A Week’s Worth of Journaling Prompts: Discomfort 9

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.

  1. 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?
  2. 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?
  3. 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.
  4. 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?
  5. 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?
  6. 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.
  7. 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?


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9 thoughts on “A Week’s Worth of Journaling Prompts: Discomfort

  • Samantha M. White

    I have a low threshold for discomfort of both the emotional and physical kinds, so I needed to find ways to cope with them. Emotional pain is now the easiest to deal with, for me – journaling, talking about it with someone who can help me get a different slant on what is hurting me, and allowing time (sometimes lots of it!) for the shift to occur. I learned that in dealing with the death of my daughter; once that happens, everything else is easier by comparison. But physical pain, of which I’ve had more than most (ten major surgeries so far, and chronic pain from fibromyalgia and arthritis) has also posed a challenge. I’ve tried everything, and what has helped me most, hands down, is insight meditation. It’s a Buddhist practice with two parts – the first, clearing the mind of “noise” (“I hate this!” “Why isn’t the medication working?”), and the second, just observing the pain, with neutrality. I was taught how to do this by a Buddhist teacher, and it has served me very well, especially through my second hip replacement, since I couldn’t tolerate narcotic pain medication. Even though I dislike pain as much as anyone, I must admit it has forced me to learn how to search for and identify new modes of dealing with discomfort that have enriched my life. I believe discomfort can force us to grow, if we let it.

    • Amber Lea Starfire

      Wow, Samantha … I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with so much pain (of both kinds) in your life. Yet I can “hear” the wisdom you’ve gained as a result of your efforts to learn ways to deal with and heal from the injuries, whether emotional or physical. Your last line is so true … that discomfort can force us to grow, and that we must allow it in order for that growth to take place. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

  • Sharon Lippincott

    This topic snaps something into focus. I have a dear friend who tends to interpret the behavior of others as “hurtful.” She occasionally sees this hurtfulness as being deliberate. I don’t tell her I think she’s nuts and she should consider the source and the context. I can’t say I’m never hurt, but the precipitating causes are quite different from hers, and I’d say I’m much less aware of that sort of pain. Perhaps my perspective is a great shield for deflecting it. Our outlook on life is quite different.

    I am also slow to perceive physical pain. I truly am not aware when I’m overstretching and thus prone to minor injuries. Perhaps genetics are involved. My father was in and out of the hospital in 22 hours and never took a single painkiller after his appendectomy at the age of 88.

    • Amber Lea Starfire

      Sharon, it’s interesting to consider the correlation (if there is one) between getting hurt easily emotionally and physically. Are they different, or one and the same? Does your friend also complain of physical aches and pains a lot? Or is her predisposition to feeling hurt by others’ behaviors a separate issue?

  • Kate Farrell

    I applaud your choice of topic for a prompt this week since it is one I often consider and a common life experience for us all.

    My life began in extreme pain, a severe neck injury in infancy that no one has ever fully explained, a skeleton in my family closet for decades. The extent of my injury only surfaced in my 40s and 50s with symptoms that eventually led to x-rays and surgery. Though this early injury continues to affect my overall health, I also believe that it gifted me with immense tolerance for pain, a way my infant body coped with abuse and neglect.

    In my case, I link high tolerance for pain to: resilience, will to live, a primal instinct. I find this capacity to be both a benefit and a liability. Pain serves a purpose, both physically and emotionally, raises a red flag, gets our attention. Too much pain tolerance means lack of information. I’ve endured what most would not accept.

    Without painful red flags to keep me in balance, I’ve learned to rely on self reflection, long term journaling, advice of friends and professionals, dream journaling and interpretation, medical advice and prevention practice, sensitivity to minor symptoms.

    It is good to journal about pain, perhaps a healing replacement for the actual sensation!

    • Amber Lea Starfire

      Kate, you raise an interesting point: if we become overly tolerant or insensitive to pain messages, we may not act in ways that serve our best interests. How awful that you’ve had to deal with such pain, yet how wonderful that you’ve developed ways to learn to listen more closely to yourself and others in the process.

    • Samantha M. White

      My seventh grade teacher asked the class, “Which of the five senses is the most valuable?” Most of the kids immediately shouted, “Sight!,” thinking that blindness would be the worst thing. The teacher said, “No,” as we guessed on to hearing (“No,” he said again as we guessed.) until we were stumped. “Touch,” he said. We were incredulous. Why touch? “Because without touch,” he said, “we would feel no pain, and we could be at serious risk for death and not know it.” Poor Kate, you had to tune out your pain as a child, and then learn to access it again as an adult. Congratulations, you have been braver than most, and now you can protect yourself by acknowledging your pain and treating it with the kind of attention it needs from you.

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