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How to Stop Your Pain From Determining Your World–Part 1

How to Stop Your Pain From Determining Your World—Part 1

I have written a lot of posts that focused on managing chronic back pain. I have covered a wide range of treatments and tips from essential oils to electronic games as distraction. One of the things that moved me and truly pulled at my heart was the belief by some pain sufferers that they are doomed to a life of despair.

What Grief Looks Like
Girl in Grief

I now know that the best way I can help those remarkable people renew hope is to to provide the answer to the question of how to stop your pain from determining your world.

What Burn Out Looks Like
Burn Out

Perhaps the reason you are reading this post is that you also need the answer for yourself or a loved one. Welcome to the first of 3 posts that I hope will strengthen  your resolve and think anew about this notion that everything is already determined about your future.

Before we get started, I would like to ask you something. Are you familiar with linguistic determinism? If not, let me start by defining it for you: Linguistic Determinism is the theory that language not only influences but also determines the way we perceive the world.

The reason I wanted to define it is because of the serious implication that such a mindset may have on  pain sufferers’ belief that their lives will never get better.

Even if a chronic pain sufferer has never heard of linguistic determinism, he or she may be buying it’s central message:

The world is the way it is because of language. The only reality is the reality that our language conceives.

Many chronic pain sufferers have used words such as “Burden” or “unreliable” to describe how they are seen by others and how they see themselves. Perhaps this has happened to you  or a loved one. To help you  better understand why this  position  may not fully describe such a situation, let’s think about the universe. Seriously, just follow me for a moment and you’ll see the connection.

So, let’s consider the universe.

The Beauty of Space

As Michael Cole points out  in “Culture and language”, “It is not necessarily related to what is ‘out there’. Our exploration of the universe would be restricted to the features coded by our language.” [1]

In other words, any feelings  that result from the way we use our language may not fully   reflect what is going on in the universe.  We may think that we are completely describing what we see, but that may not be the case. It may be that the restrictions of our language does not make it possible to have an understanding of everything that is happening in the universe.

A Planet in Space

Here is the connection

It may be that the feelings of being a burden are there only because of the words you use and believe. The reality  may be that far from being a burden, you are actually an inspiration to those that watch you cope with daily pain.

My mission in this series of posts is to show that linguistic determinism is flawed and thus any assumption  which entails linguistic determinism is also flawed.

Remember that example I gave of the universe? If you make assumptions based on the restricted ways you use language, you may be missing out on a bunch of things that are part of the universe.  In the same respect it’s possible that you only  see yourself, because of the way you use language, as a burden to others and are failing to see other qualities that are in fact part of you.

What is The Case For Linguistic Determinism?

Before one can fairly  show why linguistic determinism is flawed,  one needs to examine why some people find it a credible way to look at the world. The focus on this post, thus, is to acknowledge that language influences the way we perceive the world. In my second post I will show precisely how language influences the way we look at the world. In the final post I will show  why one can not make the the jump from saying language influences the way we perceive the world to saying language determines the way we look at the world.

The Way Language Influences How We Perceive The World

C. L. Stevenson, a famous American philosopher whose work entails some sort of linguistic determinism, has made us realize two ways in which language influences us.

  1. Language has the power to effect us psychologically. Some people call this an emotive or dynamic character of language. An example of an emotive use of language would be calling a black man ‘nigger’. The word ‘nigger’ has negative connotations and would produce a reaction to the person using it.
  2. Another use of Language is Descriptive Use. Language gets its meaning by being in accordance with certain linguistic rules. Although the second us of language is not supposed to have an emotive effect, it in essence does once one makes a mental connection to the descriptive word. For example, the emotive meaning of ‘dog’ in “That woman is a dog” is dependent not on the precise definition of “dog”, but upon what, when applied metaphorically to women, it suggests.

The Reality Our language Conceives

So what does it mean to the pain sufferer if he or she accepts the notion that language  influences the way he or she looks at the world. It could be that words effect the way they will decide to act. To illustrate,  let’s imagine a pain sufferer keeps hearing the word “difficult” when others refer to his or her abrupt  behavior. If she  accepts the notion that the only reality is the reality that her language conceives, then the pain sufferer  may act in a way that reinforces the perception to others that he or she is a difficult person to be with.

He or she may come to believe that  life as they know it is nothing more than a daily battle to control his or her “difficult” behavior. They may also come to believe, as stated int the beginning of this post, that they are a burden or are unreliable.


