustments in your tennis serve; if you know your serve pulls to the right, you hit it towards the left.

Here are the pain personalities:

The Strong Stoic: Think strong, sturdy Scandinavian. One such person remembers growing up through the Depression, “You needed to be near death’s door before Mother called the doctor. Sure, money was tight. I think the real reason we didn’t go to the doctor was that illness was a source of shame. Pride was everything.”

The Worried Well: Another group, previously called hypochondriacs (and with new vistas of health information opening on the Internet, they are called cyberchondriacs), we call them the Worried Well. These are intelligent people who hear about a new illness on the news and recognize that they have several of the symptoms—and think maybe they do have this diagnosis! They know just enough to be dangerous. One out of four visits to primary care doctors deals with the latest concerns of the Worried Well.

The Ostrich: The Ostrich hides his head in the sand during times of pain to construct a reality on which everything’s okay.

The Victim: Two qualities define a victim: it’s always someone else’s fault, and there seems to be a reluctance to let go of the pain. They say they want to get better, but their actions tell a different story.

The Ideal : These are the astute observers of their state of health. They know when they’re heading towards trouble and intervene early to solve little problems before they become big problems. Further they make their considered choices from logic instead of fear.

When you know your pain personality–and the personality of family members–you’re in a better position to act in a way that restores health more quickly.

Individual family members can make adjustments so that their actions are more in line with the Ideal. If you know, for example, that you are a Worried Well, you can say to yourself in the next you think death is around the corner, “I’m not going to worry alone.  Before I plan my funeral, let me get a reality check.”

Insights about pain personalities help family members create teamwork rather than conflict. Imagine the nightmares that could arise when an Ostrich married to a Worried Well faces illness.

Know that your loved one may respond to pain much differently than you do.  It does not matter what would happen if you were in their shoes; when a loved one is in pain, perception is reality.  When loved ones tell you they are in pain, believe them!

Replace judgment with compassion; that will make things better!

©2015. Vicki Rackner MD.  All rights reserved.