Exploring the emotional experiences of women with chronic pain: The potential role of self-compassion

  • Alexandra Pillipow College of Kinesiology, University of Saskatchewan
  • Margo E Killham College of Kinesiology, University of Saskatchewan
  • Abimbola O Eke College of Kinesiology, University of Saskatchewan
  • Leah J Ferguson College of Kinesiology, University of Saskatchewan

Abstract

Chronic pain is a multidimensional phenomenon that can take an enormous toll on people's lives. In addition to coping with the physical pain, individuals experience the emotional dimension of chronic pain, which consists of the painful emotions directed towards the long-term implications of having chronic pain. People often engage in isolation and avoidance behaviours to manage chronic pain. Recently, there has been a shift away from avoidance and gravitation toward coping through acceptance and awareness of difficult emotions. Self-compassion (SC), being touched by one's own suffering and not disconnecting from it, may be useful in regulating difficult emotional chronic pain experiences. The purpose of this narrative study was to explore the role of SC in the emotional experiences of women with chronic pain. Three women with chronic pain participated in a focus group, reflexive photography, and one-on-one interviews. The data were analyzed using a holistic-content mode of analysis, generating narratives across the women's experiences. The narratives suggest that the women's emotional experiences of chronic pain are rooted in frustration, which stems from: (a) a lack of answers about the cause of their pain, (b) having no control over the pain, and (c) being limited in daily activities. The narratives further suggest that SC may help the women to: (a) put emotions into perspective, (b) be aware of their needs, and (c) realize that the pain is not their fault. Teaching women with chronic pain to be self-compassionate may be a useful strategy to create constructive perspectives of chronic pain.