Body Betrayal: How “You Can Live Well” With Chronic Pain And Illness

February 24, 2017 Kerry Sutton

No matter what illnesses and injuries you are carrying, while you are still breathing, there is more right with you than wrong with you.” ~ Vidyamala Burch.

I have only just come across the term “body betrayal”. It concisely summarizes the overwhelming thoughts and emotions that flood in, when you realize your body is never going to be the same. I know this journey all too well; the sense of injustice, feeling angry at my body for letting me down, and wanting to escape from the reality.

In a moment we will take a look at how Vidyamala Burch successfully lives with chronic pain. I have applied a similar approach to my own life, and its how I work with my clients. But first let’s take a brief look at how chronic pain might be effecting you.


No one can ever understand your lived experience of pain or illness. However, Chronic Pain Australia in their Pain is Not Invisible Project have identified some common experiences. A brief summary of these include:

♦   Loss of control of your life. Struggling with everyday life

  Frustration with health care professions

  Lack of effective treatments

♦   Not being believed. Perceived lack of credibility

♦   Depression. Feeling it is the end of happiness

♦   Breakdown or erosion of relationships with partners, family, children and friends

♦   Disruption of your career. Less financial stability or financial hardship

♦   Frustration with and inadequacy of compensation systems

♦   Tiredness. Struggling to get enough sleep

♦   Frustration with other people not understanding the chronic pain experience


In 1976, at the age of 16 Vidyamala sustained a severe spinal injury. This along with a car accident in her 20s led to multiple surgeries and partial paraplegia. Her personal journey has led her to write a number of inspiring books and to establish Breathworks in 2001.

What I learned from Vidyamala, and want you to know... 

♥   There are Two Causes of Your Suffering:

Primary suffering – This is the stressor. In the case of physical pain it is the unpleasant sensation/s you experience in your body.

Secondary suffering – This is your reaction to the primary suffering. It's how you perceive it and the different ways you resist it.

You might say, "I can't stand this happening to me", "I might lose my job", "What if I end up in a Wheel chair." It is this resistance that causes the majority of the stress, fear, depression, and physical tension you experience in your body.

This will be expressed as:

Blocking – hardening against your pain, addictions, being stuck in your head, anxiety, irritability, anger, and being overly controlling.

Drowning – feeling overwhelmed by sensations, exhaustion, being physically inactive, giving up, depression, self-pitying / victim mentality, catastrophizing, withdrawing and isolation. 

Suffering occurs when your ideas about how things ought to be don't match how they really are. ~ Brad Warner

♥   Mindfulness Is The Key

Vidmayala's courses cover mindfulness of daily living, pacing yourself rather than boom or bust behavior, breath awareness, mindful movement, and working with thoughts and emotions. Here are the steps covered:

1.   Present moment awareness –  Learning to be fully present in the moment. This can be quite a big shift, as untill now you have probably been trying to ignore the unpleasant (in this case pain) and prolong pleasure.

2.   Moving towards the unpleasant  –  Learning to engage with your experience in a non-reactive and compassionate way. You are actually softening into your experience, instead of resisting and fighting with it.

3.    Seeking the pleasant  –  When you're not locked into the habit of resisting the unpleasant you are able to appreciate the beauty, love, and even pleasure in the present moment.

4.   Creating a wider perspective  – Bringing mindfulness to the whole of your experience so your habits of resisting the unpleasant and clinging to the pleasant are undermined. Imagine your passing momentary experiences as ocean waves, and mindfulness as the ballast on your yacht. It provides the stability to chart a clean course through the ocean. Without mindfulness you are more like a dingy at the mercy of the sea.

This process of broadening your perspective has the additional benefit of assisting you to become more people-focused and less self-focused. An important shift for most people living with chronic pain.

5.   Choice  – Living mindfully with moment-to-moment awareness will enable you to break out of old patterns of reactive behavior and embrace the moment with choice and initiative, no matter what you are experiencing. You will learn how to respond instead of react.

In the moment, notice what is happening and make choices in how you respond to your experience rather than being driven by habitual reactions. ~ Breathworks

Mindfulness isn't a strategy for managing pain, its a way of life! It will change your perception of experiences, how you see yourself, and how you engage with the people in your world. And you will never be the same!


Lets Talk

If you want to learn more about how mindfulness can help you, then please call me for a Free 15 minute consultation. We can talk about what is going on for you and I can answer any questions you might have. If I am with a client I will get back to you as soon as I can.

0403 064 874


2 Comments on “Body Betrayal: How “You Can Live Well” With Chronic Pain And Illness

  1. Thank you – what you have said to here about primary suffering and secondary suffering is such a neat way of understanding how pain affects us – and the extent which we can unwittingly contribute to it.

  2. Thank you Tim. Yes getting swept up in and hooked by distressing thoughts and emotions associated with physical pain causes a lot of additional and unnecessary suffering. Whereas learning how to engage with the moment opens us up to a new way of viewing our life and the world around us.

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