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Clean Pain vs. Dirty Pain


What? There are different kinds of pain? I'm sure there are more than two different kinds of pain, just ask a physician. But right here, we're going to talk about clean and dirty pain. Psychologist Steven Hayes developed it as an approach to psychological healing. Because when you understand the difference, you become better able at handling your thoughts and emotions.


Clean pain is the kind of pain you feel when you are ill, or roll your ankle on a run (because you didn't see the pinecone on the trail), or when your partner leaves you for another. Those are all very clearly painful.


Dirty pain is the defined as "any suffering that comes not from those events, but from your thoughts about the events."


Let me explain. When you're in bed with the flu and you can't muster the energy to get out of bed for days, that's clean pain. But then, months later, when you recall that episode of illness and you think "damn, I can't believe I lost all those paid time off days, now I can't go on that dream vacation this year". And from that thought you get angry or depressed or sad. That's the dirty pain. The thoughts and emotions about that event.


Right? Well, no, you could choose to think that getting the flu was bad, but now that you've had it once you will never again forget to get a flu shot and be glad you have that knowledge now to take care of yourself and others. Oh, and since you had such a bad case of it, you're going to tell everyone you know to avoid it by taking proper measures. That kind of thinking feels different, doesn't it?


And that dream vacation, you'll figure out a way to get there. You always do!


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