Mind Tricks for Pain

by Donald Pelles, Ph.D., Certified Hypnotherapist


Pain is all in the mind

By this I don’t mean that pain is not real – it is very real when you are experiencing it!


Pain involves a signal, from a nerve, say – but the signal is not the pain. The pain, the suffering, is what your brain does with the signal. And our brains have the capability to modify, or even ignore the signal, and with it, change or even eliminate the pain! For example:


A young woman is driving in her car, her newborn baby in the back seat, strapped into a baby carrier. She goes through an intersection – the light is green – and BAM!, somebody runs a red light and slams right into her.

What is the first thing she is going to do after the accident? Yes, you say, check on the baby. So she unbuckles her seat belt, twists around, and checks the baby, who seems to be ok. Only then does she realize that her arm is broken!


Where was the pain when she was checking on the baby?

She wasn’t feeling it – she had something more important to pay attention to.


We all have this capability, and not just in extreme situations. It’s a matter of knowing how to engage, to use that capacity – mind tricks – to reduce or eliminate perceived pain.


A caveat

In modifying our perception of pain, it is important to use some common sense. The pain is there for a reason! (Though sometimes a person experiences pain when there is no apparent reason, especially with chronic pain.) If you sprain your ankle, the pain is warning you, “Stay off that ankle! – you may injure it further. If you have a toothache, go to a dentist; it could be something serious. If you are feeling pain and don’t know what is causing it, go to a doctor and have it checked out.


But once you have been checked out; once you know the cause and are doing everything you can for it, it’s ok to use you mind to eliminate the pain, or at least turn it down. Here are two simple and quick “mind tricks” that will help you do that.


Changing the color

Close your eyes, and take yourself into the painful area. What color is it, in there? [I will use “red” here, but you should substitute whatever color comes to your mind.]


Now ask yourself, “What would be a better color, a more comfortable color?” [I will use “light blue” – substitute whatever came to mind.]


Now, allow the red to change to light blue. So with my colors, let the red change to reddish purple; the reddish purple change to purple; then to violet, and all the way to blue; then let it fade until it’s just the right shade of light blue. Give this all the time it needs.


Now spread that light blue throughout the whole area – the muscles, the bones, all the tissues, the skin, the blood vessels, the nerves. Blue, blue, light blue – spread it all around in there. And sit with that for a little bit.

Now, when you are ready, open your eyes. How does it feel?

For most people – 85 to 90% - the pain is either gone or significantly improved.


How does this work? Here is my explanation: We have five sensory modalities – kinesthetic (feeling), visual, auditory (hearing), olfactory (smell), and gustatory (taste). The pain is in the kinesthetic modality – it is something you feel. By asking you what color it is, you change it into the visual, and then we change it there. And somehow, that reflects back on the kinesthetic!


Breathing Into

Close our eyes and imagine, or pretend, that the skin and tissues around the painful area are permeable, with thousands of tiny holes, and that as you breathe in, the air comes in directly into that area. Breathe it in, with each breath, and as the air comes in, it swirls around and around, taking with it anything that doesn’t belong, and then breathe it out normally through your mouth and nose. Keep breathing this way – deep, slow breaths. And the air coming in is just the right temperature and, if you have a color (see above), it is that nice, comfortable color [light blue, in this example].


Keep breathing this way, for a minute or two – breathing in light blue air, just the right temperature; it swirls around; and you breathe it out normally.

[wait a minute or two]


Now open your eyes. How does it feel now?



Note 1: You can do either one of these by itself, or you can do them in sequence. If “Changing the Color” removes the pain completely, there is no reason to do the “Breathing Into.” On the other hand, for some people, one of these will work better than the other.


Note 2: You can also do the first exercise in with the auditory mode, asking yourself “What sound does the pain make?” or “What note?” or “What chord?”, then changing it to a better, more comfortable sound (note or chord). This may work better if you are more auditory than visual – I have used it with musicians, for instance, with good results. I have never tried it in the gustatory or olfactory modalities, but they would probably work too, with the right person.


Note 3: You can also do these “mind tricks” with your eyes open, especially if you are familiar with the process. Closing the eyes may help you focus, but is not absolutely necessary. So once you get good at these, you can do them while driving, or even walking around.

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