This is a question that I often get from clients: “If I let myself rest when I’m in pain, isn’t that avoidance? Should I rest or just keep going?”
The answer is… it really depends.
Pain is a danger signal that your nervous system sends when it feels unsafe. So should you obey the danger signal and stop what you’re doing? Or should you ignore it and keep going on with your life?
Or… could there be a different path altogether?
Consider this metaphor…
Imagine that your nervous system is a child and your mind is the parent. While playing, the child falls, scrapes their knee and starts crying in pain and fear.
What parenting style will help the child to reestablish a sense of safety?
👉 Would it be a pushy, tough-love parenting style — telling the child to “just get over it” and push through the pain? Probably not.
👉 Would it be a coddling, over-protective parenting style — telling the child to lie down in bed and sleep for the rest of the day every time they feel fear and pain? Probably not that either.
➡️ How about a style of loving acknowledgment and gentle encouragement?
If pain is mild…
That means the child is only a little unsettled. Offer them warmth and kindness — and then encourage them to shake it off. Reassure them that they’re okay and remind them that they’re strong and capable.
If pain is high…
That means the child is quite shaken up and may need time to reestablish equilibrium. Offer them warmth and kindness while they feel their feelings. Give them the time they need to settle. Sit with them and sooth them. And then…
Once they’ve settled enough that their distress and pain levels have decreased to mild — encourage them to get back in the game!
If the child resists, do NOT push them.
The goal is to help the child regain a feeling of safety. Pushing them and overriding their feelings will not accomplish that — it will only increase distress. Instead, honor their feelings and alternate soothing with gentle encouragement.
Translating the metaphor…
When you feel pain, what would feel kind and loving to your nervous system? Because kind and loving is what helps the nervous system feel safe. Safe enough to turn down the danger signal (i.e. pain.)
Treat your nervous system the way you would treat a beloved child — honoring the child’s vulnerable feelings with empathy, expressing confidence in their strength and capability, and encouraging them to re-engage in activities that bring them joy — and little by little, feelings of safety will return.
It may take time and patience. But your nervous system is worth it! 💖
With loads of warmth, empathy and confidence in you,
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