Are You Sabotaging Your Injury Recovery?

March 14, 2017


Health and Recovery


Abby Rosmarin

Injury due to an accident can be absolutely devastating, especially if the recovery process is long, slow, and difficult.  When the road is demanding and uncertain, it can become very easy to avoid seeking treatment, go against doctor’s recommendations, or stop treatment prematurely.  We can become our own worst enemy, which can lead to a delay in full recovery, if not long-term, long-lasting problems.  

However, such self-sabotage is preventable.  Here are a few ways to avoid sabotaging injury recovery:

Understand “sabotage” is normal

Ever heard of a counterphobic mechanism?  In short, it’s when we unconsciously gravitate toward the very things we don’t want or are afraid of.  One theory is that, because we are so afraid that a certain outcome or event is going to happen, our unconscious will try to actually make the event happen.  

In a sense, our unconscious is trying to put us out of our misery instead of letting us wait in dreaded anticipation.  It’s incredibly common – if not outright human nature – to do exactly this.

What does that have to do with injury recovery and sabotage?  After an injury, there are few bigger fears than never going back to the way that life was before.  This is usually quite an intense fear, which means the tendency to gravitate towards that exact outcome will be equally as intense.  So the first step in avoiding sabotage in your recovery is to understand how common – and normal – it is.

Address that fear

Therapist Martha Beck advises that the first step in avoiding sabotage is to bluntly face your fears.

“Facing and embracing your worst-case scenarios, seeing them as problems to be solved rather than torments to suffer helplessly, can save you no end of self-sabotage,” she advises.  

Otherwise, as Bleck warns, you can run the risk of cramming those fears into your unconscious, which could manifest in those “counterphobic” actions.

In this case, give yourself time to face any and all fears, worries, or dreads you have about your injury.  What happens if it doesn’t heal correctly?  What happens if life is never the same?  Give yourself a chance to address any concerns.

Create a to-do list for someone else – then do it, yourself

To do list on notepad

Imagine a friend got injured, with your type of injury.  What advice would you give them?  Would you advise them to seek treatment, go to physical therapy, get some rest?  Think about the various pieces of advice you would give a good friend, someone you would want to see get better and recover.

Now, pretend that friend is you

We tend to look out for our family, our friends, and other people we love.  Sadly, we rarely look out for ourselves in the same way.  Making the to-do list for someone else might help you remember what it takes to keep you healthy and happy.  If you would tell your friend to see a doctor, see a doctor.  If you would tell your friend to do physical therapy, do physical therapy.

Strategise with your doctor or physical therapist

Man getting treatment from a physical therapist

Doctors and physical therapists know how tough it can be to follow through with visits and at-home exercises.  In fact, some physical therapists say that their patients’ #1 difficulty is sticking to the physical therapy “homework”.

Doctors and physical therapists are not grade school teachers, there to pass or fail you.  They’re there to help you, and that includes helping you with what needs to be done.

Some strategies include keeping a journal, setting an alarm, or using a fitness app.  You can also work with your doctor or physical therapist to map out on your calendar times during the day you can do the exercises provided by your medical professionals.

Focus on today

Some recoveries take weeks, months, or even years.  That can be incredibly disheartening.  It can be very easy to lose motivation for what needs to be done today if you’re thinking about what you’ll still be doing a few months down the line.

This is why staying in the present moment is so important.  What do you need to do today – or, even better, what do you need to this at this very moment?  In the athletic world, this is known as focusing on the process, not the product.  Focusing on the goal or end result (in this case, the “product”) will exhaust you.  However, focusing on what you can do right now (the “process”) can keep you on track.

Celebrate small victories

Especially with large injuries, it can be easy to get caught up in the bigger plan.  When your focus is on a complete return to normal, you can run the risk of glossing over all the milestones it takes to get there.

Make sure to celebrate the “small” victories in whatever ways work for you.  Have you recently gained better range of motion?  Have the pain levels gone down?  Did the physical therapy exercises get a little easier?  Make sure you at least make note of the progress you are making.

Keep it positive

Negative self-talk is a powerful force.  It might seem like worn out advice, but a positive – or at least determined – mindset is key.

Notice when you start going down a negative path.  See if you can take a step back from it.  Perhaps by telling yourself, “This is a lot of hard work, but I will get better.”  Or, “I’m more than my injury.”  Note that “keeping it positive” does not mean, “pretend like things don’t hurt or are hard work.”  This is about staying positive about your resiliency, your resolve, and your strength.  

To quote Henry Ford: “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.”

Tell us how you overcame your recovery struggles in the comments below.

Abby Rosmarin

Abby Rosmarin is a writer and author based in the United States. Her work has been published in the Huffington Post, Buzzfeed and Mindbodygreen.