Are you a pain sufferer who has reached  this stage? Do you live a life of despair  because you think that you are a big drag on loved ones? If not you, then perhaps it describes some one you are taking care off. Hang on. This post focused on acknowledging  the feelings of hopelessness that a pain sufferer may have. My second post will examine how language influences, according to those who support linguist  determinism, the way we look at the world.

My hope is that even after acknowledging and then showing how language  influences the way a pain sufferer looks at the world, it does not determine how he or she will cope in the future.

Let me reiterate this last point, simply because it’s so important:

The fact that you may feel defeated now, because of your pain, is not determinant of how you’ll feel in the future.

What’s more, it’s okay to acknowledge  that you are angry, ashamed,  and frustrated. I hope, though, that by the end of this series you will have found the inspiration and belief that you can move on and have a worthwhile life.

Here’s what I suggest you do next:

Review what you just learned and then examine honestly all the times  you felt “bad” because  you think that some how you have disappointed  loved ones.

So go ahead and get started right now, because the sooner you acknowledge  how you feel, the sooner you’ll get the benefits from this series. I like to hear from the readers so please leave me a comment below to let me know if this post helped you or if you have any questions.

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I like to hear from the readers so please leave me a comment below to let me know if this post helped you or if you have any questions.


1. Micael Cole. Culture and Langage (p.79).

4 thoughts on “How to Stop Your Pain From Determining Your World–Part 1

  1. There are plenty of times where I literally “give in” to my pain and curse at the world as to why I am “suffering” so much. I was literally angry at everybody. I was also projecting such energy as if the world owes me everything.
    Later on I realized that no matter how much I complained, the pain was still there. Instead of complaining about it, I took it as a chance to understand others who were also in pain. I talked to people who had similar experiences and hope that my suffering could help them and let them realize that they are not alone. Were you like that too?

    1. Hi win,

      I don’t suffer from chronic pain, but I’m a caregiver for someone who does. The series came as a result of getting to know a lot of pain sufferers who go back and forth between  despair and hope. I found out that there’s an element of “Determinism”–this notion that they are forever doomed to have their  pain dictate  how they live in the world–in those who feel despair.

      However, there’s a belief that they are more than their pain from those who feel hopeful about the future. They acknowledge that how they describe their  pain and how others describe their pain may effect how they perceive  the world. They draw the line when the conclusion is  that such acknowledgement means the description of their   pain will determine their  reality. I wanted to give voice to this sentiment  by showing  why and how they are right.

      Isolation is also a big deal with people who suffer from chronic pain. I think it’s a great thing that you’re reaching out to people whit similar experiences. I’m sure that just letting  them know that they are not alone is exactly what those living with wide spread chronic pain need to hear.

  2. Outstanding critique of linguistic Determinism. I also love the angle you used as how this impacts on how a person suffering from widespread pain copes with his or her situation in terms of whether they believe that the future will get better. Those who believe that they will recover or at least will achieve a physical plateau can define their illness as an interruption, a “time out” from their usual life that does not warrant a change in how they see the future. Once illness becomes intrusive, however, maintaining a sense of who you are becomes more difficult. I think this is when a pain sufferer may develop a mind set that their pain will determine their future. They are ripe to believe in all that linguistic determinism entails.

    I also realize that you didn’t write this post from an academic point of view. That said, I think this post–and thee remaining series–would be good reading for students of Linguistic Determinism, such as my self, who believe that the theory though interesting has big flaws. Here is one thing that I suggest you might want to do in a future post. You might want to explain how Stevenson’s position commits him to Linguistic Determinism. How does his dispositional account of meaning entail Linguistic Determinism? Must Stevenson be a Linguistic Determinism to uphold his theories?

    The reason I go into all this is because I think you have achieved in your post and series–I have just started reading the second one and the preview for the final installment– something that you may not have realized. If one understands the answers to these questions, then one will quickly understand why your excellent critique of I.D. is also a successful critique of Stevenson. Awesome job!

    1. Hi Megan,

      I think most people when first experiencing sudden illness of potential life altering situation like chronic illness at first feel that they must do everything they can to stay positive about the future. This becomes increasingly difficult, however, as the effects of the illness broaden. Eventually, individuals can find themselves immersed in illness, losing their sense of who they are. They can come to believe that they are their pain. I think this is where some thing like Linguistic Determinism can have a negative effect on how such a person sees the future. I am so glad that you appreciated the fact that I explored this angle of Linguistic Determinism.

      I also thank very much about the comments on Stevenson. You gave me a lot to think about. I look forward to hearing your comments on the rest of the series.

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