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Brief overview of the five levels of pain:

We experience problems, pain and turmoil in life when things go wrong in how we were designed to function. Just as we are fearfully and wonderfully made to live in personal, intimate relationship with the Creator, we are also intricately designed to have a running brain and working body where our organs, blood vessels and the rest of our inward parts from our cells to our nerves work together to create the state known as homeostasis, or internal stability and equilibrium.

In spite of environmental changes and fluctuations, it is important for our body and brain that everything runs optimally so that we stay energy efficient, healthy and strong. Physiologically, homeostasis occurs within our bodies in terms of our body’s ability to regulate temperature, maintain blood Ph levels and so on in order for us to not only survive but to reach our peak performance internally and externally. Our body is designed to attain and maintain constancy even though there are changes all around us. God has made us to be adaptive, flexible and durable. However, when something goes wrong with our ability to sustain homeostasis, the results can be devastating. The failure of our body’s ability to keep homeostasis can result in disease, death and a myriad of health problems.

As far as our brain is concerned, we experience peace and joy when every level functions in unison, as one whole unit. We at
THRIVE call this movement and process of everything working together synchronizing. We synchronize when we work the way we are supposed to and stay connected to our Source of life, Jesus the Christ. Because we live in a fallen world where things go wrong and often will, we can lose synchronization within ourselves, with other people and with our Creator. We become out of tune, so to speak. Like a piano that is mistuned, no matter how hard you try to play your song the result is far from what it could be.

When something goes wrong in our development, relationships and life, the results can be devastating. When we no longer work or function the way we were designed, we can experience intense pain and countless problems. Oftentimes, our experiences define who we know ourselves to be and impact how we feel, think and behave. The Life Model calls these negative experiences A and B Traumas. Traumas have the potential to create much pain in our lives. When unaddressed, unprocessed pain can hinder us from reaching our potential and keep us from being who God designed us to be. These hindrances can be a source of frustration, worry and anguish for us and people who love us. See the Relational-Emotional Brain diagram by Maribeth Poole here.


Level One pain, attachment pain, is the worst pain the brain knows. You experience Level One pain when you feel “heart-broken,” rejected, lonely and abandoned. Level One pain, when present, is recognized by strong, intense cravings that make us feel we are going to die if we do not get what we think is needed for relief. Have you ever felt homesick, rejected or abandoned? If so, you know what Level One pain feels like. Level One hurts. It hurts bad!


Level Two pain is the pain and reaction you experience when you stand on a ledge and look out the window of a high building. Your stomach says, “GET ME OUT OF HERE – NOW!” Pain at Level Two shows up in different ways because this pain often comes in the form of intense reactions. Pain at Level Two, when unchecked, keeps us in ongoing states of hypervigilance and can lead to withdrawing from other people. We feel disconnected. Our reality can be extremely fearful and intense when Level Two pain is active. Level Two pain, like Level One, is difficult to change because it is subcortical (below the level of consciousness) so we cannot “will” it to change or go away. Thinking, will-power and better choices do not produce change at Level Two. More is needed.


Level Three pain is what we experience when we are angry and cannot calm down. We are “so mad we can't see straight." We feel this type of pain when we are in a state of distress and stuck in one of the “big six” emotions (fear, anger, disgust, hopeless despair, sadness and shame.) We cannot escape what we feel. Emotions take over and consume our focus, energy and thoughts. Have you ever felt so ashamed you couldn’t face someone again or lost sleep because of worrying? This is Level Three pain.


Level Four pain occurs when we are in a situation that is very important but we do not know what to do or how to act. Because our Level Four gives us a strong sense of who we are and what we are about, our identity, we effectively learn from observing other people and how they act in similar situations. When faced with situations and circumstances that are new and unfamiliar, our Level Four tries to find “files” from past experiences to rely on for the present. When there are no files to rely on or helpful experiences to utilize, we experience a loss of focus and direction. We may be reactive and experience obvious signs of immaturity that is apparent to the people around us. Level Four pain is not fun for anyone! Level Four looks for a greater mind to show us the way.


Level Five pain is what we feel when we are in a situation where our mistakes or behaviors become the most important thing about us; even more important than who we are. Maybe you have said or done something you wish you could take back but the people around you hold your actions above who you are. Ouch! That is Level Five pain.

Level Five pain is an internal conflict where our explanations and experiences no longer match. For example, we may hold the belief that “God is good” until something happens to our health, children or property. At this point, we, like Job and his wife, experience not only great sorrow but perplexity regarding our circumstances. Our explanations may no longer fit with our present circumstances. This means it is time to update. Without more information feel confused and uncertain. Level Five pain is the easiest of the five types of pain to resolve. Track 3 trains solutions for each pain level. Read some insightful research on why stories are important here. (Provided for non-commercial research and education use only.) 


When you invest in THRIVE training, you not only learn to identify these levels of pain in yourself and the people around you but you effectively find the resources needed to address problems with strategic solutions that work. Why waste valuable time and resources trying to play a piano that is out of tune when you can play melodious songs to your liking on a finely tuned piano? Now doesn’t that put a smile on your face? Come, learn the skills that can change your generation.

See the five level pain chart with solutions