Have you ever noticed how some people are able to tolerate a great deal of discomfort and pain, while others yelp or yell or complain about the slightest little things (or at least that’s how it seems to you)? Discomfort is a term that covers a wide range of emotional and physical responses, from the mild discomfort of confusion all the way to physical pain. Levels of tolerance for discomfort are individual and subjective experiences, and what we consider uncomfortable seems to be more about us–our reactions to things–than to the reality of the things themselves.
Most of my life, I considered myself to have a low tolerance for pain and discomfort, because my mother used to tell me I was a big baby. That I cried and complained too much. In context with my five brothers (I’m the only girl), it must have seemed that way to her. But over the years, the feedback I’ve gotten from doctors and others is that I have a fairly high pain tolerance. And I’ve noticed that I don’t tend to get ruffled by the small stuff (it feels small to me, anyway). I wonder, then what’s low and what’s high? And why do we all have so many different reactions to discomfort?
Searching the Internet, I’ve discovered that studies don’t shed any light on the subject. Some studies say that pain tolerance is gender-based, with some contending that women have a higher pain tolerance than men and others concluding the opposite. Some say it’s age-related. Others say it’s all up to genetics. I read one headline stating that laughter increases pain tolerance, and another saying that swearing relieves pain (now you have an excuse for all those expletives when you knock your shin against something).
This week’s journaling prompts are designed to help you explore your attitudes and beliefs about discomfort and pain.
- Do you consider yourself to have a high tolerance for discomfort and pain? Why or why not? And when did you first begin to categorize your way of dealing with it?
- When you think of “discomfort,” what kinds of things–physical, situational, or emotional–do you think of? What about “pain”? Where do you draw the line between the two?
- When you were young, was it important to you to “be brave,” and hide your discomfort? Write about the ways in which this was or was not true for you, and who influenced your attitudes.
- Are you experiencing any discomfort or pain in your life right now? If so, write about its physical sensations (even with emotional discomfort, you will have physical reactions). If not, try to remember the last time you experienced discomfort and write about its physical sensations. What do you notice about the experience of writing on this topic?
- In your opinion, what kinds of people have high tolerances for discomfort and what kinds of people have low? Can you picture them in your mind? Write a brief (2-3 paragraph) description of each kind of person. When did you begin to believe in these characterizations? What or who influenced you?
- When you are in minor pain or discomfort, how do you usually deal with it? Do you talk to friends? Seek counseling? Head for the bottle of pain killers? Do you resist pain killers? Freewrite for ten minutes about how you deal with minor discomfort.
- Create a discomfort scale. On a piece of paper, draw a horizontal line. On the left side of the line, write down the mildest form of emotional discomfort you can imagine. On the right side of the line, write down the most severe form you can imagine. Fill in the scale with at least five other forms, from least to worst (left to right). When you’re done, write what you notice about your scale. Repeat this exercise for physical discomfort.
I invite you to share with other readers by leaving a comment. Have you ever thought about your attitudes regarding discomfort before? Yes or no, what was revealed to you about yourself by writing on this topic?