How Do You Tolerate Anticipated Physical Pain?

One of the most intense scenes in the movie Fight Club involves Brad Pitt using homemade soap materials to burn a permanent scar into Edward Norton’s hand. Norton’s character tries to escape the pain through meditation, but Pitt forces him to stay with the pain.

I was reminded of this scene today during my latest laser hair treatment. It was my fourth visit, and the specialist has increased the power level of the laser each time. At today’s level, it felt like static electricity shocks, dozens of them every few seconds.

In previous visits, I’ve simply tried to distract myself by thinking about game design–anything to keep me occupied. Essentially, I tried to daydream while someone was stinging me in the neck. It worked on those visits, but with the increased power level, it wasn’t as effective today.

So I tried Pitt’s version of fully experiencing each shock, envisioning myself inside of it, ridding myself of pesky ingrown hairs. That worked okay, though I was still eager for it to end.

At the end of the appointment, I bought a numbing gel to apply next month when I return. I’ve resisted using it so far, but the specialist is going up to the highest power level, and I’m not sure I have the mental fortitude to handle the increase.

Do you have any mental tricks or tips for handling incoming, anticipated physical pain?

4 thoughts on “How Do You Tolerate Anticipated Physical Pain?”

  1. As a chronic pain patient my perspective is a little different, but the same I think could work. Whenever my pain is really bad, like past being able to be distracted, even by games, (though there is some scientific proof coming out that games actually BLOCK pain impulses by overriding them in signal processing), I just know that it will be over. It is not going to last. And there is something to be said for going into your pain.

    What you need to watch out for is the emotional response, the suffering part. It does make things worse. I am not above some self pity, but I really try to limit it, as that type of focus is just not helpful.

    So I might suggest a handheld game or a game on your phone both for pain, and suffering.

    And there is no shame in not wanting to tough out pain. People, like athletes, who work with deep pain, also have that higher calling adrenaline, pain suppressing stuff going on. As well as meds. But living with pain is not heroic. Pain hurts. If you can avoid pain, you should, and don’t feel bad or guilty. A goal, through man’s history, was to find ways to deal with pain. We now have those options. Don’t live all medieval!

    BTW, when I get deep injections, my doctor and I talk gaming. My doctor is a GAMER!!!

    • Thanks for these recommendations, Candy! That’s really neat to know about the power of games. And that’s a good point about not wanting to tough out pain. I think it was more about me not wanting to spend the $5 on numbing cream. 🙂

  2. I’ve had laser hair removal as well about 23947928347 tattoos. When I’m anticipating pain, I tell myself it’s temporary and I can stop it at anytime (which is true of both laser hair removal and tattoos). I also have the ability to tell myself that I’m not actually feeling anything and the pain dissipates. These are both optional pains, so I’m not sure if this translates well into pain I have no control over.


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