The Paradoxical Nature of Emotional and Physical Pain: The Quicksand Metaphor


When you fall into quicksand, your gut reaction is to struggle and swim to safety. Your fight-flight instincts will make you want to run away or fight it. However, both running and fighting will only make you sink faster.

Trying to run from or fight off an experience INSIDE you, such as pain, will not work. As the saying about emotional pain goes: What you resist will persist.

Alternatively, the less you resist the quicksand, the less you will sink into it.

This metaphor is often used to describe the paradoxical nature of emotional and physical pain and the futile agenda of control.

If you have suffered from physical or emotional pain for a long amount of time, you will have had to deal with some very difficult circumstances in your life. As the pain persists, you may feel like your life is shrinking, dedicating so much of your time to limiting or attempting to control the pain.

Dealing with pain can feel like being in quicksand, the more you struggle, the faster you sink. No matter what action you seem to take, you only seem to make it worse.

In reality, there is only one way to free yourself from quicksand. You must work with the quicksand, spread your body out as far as you can. Make contact with as much of the sand with your body as possible. Then move slowly, gently, patiently. This allows for the quicksand to support you, rather than pull you down.

Pain can easily become like quicksand – the more you fight against it, the more of your life it takes away.

The alternative is to work with the pain, experience the pain, make contact with it. You must face it in order to be free from it. Whether that pain goes away or whether it never fully goes away, you’ve learned how to be willingly open to pain without it controlling your life.

Are you struggling to deal with persistent pain? North Brisbane Psychologists can help. Book an appointment today.