Confidence and Chronic Pain

Presence stems from believing in and trusting yourself – your real honest feelings, values, and abilities.
— Amy Cuddy
Amy Cuddy developed the 'power pose'

Amy Cuddy developed the 'power pose'

Do you sometimes think that the fear of not knowing how or when you might be better is the worst thing about experiencing chronic pain? It seems that chronic pain somehow diminishes our sense of Presence. The above quote is from a new book recently published by Amy Cuddy[ii].  Presence refers to paying attention in the moment, an enhanced self-awareness. When talking with members of Chronic Pain Ireland at a speaking engagement recently I noticed that sometimes we fold in on ourselves to be smaller, more accepted. In a recent study children identified the figures with limbs astride, arms and legs wide apart, taking up lots of space as boys, and the figures that held themselves neatly as girls. Perhaps this suggests we believe ourselves to be more acceptable if we take up less space? Many of us are parents, or will have held responsible jobs, or significant roles in our communities. Yet still the onslaught of long term pain can seriously affect our confidence and sense of self. A diagnosis of Neurophysiologic Disorder or TMS can help us to understand how the autonomic nervous system is out of balance. It's possible to find a practitioner to help identify what to do about that imbalance. This can help to address the pain. It is a slow but sure way to establish or re build our confidence. It will take time, be rewarding and so worthwhile, however, in the meantime we can give ourselves a quick confidence boost that will rewire our neural pathways over time.

This rewiring is easy, practical, quick to do, it requires a little bit of time and courage, but no equipment, no other people, no financial cost and it’s fun!

Too good to be true?

The 'power pose' developed by Amy Cuddy can transform how we feel about ourselves and how others feel about us. Let me explain - one of the reasons you might feel better after walking, a swim or Pilates, is that you have changed how you hold your body through exercise.

How we hold our body has an impact on our mind, the neural pathways stimulated by lifting our chest just a fraction can give us confidence.  If we are fearful, powerlessness can creep into us affecting what we believe, think, and feel.

The changes we encounter simply by searching for an explanation for our pain can stimulate a fearful response. If we are not informed, the changes are often unpredictable, it is disconcerting, our sense of who we are and our sense of being in control are challenged. These changes can even alienate us from ourselves. What we know is that everyone has an individual response to pain. In fact that is true of most things, invariably one size does not fit all. To invoke the relaxation response to balance the nervous system you may practice mindfulness, meditation or adult colouring. As you feel more in control so your body might need a nudge to improve your confidence. 

Confidence brings the opportunity to believe and trust in yourself, your true feelings, values and abilities. This is important because if we trust ourselves then others can trust us. It is a chance to find peace with being who we are.

Many studies suggest that non-verbal behaviour can signal something more powerful than words. Self-assurance, poise, enthusiasm and confidence, all project a presence that demands that we take notice. Likewise when we hold back, perhaps through fear, we stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, commonly known as the Stress response. It is not a permanent state of being. Stressful situations that make us feel powerless and distracted can be improved by feeling present. When we feel present our speech, facial expressions, postures and movements align. We are being ourselves.

Cuddy describes it as internal convergence, harmony. Palpable and resonant, it makes us compelling. It comes about with incremental change. We can induce a sense of presence by allowing the body to lead the mind.

If you want to try it, take yourself somewhere private, stand with your legs apart, and raise your arms to make an X. Hold this power pose for a while, up to 2 minutes if you like. As you stand in the power pose your brain is receiving a message that you are confident! Repeat this as often as you wish and gradually your brain will believe your body. It's amazing! It works. I have seen the evidence that this works, as has Amy Cuddy. Have a go, let me know how you get on, I'd love to hear from you.

Presence comes from believing and trusting your story – your feelings, beliefs, values, and abilities.

This post was originally published in My Second Spring. 


 Amy Cuddy 2012 TED Talk 

[ii] Presence Bringing your BOLDEST SELF to your BIGGEST CHALLENGES by Amy Cuddy.

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