In pain ~ what is said, what is heard?
Anyone who has tried to describe their pain knows how incredibly difficult it is to find words that truly represent what they feel. The same could be said for many lived experiences, the ‘what it is like to……’ that we attempt to transmit to another person. But of course the other person cannot actually know or feel what you feel. We only know what it is like to be ‘me’.
Acknowledging this issue, when we ask people to describe their pain, they are permitted to use any words from their own vocabulary and any comparison or metaphor that emerges from their thinking because this is as close as they will get. Whilst they are telling us what they feel, as well as words that attempt to describe the raw feel of pain, others will demonstrate the degree of suffering and emotional distress that are the additional factors, or second arrow in Buddhism terms. We experience a raw feel, which would be the first arrow, and then the thoughts and emotions that have their own ‘feel’ and typically are the source of the greatest suffering, which are the second arrows.
The raw feel of pain is the raw feel of pain. The add ons are all the thoughts and feelings associated with the pain that are the cause of great suffering.
Active or deep listening allows us to really hear what the person is saying to us. This is sitting in a state of calm and non-judgement, allowing the person to express themselves in their own unique way. Silence maybe part of this ‘exchange’ that the clinician can become increasingly comfortable residing in, with the knowledge that from silence can emerge important dialogue. Only through deep listening can we hear the words of the other that emerge within a particular context that must also be recognised ~ i.e. the difference in the way someone behaves in different situations such as the clinic when they may be anxious. We must get as close as we can to hear what the individual is saying: have I truly heard what they have said?
We can enhance the flow of communication with our posture and the way we move within the dialogue. A simple movement towards the person shows engagement whilst eye contact can be used judiciously. It is worth considering that for some people eye contact can be challenging or threatening, hence awareness and being present are important.
Our way of being, when filled with compassion and empathy, creates the opportunity for the person to speak and tell their story that is full of all the information that we need as clinicians to gain insight into their suffering and the causes of their suffering.