Emotions and Pain

May 17th, 2011

The Broken Heart

Our emotions are certainly part of the human condition.  And the pleasant feelings imparted by these emotions can certainly add loveliness to our lives.  However these emotions can also impart great pain: Not just “emotional” pain, but at times intense and real physical pain, such as chest pain, headache, stomach ache, back pain and more.

How many of us have suffered an emotional trauma and found that a real pain seemed to occur somewhere in the body.  This could have been any kind of social rejection such as a breakup with a loved one, where the heartbreak can feel like our physical heart is really broken or feeling, “crushed” by a friend’s harsh words. Innumerable other emotional assaults may come upon us: some of which might be loosing a job, a divorce, suffering an injury, lack of money or the death of a loved one.  Any of which may cause a real physical pain in our body and at times even physical illness.

.Much research has been done on this subject, and the emotional pain that one feels is real and not “psychological”.   Neurological research has indicated that there is shared brain circuitry, or put differently, there is one nerve pathway for pain, whether the cause is truly medical or emotional.  The circuitry is the same.  It has been shown that the areas of the brain that are involved in pain make no distinction between physical or emotional pain.  This concept makes a clear case for the connection of the mind and body.  It also explains why emotional distress can make us physically ill, and kindness can help sustain health

It has been shown that the hormonal response in emotional trauma is very much the same as in physical trauma.  Immediately after a physical injury, the body can become numb to pain for a brief period as the “fight or flight reaction sets in.  Likewise after an emotional or “social” assault, the individual may become numb to additional emotional or social assaults for a brief period.

Another important area to be considered is that when one is in pain, one can become emotionally depressed.  A feeling of helplessness can ensue.  Consider when one is fighting a serious illness, or suffering from the treatment of a serious illness, depression is often a consequence.  Often when a cancer patient is receiving the various appropriate treatments, the adverse reactions of these treatments may so painful, and devastating it can certainly cause an emotional state of hopelessness and depression.  Pain and emotions are intertwined, and work in both directions.

There is a close association between chronic neuropathic pain conditions such as fibromyalgia and depression/anxiety.  These are two distinct conditions, but perhaps by their “shared circuitry” when one condition is healed, the other may persist.  It has been shown that, at times, those suffering from fibromyalgia may be helped by psychotherapy, which may address the patients’ psychological problems.  And this is not to say that pain of that disorder is not real.

Another very important issue not to be overlooked is the medical community’s occasional skepticism of the linkage of emotional to pain physical pain.  When a physician’s attitude is dismissive of inexplicable pain, a patient may feel more isolated and rejected. It is important that any medical approach is holistic, and be in concert with the concept of the unity of mind and body.

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