Our Top 2 Responses to Pain

In the previous post, I discussed the two types of suffering we humans encounter in our day-to-day life experience. In this post I write about our top 2 responses to pain.

In this post, my intention is to help you understand the two most common ways in which we humans respond to pain: Avoidance and Overwhelm.

This is how the Buddha explains it:

Avoidance: Touched by that painful feeling, the ordinary person delights in compulsive distraction, often through seeking pleasure. Why is that? Because compulsive distraction is the only way they know to escape from painful feelings. This underlying tendency of craving for distraction comes to obsess the mind.

Overwhelm: Having been touched by that painful feeling, they resist and resent it. They harbor aversion to it, and this underlying tendency of resistance and resentment toward that painful feeling comes to obsess the mind.

When we’re driven by the need to eliminate or avoid suffering, we push against it. Over time, resistance becomes a habit. It becomes our go-to response when something happens that we hate/cannot tolerate. It could be a spouse/partner being critical, a health challenge we know we should investigate or someone we love who dies.

Here are some common ways in which we avoid or distract ourselves from feeling what is difficult to feel:

  • overworking and taking on even more
  • arguing with others
  • compulsively scrolling through social media feeds
  • reaching for a cigarette, chocolate, or a doughnut
  • cleaning/tidying up
  • online shopping
  • rescuing other people from their problems
  • drinking way more than is healthy or responsible

Note: There is a difference between conscious and unconscious distraction. Conscious distraction looks like this: “I need a break from being so sad. I’m going to take a walk/cook a meal/play two games of Candy Crush.”

This is what unconscious distraction looks like: You log on to Facebook and ninety minutes later you wonder where the time went.

Every time you feel the pain stirring awake, you reach for your choice of distraction.

When you’re overwhelmed by pain, it becomes a constant preoccupation. You lose all perspective and it dominates your every waking thought.

Drowning in pain feels like:

  • total exhaustion
  • a lack of interest in life
  • being emotionally passive
  • feeling victimized
  • a need to isolate
  • a tendency to believe that disaster lurks right around the corner

The ferocious intensity of the pain is all you feel. It becomes your only reality. Says Vidyamala Burch, author of Living Well With Pain and Illness: The Mindful Way to Free Yourself From Suffering: “As the pain dominates your experience you’ll probably lose perspective and forget there’s anything in life apart from pain: it can almost feel as if you have become that pain.”

How do you avoid your pain?

Are you overwhelmed by your pain?

Watch out for next week’s post where I’ll teach you a simple mindfulness technique that you can use to stop yourself from either extreme.


  1. dorothy on February 10, 2018 at 1:02 am

    I was unable to get the 10 ways to beat Brain fog.

    I couldn’t log on there

    • Uma Girish on February 12, 2018 at 1:13 pm

      Sent you the checklist!

  2. […] previous post I wrote about the two ways in which we respond to pain. In this post my intention is to help you […]

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