Do you pretend you’re fine despite feeling pain and a list of other symptoms?
Do you say things to others like, “I’m fine, I can do it myself. I’m ok.” How about saying things to yourself like, “Just keep smiling. Don’t be a burden. Don’t show your suffering. They won’t like you if they knew.”
If so, you’re not alone. In fact, 20% of the population is living with strong chronic pain and the majority of them are women. They’re all trying to fulfill the many roles they play in their lives just like you… wife, mother, sister, daughter, friend, neighbor, daughter, employee, business owner, and more.
I’ve seen it over and over and I have a solution. Here’s my 3-step strategy for removing the mask of chronic pain and shift from feeling hidden to whole.
Why is this happening, you ask?
When you think about it it’s cultural. Our society places pressure on women to “do it all.” Many girls have also grown up watching the women around them “power through” (you know…be seen and not heard, be pretty, don’t complain). All of this results in women unconsciously placing unattainable expectations on themselves.
Other reasons women naturally conceal aspects of their health conditions are to avoid stigma or feeling like a burden to others. I see a lot of women hiding what’s going on out of fear of shame or judgment. Who wants to be thought of as weak, imperfect, or broken? And so, women with chronic pain wake up every morning and put on their mask. On the outside, they appear fine. They’re smiling and going through the motions of daily life, but on the inside, they feel isolated, weary, and like they’re on a hamster wheel.
And the biggest reason women wear masks to hide their pain…
After working with dozens and dozens of women to change their relationship to pain so that they can start healing instead of hurting, I’ve learned that the biggest reason they wear masks is to hide from the truth themselves. They wear their masks and as long as they can list off what they’ve accomplished at the end of the day, they continue believing the lie that they’re fine.
But is it really helping? Let’s take a good look at the pros and cons here.
When I ask my clients what they really want and we do the work to peel back the layers it becomes clear that they want to feel more joy and connection. They want to have more energy to participate in their lives. They want to be present.
Here’s what you need to know…
Your Brain Changes with Chronic Pain
Women in chronic pain get so good at hiding their symptoms that they start to lose the ability to discern what’s going on themselves. It’s a fact that pain changes your brain. With all of those pathways devoted to managing pain the ability to tune into other parts of the body become dulled. I’ve worked with several clients that have developed coping strategies of completely blocking the pain unless it’s severe. They say they’re “fine,” but I can tell by the sweat on their skin, the grip in their fist, and visible tightness around the shoulders and jaw. Once I bring their attention to it then they can tell that they’re actually in a lot of pain.
Wearing a Mask Is A Coping Pattern, But It Actually Keeps Pain Persistent.
Even though it seems counterintuitive, you need the ability to notice and interpret sensations in your body correctly. The Mindful Pain Relief Method does just that! It’s designed to help retrain the brain to turn down the pain. Without tools to help you notice accurately what’s going on it is difficult to stop the vicious chronic pain cycle.
Long Term, It’s A Recipe for Suffering.
Let’s get right to the point. The immediate benefit of wearing these masks is that you suppress the discomfort to better match what’s expected of you in your environment. The downside is that you create a separation between yourself and those you love. You can’t carry on hiding what you’re really feeling and expect to feel deeply connected at the same time. The habit of wearing the masks keeps most women from having the experience they most deeply desire and that’s a recipe for suffering.
…You are whole and complete RIGHT NOW. JUST AS YOU ARE. (yes, the caps are necessary)
You are worthy of being fully seen as you are. You deserve your own unconditional love regardless of any challenge you’re facing. Your family and friends want to support you through this and also love you unconditionally. By hiding behind the masks, you deprive yourself of feeling joyful and connected and keep everyone else in your life at a distance.
Step 1: Mindful Awareness
Being aware of your personal story, what your masks are, and when you tend to use them is the first step to changing these patterns once and for all.
Write these out.
1. What are the masks you put on? The masks are the scripts or stories you tell yourself and those around you.
2. Where did you learn to do that? Other women in your family line? Childhood tv shows? Remember that girls are culturally trained to be pretty, quiet, helpful, kind, and obedient. You’ve got to “unlearn” all that b.s.
3. How long have you been wearing these masks to feel safe? Since childhood? Since your teens? Early adulthood? Masks are coping strategies that you chose when they were the best tools you had at the time. Now you’re smarter and able to upgrade those coping habits with positive ones!
Being mindful means that you notice what’s going on clearly physically and emotionally without reacting or judging it as good or bad or right or wrong. It just is.
Step 2: Self-Regulation
Self-regulation means that you can notice when you’re triggered to put on a mask. It means that you can PAUSE. You don’t run on auto-pilot and you have a few options prepared for how to respond instead. If the goal is to feel more connected and joyful then your aim is to shift from whatever you are feeling in the moment (vulnerable, isolated, pressured, etc) toward connected and joyful.
