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Never trust anyone who thinks they can fix you

 •  • by Paul Ingraham
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Weekly nuggets of pain science news and insight, usually 100-300 words, with the occasional longer post. The blog is the “director’s commentary” on the core content of a library of major articles and books about common painful problems and popular treatments. See the blog archives or updates for the whole site.

After announcing early this year that I have suffered from serious and mysterious chronic pain for the last three years, I got hundreds of compassionate, curious, and respectful responses. I was a bit queasy about the intense public vulnerability, but all those nice notes tamed my unease. Thank you, nice people!

But there were also some nasty reactions, because my job involves having more “enemies” than I ever would have believed was possible when I started out. I wasn’t sure if I’d actually hear from anyone like that, but I did, several of them.

One stands out.

Introducing Blamey McBlamerton

This person overtly blames me for my pain. Seriously. He thinks my ongoing pain proves that I cannot possibly be knowledgeable about pain. He thinks that I would not be in pain if I was “competent” and that “lots of good therapists could easily solve this for you.”

Most hilariously obnoxious of all: he also tried to package his opinion in pity! “I can’t decide whether to tell you off or help you.” As if I’d let you “help” me, pal!

And this is coming from a so-called health care professional, a physical therapist with a modest social media following, someone some of my readers will be familiar with, a man who is probably often mistaken for an expert. His attitude involves a lack of compassion bordering on psychopathy, obviously: some people just didn’t get raised right, and/or have legit mental illness (personality disorders). But it’s not just that.

The more interesting problem here

… is that belief that chronic pain is easily treated! The arrogance of ignorance, the Dunning-Kruger effect.

You don’t need to know much about how chronic pain works to know that it’s about as preventable and curable as the common cold. It has countless possible causes and is unpredictable and confounding by nature. Overconfidence in treating chronic pain is not just unjustified, it’s delusional and dangerous. The only way to sustain it is to be oblivious to the complexity of the problem, like the ignoramus who knows exactly how to fix the economy, or the crank inventor who truly believes in his perpetual motion machine.

I hear from a lot of people who are therapy “patriots,” dogmatically convinced of the potency of their methods. They are like dogs barking at the mailman, convinced they can make him go away, bolstered by his daily disappearances. Like psychics, they dine out on their hits and ignore their misses.

For many years people like this have been berating me for debunking their claims and tipping over their sacred cows. It’s a short leap from that kind of outrage to the absurdity of blaming me for hurting. People who believe they can cure are prone to blaming anyone who denies their power. A superiority complex needs other people to be inferior. Bear that in mind the next time you talk to a “professional” who thinks they’ve got answers for chronic pain the rest of us don’t have. Like a petty little god, they are fickle, and their compassion requires your faith and devotion — cross them by doubting, and they’ll turn on you.

PainSci Member Login » Submit your email to unlock member content. If you can’t remember/access your registration email, please contact me. ~ Paul Ingraham, PainSci Publisher