” Given the choice between the experience of pain and nothing. I would choose pain.”
– William Faulkner
I heard a joke when I was in Elementary School about some kids going to an old, abandoned, and dangerous castle. They had to travel across fields and over the moat, through the dark and winding hallways, down the steep and narrow stairs, to get into the basement dungeon. More searching ensued through darker hallways with doors needing unlocking, until the last and biggest iron door with multiple locks and chains was standing between you and the prize inside. The door opens, and the most horrible, ferocious, kid eating monster lurches towards you. You run. You have to run all the way back through all the doors, down every hallway, up all the stairs, and over the moat to get out into the fields where the monster finally catches up with you. He then says, “Tag you’re it.”
I found this joke entertaining, and I remember retelling it to many patient friends and siblings. The joke came to my mind after I listened to a client explain how her pain seemed to chase her through her life. Once we processed through what her pain was trying to tell her, she exclaimed, “Where have you been the past twenty years!?” (I took this as a statement of relief)
The metaphor of being chased by pain fits many different client narratives. The client will feel their pain get-the-jump on them, from out of nowhere, then the client will retreat or run from it but never seem to get far enough away because the pain finds them again. The pain seems bigger and scarier when it becomes a chase scene which seems inescapable.
I am not going to complete the story by saying that once your pain catches up, it simply wants a game of tag. If that were the case, we would all play with our pain instead of running from it. I believe something more poetic is happening.The chase is about the pain racing to rejoin the other aspects of you that are acceptable.
The pain has been neglected, abandoned, or rejected by our misunderstanding. When we reject part of our story, we have something (a part of us) we believe is not worth sharing. That belief can grow into a fear of being unworthy.
It is a returning to self, not a pursuing of you, occurring. If you turn and see it, listen to it, let it cry or complain, and accept it back into your life story the chase ends and new chapters of your story begin. This is practicing self-compassion.
One Thing to Do: Turn towards your pain through writing. If you have a place to record your hurt, angry, afraid, or desperate feelings, you are giving them importance. They are no longer a discarded part of your past – they can become a valued part of your life story.
Even if you don’t like every part of your story, you can love the person it’s about.
Dawna Daigneault, Ed.S., LPC.