Pain is an inevitable, often horrible sensation that alerts you that something isn’t quite right. Whether you stub your toe or discover a personal betrayal, pain can hit you in the core of your being like nothing else. Read on to discover why pain is a physical and emotional experience.
WHAT IS PAIN?
The nature of pain is fascinating. If you asked a doctor fifty years ago what they thought it was, they would say it was most likely the result of nervous impulses. For instance, if you hit your knee on a table, it then overwhelms the local nerves, sending a flurry of signals to the brain. And once it’s there, the mind generates a sensation of pain, which causes physical ‘hurt.’
But the above explanation opens up a whole new set of questions.
Is pain real?
Are painful emotions felt on the same level as physical pain?
Can emotions cause pain?
It’s all very confusing.
IS PAIN REAL?
Well, it depends on what you mean by ‘real.’ Pain is a subjective experience. The only reason we know it exists is that most of us experience it for ourselves. If you were to zoom in on the chemistry of pain – and see the electrical signals travelling up and down nerve endings – you would see that something was happening.
You wouldn’t, however, entirely understand the subjective experience of pain. You would see neurons firing off and some twitching of muscle fibres, but even still, nothing in that data told you about the quality of the personal experience of going through it. However, this doesn’t mean that the experience is any less real.
EMOTIONS AND PAIN
When most people describe the pain they experience, typically, they use words that refer to emotional states or outcomes. Depression, anger, fear, and sadness all seem to cause pain, independent of any physical injury. But are these experiences the same as the regular pain you get when you stub your toe or burn your hand on the kettle? As well, emotional and physical pain experiences are further complicated when experienced by Empaths or Highly Sensitive People.
It turns out that these experiences are similar but not the same. When you stub your toe, the leading cause of pain is nerve endings firing and neurons creating pain. But as the pain becomes more chronic, the emotional pain component takes over. People not only get sick and tired of feeling discomfort, but they also start to feel the psychological consequences of the condition.
They may ask themselves questions like, “Will I ever feel better?” But ‘feel’ in which way – physically? Emotionally? Can you genuinely experience one sensation without the other?
In a sense, pain causes negative emotions, compounding the pain that a person experiences in a symbiotic fashion.
One might explain this is why there is now a growing interest in alternative health products such as CBD balm. These CBD compounds do not conventionally address pain, i.e., blocking nerve signals. Instead, they activate systems in the body that generate our feel-good factors, which fundamentally change the experience of these sensations from negative to positive.
Pain, therefore, is a complicated thing. Pain links to our consciousness, but as of yet, Western science still cannot entirely wrap its mind around it due to its subjective nature, making it difficult to characterise.
It is a personal experience and therefore requires an individualised approach to enable healing; from alternative healing to conventional medicine, the experience of emotional and physical pain requires a holistic approach and continued innovation allows us to seek new and improved ways of handling discomfort.
How do you handle painful situations?
**This is a collaborative post.