I’m excited to be sharing with you all the beginning of a series of posts on how to reduce your suffering way faster than you could believe. Recognizing “clean” and “dirty” pain is the very first step on this path, so let’s get started!
There’s a school of psychological thought called Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT)… and you really don’t need to know much else about that, besides the fact that they have come up with this fabulous concept of clean vs. dirty pain. Clean pain is the pain that results from life events. Dirty pain is the pain that comes from all of the mental stories and judgments we make up about our life events.
As an example – you’re sitting at the dining room table, entertaining guests, when your dog Sasha appears at your feet, bites your leg, then dashes off. The clean pain in this scenario is the pain in your leg where you have been bitten. And that’s all. It might require some antiseptic and close monitoring of Sasha’s behavior over the next couple of days, but it’s not exactly a disaster.
If your mind works anything like mine, though, there are whole avenues of dirty pain that can result from this incident, such as:
“Sasha bit me! I knew there was a rabid squirrel in the area! He must have rabies! No, I can’t lose Sasha! I might have rabies! I should go to the ER! But I have no money, and my insurance sucks, I can’t go to the ER. I am never going to have enough money. I am 36 and already a failure in life…”
“I am so ashamed! Everyone at the table is horrified and trying not to laugh! They are afraid Sasha will get them next and are all looking for the first opportunity to politely leave! Now they are all forced to do Pilates moves under the table trying to keep their legs out of reach! “
“I KNEW adopting a pit bull was a stupid idea, and I told him a hundred times! But he never listens! He thinks he is always right and he never listens to my side at all! I am tired of acting like a doormat! I won’t do this anymore! I’m leaving him!”
Our brains are natural storytellers – making meaning out of events is part of being human. There are some fun ways to play with our natural storytelling abilities, and we will get to that in a later post. For now, I’m inviting you to notice throughout the week when you are suffering from “dirty pain.” It can be incredibly liberating to realize that it is your own thoughts that are causing your pain, that thoughts are not necessarily “the truth”, and that, in the end, you are the one who gets to choose what you think.