The term 'thought' can be defined in various ways, but for the purpose of this course, we will consider thoughts as the opinions of your conscious mind. This may seem like a simple concept, but the connection between thoughts and other aspects of our lives is profound. One such connection is the relationship between thoughts and pain. Let's delve into the neurological basis of this connection and how our thoughts, beliefs, and expectations can directly influence our experience of pain.
It may seem strange to think of pain as an opinion, but that's precisely what it is—an opinion of your brain. Pain is your brains way of communicating about your safety and making you consciously aware of a need for protection. While the brain's perceptions and processing occur entirely outside of your conscious thought, at the neurological level, these two divisions—the unconscious brain and the conscious mind—are inseparable. In fact, they are constantly connected and sharing information.
Our brain is structured like a vast and intricate network of highways, where everything is interconnected. This complex network allows the opinions of your conscious mind—your thoughts, beliefs, and expectations—to directly influence the opinions of your unconscious brain, including your pain. The two constantly communicate with each other, and your thoughts can have a significant impact on your brain's perception of safety.
Many people unknowingly hold onto what we call 'limiting beliefs' about their pain. A limiting belief is a thought or assumption that serves as a signal of threat or unsafety to your brain. When these beliefs are present, they reinforce the brain's opinion that protection is needed, leading to the experience of pain.
For example, if someone believes that their back pain is a sign of irreparable damage, this thought can serve as a limiting belief. The brain perceives this belief as a threat, which in turn amplifies the pain experienced. By holding onto these limiting beliefs, we inadvertently reinforce the notion that we are unsafe, and our brains responds accordingly by producing more pain.
Understanding the connection between thoughts and pain can be empowering. By recognizing the role of our thoughts in perpetuating pain, we can start to change the narrative and break the cycle. One way to do this is by challenging our limiting beliefs and replacing them with more positive and constructive thoughts.
For instance, instead of focusing on the belief that pain is a sign of damage or danger, we can shift our focus to the idea that pain is simply a signal from our body that something needs attention. By adopting a more positive and constructive mindset, we can alter the way our brain perceives safety and reduce the intensity of pain.