About pain & guilt

About pain & guilt

Do you teach your children to observe the traffic lights at road crossings? When they are older, do you show them how to identify potential commercial, sexual or social predators? Of course you do. You are a responsible parent. But do you teach them about physical and mental pain? Perhaps not. After all, it’s not a very nice subject. But you really should do so.

At age 14 I got a pain in my right hip. I complained about it. They removed my appendix – and then told me it had been quite unnecessary; the appendix was fine. I still had a pain and complained about it. I was X-rayed and told there was nothing wrong with me. I still had a pain and complained about it. I was given a severe talking to about ‘malingering’, a term used to describe phony illness. Children, it was assumed, always ‘malingered’ to escape from whatever they disliked at school. There was some truth in that. But I still had a pain.

Eventually I was taken to a specialist who said “This boy has severe osteomyelitis. If he is not treated promptly he will be dead in six months.” Subsequent treatment got me back on my feet. I had learnt a valuable lesson. If you have a pain, find out why.

There are different sorts of pain. All are warning signals. An itch is a sign that something is irritating your skin. Normally a simple scratch will put it right. But it could be the start of skin cancer. You need to learn early on how to make your own judgments about small pains before they become bigger – possibly untreatable – pains. Nobody wants to become a hypochondriac but the line between hypochondria and alertness is a fine one.

Deciding how much to investigate a physical pain is not difficult. The rule is that you always ask – yourself, first, then a doctor – so that you know what is going on. Of course, doctors are not always right – as in my hip story above. Two doctors missed the cause; only the specialist discovered it. The world is sadly lacking in good diagnosticians but we must use the resources that we have. A pain is there for a purpose and should not be ignored.

Mental pain is more complicated. We all get a fair bit of that in our lives. Courage and love are about handling it. It can be an illness, too, needing specialist treatment. Dire thoughts of self-harm or self-destruction should always be investigated quickly. But some mental anguish is inevitable in humans and learning how to put it in its proper place is vital.

The cause of much mental pain is guilt, beloved of many religious teachers and some parents. It is one of the most abused forms of discipline and is widely misunderstood. Each of us has a conscience. It is not a fixed checklist of right and wrong but something we develop for ourselves with the help of those who influence our early lives. Guilt is useful in the same way that pain is – as a warning signal. When we have done something bad it is desirable that we should feel guilty about it – for a while. It sends a message that we must do whatever we can to put right our error. Having done so, we must move on. Forgiving ourselves is as important as forgiving others.

‘Know your body’ is a wise advisory. You don’t have to be a doctor to learn the basics about how your body works – it’s all there on the internet for you. Obviously you must be careful not to become an amateur diagnostician who imagines that they have every known disease except housemaid’s knee. With so many over-the-counter pharmaceuticals on sale it is important to know what can help and what you can’t take.

Learn about pain and guilt and be happy.

Your life is sometimes in Their Hands – mostly it is in Your Hands.