A friend of mine, Gail from Santa Barbara, emailed me saying, “Last night a heavy bottle of soy sauce fell on my big toe. I screamed bloody murder for 20 minutes. Surprised you didn’t hear me. I hope it’s not broken. The toe, that is. The soy sauce survived!”
What’s the chance the same day I received her email, I had a dinner plate fall on my big toe and broke it? The plate, not my toe.
While screaming out loud with acute pain is a typical response for many people, I intentionally did not do so when I felt the pain in my toe. What I immediately did was to revert to a technique I conjured up some 30 years ago that stops sharp, acute pain and hastens the healing process at the same time. I first tested this technique following hitting my right knee against a solid object with such force that it bled. By using this approach, I no longer felt the pain on my knee. I’ll use the example of my current toe pain so you can learn how to use it on yourself and others.
Rather than screaming out in pain, I immediately closed my eyes and imagined what colors the pulsating pain in my toe looked like. At first all I could see was black. Then some reds and purples appeared in the mix of all that black. I imagined a container of gold liquid on the top of my head and pretended to open a doorway of the container that allowed the gold liquid to pour down my body to where the pain was in my toe. At first the dark painful colors were intense. Then the gold began to be absorbed into the darker colors little by little like a sponge until it was all golden yellow. It took me a couple of minutes to do it. Upon doing so, there was no more pain. Initially, I was hesitant to walk not knowing what I’d feel. After taking only a few steps I started to smile. I actually forgot about the pain as if it never happened. I have used this procedure ever since.
I also came up with another process for clients who came to see me in my private practice for psychotherapy who found themselves with an annoying headache from traffic congestion or the stress associated with their work that day. Nothing interferes worse with a therapy session than a client dealing with headaches.
I asked my clients to imagine the colors and shapes of their headaches. For example, the figure could be a circle, square, triangle, rectangle, jagged or irregular shape. Once they had an image of the shape, I asked them what the color of the shape was. Whatever color came to mind was perfectly fine as you can’t make a mistake in your imagination, which is in the right part of your brain’s hemisphere. It’s not like the left logical brain that thinks it terms of right or wrong, good or bad, black or white.
Then as my clients looked at that shape and color that symbolized their headaches, I asked them to imagine what color and shape it would be with their headaches feeling “all better.” And when they had that positive image in their minds, they reported feeling much better as their headaches were relieved. Now we were able to begin the session so they could receive its full benefits.
An associate told me of a similar situation of having the tip of his left thumb caught in his car’s door where he used this technique. A parking valet had closed the door as he was adjusting his seat belt while preparing to drive out of a parking lot. Upon imagining the shape and intense colors of that pain, he immediately imagined the thumb filling up with bright yellow-gold light for about a minute. Within 10 minutes the pain vanished and by the following morning there was no sense of his injury. He felt that yelling insults at the valet would probably have increased and prolonged the pain he initially felt.
You can use this technique on yourself or others at the onset of any acute pain. Let me know how it works for you.
Dr. Richard Crowley is a psychologist and co-author of the Imagine All Better book and app. Email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org