Suffering Equals Pain Times Resistance

March 5, 2024

In Brad Stulberg’s book Master of Change he discusses how pain is managed in the Mayo Clinic’s Pain rehabilitation centre in which they use a very useful equation for understanding the suffering caused by pain.

Imagine you’ve got a sore back. If you were to rate it on a scale from 0 (being no pain at all) and 10 (being the absolute worst pain possible) it would rate about a 6.

It’s easy to imagine you getting very frustrated by the pain. You might start to get down about the fact it keeps wrecking your day and start to worry how it might impact on keeping physically fit and doing stuff with your friends. To top it off, the neurofen you’ve been taking doesn’t seem to have any effect on your pain at all.

If these worries keep up it’s easy to see how you might start panicking and wondering if the pain will ever go away. That’s at least six points of resistance and in this model of suffering, resistance isn’t additional to your point score. It multiplies it.

Suffering isn’t the same thing as pain, suffering is pain multiplied by resistance and the  example above totals 36 points of suffering. In this model the more that you resist your pain, the exponentially worse it gets. Fortunately the opposite is also true.

Let’s say that you were able to find a way to still keep physically fit even while your back was painful and didn’t miss out on the stuff you had planned with your friends – that’s 2 less points off resistance dropping the score by 12. It’s easy to see how the flow on effects of this could have a positive impact on how frustrated or down your are about your pain and maybe the outlook you have on it going forward.

A core aim of the Mayo Clinic’s pain rehabilitation centre is to set the goal of not eliminating pain but getting rid of their desire to eliminate their pain in turn reducing resistance.

The clinic Brad mentions in his book works purely with patients suffering chronic pain but for most people it offers a useful insight into the factors that don’t cause pain, but amplify it.