Making the Shift: Pain vs. Pleasure — what’s your strategy?

magritte59A year ago I trained as a Neuro-Linguistic Programmer (NLP) as one set of tools so that I could help survivors make the shift from powerless to powerful by using deep change in the mind. This weekend just for fun I went to Orlando to visit with some NLP friends during the annual training.

I sat in on some of the lectures by Richard Bandler, the developer of NLP. In one session he was talking about how we motivate ourselves to make change, and the drivers for change: pain vs. pleasure. Something he said struck me deeply:

Pain will only get you so far but pleasure will take you a long way.

It made me think of all survivors and how we get stuck in the pain part — because we feel abused, guilty, shameful, embarrassed, lost, angry, _________.

It made me think, too, of my own recovery, and how I focused on the pain for 8 years in and out of therapy and couldn’t understand why I got better and then worse and then so completely spiraled downward that my life came to a horrible, grinding halt. I was using pain as my recovery catalyst.

After another 2 years of deeply isolated pain I finally switched my strategy to pleasure. I decided I needed to feel joy and went in pursuit of that experience. I developed a schedule for feeling pleasure (in my case, dance) at least once a day.

At first, it was hard to commit to this. I was in a deep, dark depression in a body that was riddled with mysterious symptoms I now know were PTSD-related. Still, I committed; I went to a dance class for one hour every day. Many of you know my joy story and how this pursuit of pleasure led me to an enormous transformation so that I went on to make a full recovery. (If you want to learn more about the joy concept and how I used it read through the posts in the joy tag.)

It’s not that feeling pleasure heals all wounds. The point is that pleasure is a much more positive, anabolic driver for all of our human experience. Instead of being harshly pushed from behind by pain, it is much more effective to be gently pulled ahead by pleasure. In the pleasure scenario you move toward something that makes you feel good, which is what you want, right? That’s a much better way to recover, don’t you think?

I see this strategy work for my clients all the time. In their work with me we focus on both resolving issues with the past, but also constructing a post-trauma identity in the present, one that is built around the capacity for and experience of feeling good.

Today, think about this: what can you do to infuse some pleasure into your life? It doesn’t matter how small a dose at first. You can begin with just 60 seconds worth.

I promise, once you feel pleasure you will want more and then even more still. When you build your focus and experience this way you naturally tap into your own strength, power, courage and healing potential. And that’s what PTSD recovery is all about, isn’t it?

Photo acknowledgement.


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