Pain as a Teacher

“There is no consciousness without pain”

- C.G. Jung

I’d like to make an argument for pain and darkness as a requirement for enlightenment…

Wait what? 

How can we shift our thoughts about pain from avoidance to gratitude? I invite you to try looking at your irritating symptom, broken heart, depression, sprained ankle, etc as a gift. Perhaps the pain is a red flag signifying an imbalance that needs to be addressed. Perhaps our pain is the wisest teacher. 

Pain is a complex and subjective phenomenon, therefore an adequate definition is difficult to put to words. In this article, I’d like to address three categories in which we experience pain and describe five levels of it’s increasing intensity.

Level 1 - PRESSURE

You can feel it’s weight, but it doesn’t hurt yet.
Category - Example:

  1. External or Physical - Brushing up against a wall
  2. Internal or Chemical - Feeling bloated
  3. Mental or Emotional - Rapidly approaching deadlines

Level 2 - ACHE

A dull but nagging discomfort. You feel noticeably not yourself, but you usually try to push through and keep going.
Category - Example:

  1. External or Physical - Muscle soreness
  2. Internal or Chemical - Stomach aches
  3. Mental or Emotional - Being home sick

Level 3 - PAIN

A wake up call. The signal now refuses to be ignored and you’re extremely uncomfortable. Action must be taken: address the underlying reason for the pain OR create a compensation pattern (a limp) to avoid the pain.
Category - Example:

  1. External or Physical - A broken leg
  2. Internal or Chemical - Severe Constipation
  3. Mental or Emotional - Divorce

Level 4 - TICKLISH

Being tickled doesn't really feel good; your nervous system is in hysterics. Ticklish is the oscillation from “pain” and “no pain”. It’s a dissociation.
Category - Example:

  1. External or Physical - Involuntary muscle twitching
  2. Internal or Chemical - Anxiety
  3. Mental or Emotional - Laughing at trauma 

Level 5 - NUMB

Becoming numb is our highest level of pain. The trauma has become so great that the pain signal has been completely shut off.
Category - Example:

  1. External/Physical - The physiological shock response
  2. Internal/Chemical - Over-medication
  3. Mental/Emotional - Ignoring or blacking out traumatic memories

Why Should You Care?

Each level is an important survival mechanism.  Pain protects us. However, each level can progress to the next in severity if ignored long enough.  Temporarily relieving the pain is important as well, but the situation can become more dangerous if we continue to avoid the pain. Not addressing the root cause can permanently alter healthy function.


  • External or Physical: A limp will naturally developed after you break a leg. In this case, the limp is temporarily necessary for daily mobility. However, the new faulty motor pattern can become embedded in your brain. If the dysfunctional pattern is not retrained, it will cause further problems due to the long-term abnormal compensations- ie. Back spasms, neck pain, migraines, etc. 
  • Internal or Chemical: A busy person self-medicates their abdominal gas and bloating for years. Over time, it can escalate into severe stomach pain and/or a very irritable bowel. If the underlying dysfunction is not addressed it will cause further problems due to the long-term abnormal compensations- ie. weight gain, infections, autoimmune disease, etc.
  • Mental or Emotional: A person may not feel comfortable opening up to someone new after a recent divorce. That’s ok in the short term, but further down the road, social isolation can develop into a deep unshakable sadness. This dysfunctional pattern is like an emotional limp. If the underlying issues around self worth are not addressed, it can cause further problems due to the long-term abnormal compensations- ie. Relationship sabotage, substance abuse, depression, etc.

What To Do About It?

If you're having a hard time pulling yourself out of the pain and/or darkness, ask for help. WE ALL NEED EACH OTHER! We recover faster and more completely when we’re coached through the levels of pain, by someone who’s been there before us. With education and motivation from talented Teachers, Physical Therapists, Nutritionists, Personal Trainers, Doctors, Coaches, Mentors etc. we can learn how to “listen to our bodies”, restore ourselves to health and share our story of healing with others. 

I hope you enjoyed this article and found the information is helpful!

-Casey Shivers