Keep it simple and strategic. What’s one thing you can do in the moment to acknowledge what’s arising with gentleness and kindness? How can you be with what’s happening with love?
Some suggestions for self-regulation are to:
- pause long enough to take 3 slow breaths
- Feel both feet firmly planted on the floor
- Place your palm on your cheek and notice the warmth from your hand on your skin
- Say something kind and friendly inside. “This is a mask. It’s ok. You are safe,” for example.
Choose a comfortable option that allows you to take a baby step in practicing self-love. This will shift your nervous system and unwind the pattern of pain.
Step 3: Wise Action
The ultimate goal is that you have the tools to feel safe taking the masks on and off. Experiment with the situations that feel most simple to experiment with (i.e. around certain people and with certain triggers). As you gain experience and confidence being authentic in easier situations, you will feel up for trying to leave your mask off in other situations.
Putting these steps together means that you become aware of the desire to put on a mask and what’s really going on inside you, then you pause, next you do something compassionate, lastly, you practice leaving the mask off and being authentic in the moment.
To take wise action, ask yourself “What do I need in this moment?” Is the answer quiet, support, someone to listen, permission to rest, someone to take over this task? Remember that whatever is arising is ok. You are ok just as you are. You are enough. You don’t need to do more to “earn” any more love or acceptance. The more you trust to practice that and believe in that, the more you will see the evidence of it in your life.
Then ask, “What is the most simple and authentic thing I can say or do in this moment to get that?”
Examples of things to say for Wise Action are:
- “Yes, I could use some help. Thank you. Here’s what I need you to do….”
- “I’m ok right now, but I want you to ask again in 5 minutes…”
- “Actually I am really tired today. Thanks for noticing and asking.”
- “I’m going to rest for 15 minutes. I need you to take over.”
In addition to what you might say when you take Wise Action, it’s also about what you don’t say. Most women tend to feel the need to candy-coat the ending. They fear upsetting someone else so much that they say things like, “but I’ll be fine. I’ll be ok tomorrow. It’s nothing.” They also feel the need to give a reason or explain why they ask for support. Notice if you tend to add “because” and other stories to the end here. If so, practice the pause. Say what you need and stop! Don’t make assumptions about what the other person is feeling.
Here are some real examples from clients and what we did to help them heal:
:: Josie found it very difficult to describe her symptoms in detail which made it hard for her to get a proper diagnosis. It actually took years for her get a correct diagnosis and treatment. In our work together, her struggle to find adjectives to describe her symptoms showed me how much her brain had changed as a result of chronic pain. She learned which mindfulness tools help her learn to connect accurately with her body and now she can prevent bad flares because she knows how to take action at the first signs.
:: Elaine complained of being angry with her husband that doesn’t understand how hard things are for her. Yet, when he asks what he can do to help she doesn’t know how to answer…and then resents herself and her husband for it. They feel farther apart than ever even though they love each other so much. After learning some mindfulness skills, she’s able to give him an answer that feels safe and deepen their connection without feeling the tension.
:: Lisa, a young working mom, tried to do “all the things” to keep her kids happy, the house running, and everything is taken care of. Meanwhile, her health declined further and further. She ignored it until she couldn’t any longer. She red-lined and broke down and was forced to get help. After learning mindfulness skills, she can communicate her needs, delegate to (aka empower) her kids and family, and no longer feels like she’s all alone. Nothing in her life changed except her perspective and the tools she uses to navigate the challenges. She’s rockin’ it instead of red-lining these days…
Do you see yourself in any of these examples? If so, steal this strategy to turn things around today.
Self-healing doesn’t have to be hard, but it does mean you need to learn new skills.
Step Into Your Power
What I’ve learned after guiding women to reclaim their lives for over a decade is that when you put this process into action you step into your power. You shift from feeling vulnerable and unable to strong and confident. You are no longer the victim of your health condition. When you own what’s going on you step out of struggle. The focus becomes less on hiding and more on acknowledging what is and taking action to respond to those needs intelligently.
The icing on the cake is that you free your family and friends from the burden of trying to decipher what’s really going on instead of trusting that you will just ask for what you need. You can heal the generational influence of chronic health conditions on your kids and even your grandkids. The benefits of applying this mindful approach to your life are priceless.
Let me walk you through these steps!
Each week I lead a Facebook Live mini-training simplifying holistic pain relief. Watch these two videos for an even deeper dive into these three steps with lots of examples and a glimpse into my personal pain challenge.
Share Your Feedback
I hope you gained some insights into your coping patterns using masks and some real practical ideas for what to do instead. I’d love to hear from you. Does this resonate? Are you going to try these three steps? Let me know what you think in the comments below!
So if you loved this guide then join me for the last online workshop of the year. I’m going to teach you a simple and strategic way to plan now so that you have the best holidays possible. That means you can prevent a pain flare, feeling stressed, and those tense moments with family and friends. You won’t want to miss this!