Emotional pain is as real as physical pain. We have all experienced it. However, the way most people deal with emotional pain is different from how they deal with physical pain. When we have physical pain, we hardly deny it. We have no problem going to see a doctor about it so that the pain is looked at and treated. If someone breaks a leg for instance, there is no hesitation in going to see an orthopedist and taking pain relievers to stop the leg from hurting. There is hardly any negative self talk or blame like, “You fool. You good-for-nothing. What can you do right? You broke your leg due to your stupidity.” But when we feel emotional pain, we hardly ask for help. What do we do? We deny it or we look for something to distract us from feeling the pain. We seem to find it hard to deal with emotional pain or even get help. For a broken leg, you know that something is wrong. But for an emotional pain, you may not know that something is wrong with you apart from your pain. Also, a broken leg is a broken leg but each person’s emotional pain can manifest in different ways or symptoms.
When you experience emotional pain, people may not know that you are in pain. You may even doubt that there is something wrong. Added to that is your negative self talk, “You are a loser… You will never amount to anything… This is all in your head…Come on, snap out of it.” Your mind goes on and on. You do not want to admit to anyone that you are not feeling well and so you end up self-medicating with distractions – watching TV, going on social media, going for an outing. You end up pretending to be happy. You think the pain is gone but it has not. You have covered it up probably with an addiction. The pain is there. It is dormant but it is there. When it awakens, it will demand for food. The food will be your negative thought or emotion, or other people’s reactions. When the pain is being fed, you are not conscious. Somehow the pain possesses you then. The result is drama. You blame others for how they make you feel and your feeling then is the consequence of believing the story in your head.
Psychologists have used four experiments to discover how people get over emotional or physical pain. In their paperWhen Hurt Will Not Heal: Exploring the Capacity to Relieve Social and Physical Pain, the authors propose discoveries suggesting social or emotional pain is as real as physical pain. Participants were asked by the researchers to relieve their past painful experiences by writing in detail what had happened and how they had felt. In the first two studies, students were asked to relive both emotional and physical pain, answering a series of questions and then recalling in detail an experience of betrayal by a person who was close to them, or both. Each experience was to have occurred in the previous five years. The students were asked to note how long ago the event happened, how much it hurt at the time, how many times they had talked about the experience, and how painful the experience felt now. The researchers from Purdue University in the US and Macquarie University and the University of New South Wales in Australia found that participants in the emotional pain condition reported higher levels of pain than participants in the physical pain condition. The students also reported less pain when they relived the experience than they had reported before writing the account.
Participants were given cognitive tasks with different levels of difficulty after reliving a socially or physically painful event in experiments three and four. Those in the emotional pain condition performed worse than those thinking about physical injury.
Dr. Kip Williams from Purdue, one of the authors, said, “While both types of pain can hurt very much at the time they occur, social pain has the unique ability to come back over and over again, whereas physical pain lingers only as an awareness that it was indeed at one time painful.
“Why aren’t we always suffering pain by recollections of social betrayal and other forms of social pain? Because we are pretty good at keeping these memories at bay.
“We had to induce our participants to think about the details of the social painful event in order to get them to feel pain at the present. Merely saying, ‘Oh yeah, my boyfriend cheated on me once…’ is insufficient to cause current pain. They have to steep themselves in the memory, and that’s something we don’t ordinarily do.”