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Why is "No" the Most Important Word for Healing Pain?

This excerpt is taken from an episode of the "Tell Me About Your Pain" podcast. You can listen to the full episode below, or on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Podcasts


Alan and Alon talk to Christie Uipi, Director of the Better Mind Center, who recently participated in a groundbreaking study on the treatment of chronic pain. Christie explains how they treated the patients in the study and what the results mean for the future of chronic pain.

Christie also talks about her own struggles with chronic symptoms (knee pain, wrist pain, stomach issues) and how she overcame them. Alan, Alon, and Christie discuss the power of "No" - a word that's difficult for many chronic pain sufferers.

And finally, Christie reveals what she thinks is the single most important thing for overcoming pain.

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Alon: a lot of people pleasers can't say "no", they can only say "yes."

My wife and I both have kind of non-traditional careers, we don't have a nine-to-five job. And we work on different projects, which we really like, but a lot of times there are different projects coming our way and we can end up saying “yes” to things that we don't actually want to do. Then you're stuck and it's really frustrating and so we always try to remind each other that “no” is the most powerful word. I think it's a very simple word, but it’s so hard for many people to actually say “no” even though when they say “yes” it ends up being so much more drawn-out and worse. But in the moment it's so hard to say “no” sometimes.

Christie: Absolutely, there’s just a short term anxiety relief that you get when you say “yes.” You don’t have to deal with the discomfort of potentially disappointing that person or potentially making them uncomfortable. So “yes” provides temporary anxiety relief but it actually keeps you in a cycle where you’re perpetually too anxious and too stressed out.

Alon: And we know the toll that that stress and anxiety takes on your body and on your pain levels. I think you're right, Christie, about the temporary relief of saying “yes.”

Something I try to remind myself, and I think this is something that my therapist told me back in the day, is that other people can handle it. We walk around thinking that other people are so fragile and that if we say no they're going to be destroyed and we're going to feel guilty. But they’re grown adults, they can handle hearing “no.” You just have to say it and get it out of the way, and then they get over it. It’s so much better than getting stuck in a situation where you don't want to be, and where you can start resenting the person and so on.

Alan: I’ve always thought of people pleasing not necessarily as people pleasing but as avoiding our own emotions that may come up in the face of disappointing someone else. Often times you think, “Oh I’m people-pleasing, I'm taking care of this other person.” But really what you're doing is avoiding the feeling of guilt that you may feel when disappointing someone else, or avoiding the fear of a potential abandonment. If you say “no” to someone you worry, “Are they still going to want to be friends with me? Are they still going to like me?”

So I often think that it isn’t necessarily about the other person, but it’s about increasing our capacity to tolerate some of these difficult emotions in the face of disappointing someone else.

[this is an excerpt only - for the full episode, listen to the podcast above]

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