Jan, I probably shouldn't jump in here, but everyone knew I would anyway I'm sure. I don't play any barre chords. Not one. SOMETIMES I think I should, and I practice a little. I can see a lot of benefits. Some songs "need" the sound of barred chords. I enjoy watching my husband play songs that I think are super tricky, and he just glides through them because he's barring EVERY single chord. But, I'm really stubborn. Maybe I like to make life difficult. LOL!
So, I play a non-barred F. When I first started, I'd leave the high E string alone. So my first F was not much different than a C. You can kind of mute the high E string as well. Now, I play both the High E and B strings with my index finger. Mini-barre if you will.
As a general rule, if I can find a way to play a chord that sounds decent and makes my life easier, I do it. I play Bm and Cm without a barre too. (shh, they're all gonna yell at me!) I started playing in the more classical position that TF suggested. Of course, I WAS playing a classical guitar! Now I usually hold my guitar in a more traditional position, but I still tend to tilt the guitar up toward my face a little (can see the fretboard better). This makes it much trickier to attempt barre chords, I will admit. So, if you're holding the guitar in a traditional position rather than the classical position, try to make sure it's not tilted up. A strap helps put it into the correct position.
Good luck! As for finger pain, maybe try putting the capo on and playing up a few frets. The action will be lower there but fingering doesn't change. You can work your way back down as your calluses develop more.
OR - just keep toughing it out and learn the "right" way! GOOD LUCK LADY!
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What constitutes excellent music is in the ears of the listener.