“Anger is the most prominent emotion in chronic pain patients.” *
My wife and I recently vacationed in Hawaii, and for some reason, God chose that time to reveal something about myself which I didn’t know.
Let me begin by saying I’ve suffered chronic pain in my back, hips and legs for nearly 40 years. There are many reasons
for this, the specifics of which I will not burden you with at this time, but suffice it to say, after being in several car accidents and having two back surgeries, along with the exacerbated pain, I’m physically miserable nearly all the time.
“Sucks to be me,” the cynical side of me scoffs.
What God revealed about me, however, is this: I’m full-to-the-brim with anger. This is due to many reasons, including being molested as a little kid (and other childhood “stuff”), not being able to make my dreams of being a football player come true, and from living in this prison of pain. My “cup” is overflowing with fury.
I have an adorable four-year-old granddaughter, Jenna-Marie, who is lovely but clumsy. If I handed her a glass of water, full to the top, and told her to carry it to the next room, she’s naturally gonna spill some (I would too, no doubt). The slightest trip or bump, and water’s gonna slop right outta that cup.
God showed me this is what happens with me, since I’ve not dealt with my anger: the slightest provocation or incident can trigger my anger, and it spills over the side. Now, please understand, I’m NOT making excuses. I’m not trying to excuse my rage in the least, I’m simply explaining what I was shown, and what I have since begun to work on. If my “emotional mug” is full to the top, there’s no way I can carry it around and NOT spill it.
Seemingly insignificant events cause my anger to spill out on people. This isn’t all the time, or even most of the time, but it DOES happen. I’m not a monster, and feel, for the most part, I’m not a burden to live with, but it’s still a problem. Thus, I’m praying for healing, that the Lord would purge my anger.
“Approximately 70% of chronic pain patients have reported feeling angry at themselves…but this may be an underestimation.” *
This is what my mom had to say about her struggles with chronic pain and anger:
“This morning I did a load of laundry and bending over to take it out of the dryer was so hard on me! It’s very frustrating. Then I started preparing lunch and everything I did was difficult. Your dad tried to help but he wasn’t doing it like I wanted so I was hateful to him and then had to apologize. He really was a help but since I was hurting and frustrated, I once again took it out on him. Some days I just want to stay in bed all day (I’ve had many days like that myself lately — Rob). This time in my life is hard and I think I’m mainly doing a good job of dealing with it, but some days I don’t. Your dad is so good to help me and pray for me. God help me to appreciate him and everything he does.”
My Aunt Ann then chimed in: “Some days it’s just overwhelming. I just went out earlier and sprayed poison on some weeds, but only got half the yard done and now I feel like my back is broken.”
“Overwhelming” is a great word. Some days I feel some sort of depression/anger mix, but have NOWHERE to go with all these raging emotions! It’s…well, as my Aunt Ann said, overwhelming some days.
My cousin Jeri Ann had this to say about the subject: “I can tell you, cousin, there have been days I beg Jesus to take me home. The physical pain I go through daily can be so overwhelming at times. I have told loves ones that I think about dying, but I’d never commit suicide. That being said, sometimes the pain is so much it makes me wonder, what if I did carry it out? I attended a women’s conference—Ashes to Beauty—this past weekend and we wrote down what we wanted God to take away, and then burned them. Suicidal ideation was the main thing I had listed. Pain, resentment and bitterness were some of the others. God is good. We have to pray for each other. I am feeling like a new person today. I am still having pain but I am determined to live.”
Concerning the darkness we carry as chronic pain sufferers, my good friend Michelle stated, “My pain takes me deeper to the dark. I cannot escape it. It makes me mean. It makes me withdraw from the world. It keeps me alone.”
From my friend Liberty: “I feel like there’s so many more people dealing with this than let on. I’ve taken so much of my pain out on my family. Especially when it means I have extra work. I find myself saying, ‘How hard is it for you to pick up after yourself, clean your room, see something out of place and put it away,’ etc. I take my ‘pain anger’ out on those I love the most. In turn, I exclude myself from public view when I’m in pain. I don’t want to show anyone else that side. So I spiral downhill into isolation and loneliness. It’s a vicious cycle!”
Anger and chronic pain go hand-in-hand. Psychology Today says, “We may direct it inward, experiencing anger with our body for not living up to our expectations of how it should be. We may blame ourselves, as when we feel shame regarding what we did or didn’t do to contribute to our pain. With or without full awareness, we may displace our anger onto others — friends, family, co-workers, strangers (or even) toward our God.” **
Responding to my mom’s comments from earlier, her sister, my Aunt Sue, told me, “I understand that pain and frustration. Just to pick up a full coffee pot is hard. Jim (her husband) also helps me a lot. I keep thinking it would be wonderful just to stand up straight and take a walk outside. Or go shopping. I could go on and on. Some days I’m saying ‘Jesus’ over and over just trying to get from the bed to the kitchen. I try to really enjoy the good days and take it easy on the bad ones.”
Jen, a friend of mine who has been through varying amounts of suffering in her life, related the following: “As Christians we are taught that fear is bad, that fear means weak faith. I injured my back as a 22 year old paramedic and took opiates for nearly 20 years. I have an insane tolerance to pain medication — it doesn’t really affect me. Through Christ I have overcome my injury and my addiction, but I am fearful of pain. The medication doesn’t work for me, it just makes me mean. I’ve already experienced it after surgery, and it’s troubling. I try not to worry, but how can you not? What will I do when I need pain relief in the future and I can’t get it?”
“I take an advanced type of NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) every day to help manage pain,” my friend Kate related to me. “At some point I got really frustrated and became convinced it wasn’t working because my pain was so high. So I decided to stop taking it since I thought it wasn’t working because opposed to popular belief about chronically ill people, we don’t want to take medication. Anyway, it wasn’t too long before my pain became agonizing and completely debilitating. I realized how much worse it could be without the medication. It was a tough lesson. Sadly, I was pretty much at the level of relief I was going to get. It was depressing to be honest, and it took a while to acclimate to my new normal.”
A few years ago I worked with a quirky, cool little lady named Darlene, who shared her thoughts with me concerning her struggles with chronic pain and anger:
“With constant pain comes depression, anger and exclusion. You get to where you don’t want to be around anyone. Oh, and the feeling that no one wants to hear about your pain or other health issues, be it physical or mental.
“Tired. You just get tired. No one but you knows your pain. Then you try to rationalize that: ‘My pain is not as bad as others, so quit dwelling on it.’
“Sometimes you feel like people avoid you, especially when there is no cure or relief for your pain. You don’t have to talk about it, they can see the grimace on your face & don’t know how to handle it.
“For me, I have hope. Every day of pain here brings me closer to being pain free for eternity in Heaven!”
Thanks for that segue, Darlene. This seems like a great place for an encouraging Bible verse:
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death, sadness, crying, or pain. All the old ways are gone.” (Revelation 21:4 ERV).
Come back next time for part two of our discussion on chronic pain and anger, featuring stories and quotes from my friends and family.
* Cosio, David. Anger Expression & Chronic Pain. Practical Pain Management. June 2021. https://www.practicalpainmanagement.com/resources/clinical-practice-guidelines/anger-expression-chronic-pain (Accessed May 12, 2022)
** Golden, Bernard. What Is the Link Between Anger and Physical Pain? Psychology Today. July 2021. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/overcoming-destructive-anger/202107/what-is-the-link-between-anger-and-physical-pain. (Accessed May 12, 2022)