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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Magnification. (is it always?)

When I teach relaxation and antianxiety techniques I like to include what cognitive therapy calls 'errors in thinking'. One error is named magnification and minimization.

The usual example I give for this is of a soprano who goes hits a bad high C in a performance. She then makes it so big in her mind that she thinks and expects she will miss that note in each and every performance she does, soon even refusing jobs, fearful of repeating what is now in her mind a gigantic error that will forever repeat.

In everyday life it is important to remember and keep in perspective those mistakes we make, those things that we can use as a learning experience.
What about when you have constant intractable pain?

"I couldn't do it yesterday, so I will never be able to do it." Is that magnifying or reality?

For some with pain it is possible that yesterday's 'not' is possibly today's 'can' but does not mean it is tomorrow's 'can'. Accepting the erratic nature of your pain is an important component of living with pain.

Often the problem is with those around us. As I have written before my father would say "I saw you read yesterday so I know you can read." I tried to explain that the eye pain does not stop me from reading at all, just for any extended period of time. He did not want to accept that. His magnification, 'she does, so I know she can.' was on him. I have no control over what he decided to believe. None of us can change someone's belief when they want to hold onto it steadfastly.

The converse, I could yesterday, but I cannot today, is the same concept.

What about the 'I could not yesterday, I can not today, and I cannot tomorrow'?

For me that is where minimalization comes in, or more to the truth, refusal to accept the limitations of the pain.

It is different because my pain is in my eye and the use of them (since when you move one the other automatically comes along).

It is possible for someone with bodypain (below the neck) to say 'my pain never lets me bend down', for instance, 'so I cannot reach my shoes'. That would be an everyday truism for them.

But I cannot quantify the pain. Did I read exactly the same amount of time, the exact same amount of words, the exact same number of breaks between reading, the same width length of writing (the smaller, the less you have to use your eyes) yesterday and today?

The pain is worse, I think, since I had to turn down the implant stimulation level. But is it? It seems the time I can use my eyes is lessened - but I was okay at choir this week. Wasn't I?

Then I think but I stopped looking at the music and listened instead to hear the notes and timing. I still had to take the codeine but I was better, no wait. Maybe I wasn't. I just can't tell.

I have lived the last 30+ years the same way. Even after all this time I still have the doubts it will go away and the hope that it will end and I will be fine and back in the world 100%. I magnify the hope, mimimize the doubt.

If I did the opposite, if I accepted the reality, would that turn of events from one extreme to the other be a help to me? Is my 'error in thinking' more a way of keeping hope alive than accepting truth?

As those in chronic pain we do not often fit into a lot of the categories into which much of the rest of the world fits. Could 'erroneous' thinking be another mismatch?


  1. Carol,

    Everyone around me tells me that I am negative and a pessimist. I insist that I am a realist and if I think that the worst is going to happen, then I can't possibly be disappointed.

    And I catstrophize, which my therapist has informed me is actually a word.

    I get tired of people acting like everything is sunshine and kittens and beautiful rainbows and pretending like their lives are perfect. Is this negativism or realism?

    I'm never going to be the happy, perky, cheerleader type. It's just not me. And the chronic pain makes it impossible that I am ever going to be that person. I wouldn't want to be that person, because I find it disingenuous.

    It's realistic to think that if I've had this pain for 25 years, it's probably better to find a way to deal with it than expect that it's going to go away. But that's just my opinion.


  2. Chelle, Those that expect you to be even who you never were are the most deluded. Catastrophizing is another term that maybe those in chronic pain (and well as others with chronic illness) have learned is a part of their realistic lives, having seen the catastrophes played out with bad side effects, loss of their old lives, friends, family, etc.
    True too expecting the worst can be seen as a negative and sometimes it is but sometimes, again, life has taught us that is the result we more often than not encounter.
    I think my pollyanna attitude of thinking tomorrow, tomorrow,and all will be well can also be a negative in deciding how someone lives their life.
    I keep hoping but when I am honest, I agree, accepting the way things are and going forward from there does serve you better in the long run and maybe short one as well