Cutting Edge Psychology

Social pain = physical pain to the brain

Posted on February 28, 2014 at 7:40 PM

As stated in Appendix 2 of 'The Hidden Psychology of Pain', there is no real distinction within the brain to psychological pain and physical pain- some of the same brain modules become activated when a person experiences emotional pain from social exclusion as when a person steps on a nail. The posterior insular cortex also lights up when we simply see another person suffering from social exclusion or pain. Considering this reality (which is again demonstrated in the study linked to below), it is clear that every experience of physical pain is also an emotional experience, and every experience of emotional pain is also a physical experience. We are just the one organism, not neatly divided into body and mind. It is only language (and perhaps a tendency of human analytic thought) which creates a split between mind and body.

Given this reality, it is also apparent that emotional factors have a substantial role to play in our experience of chronic pain. We are not just a clever collection of nuts and bolts, as depicted by the dominant bio-mechanic view of the human organism which informs most of the 'pain industry'. As such, if we as a society want to effectively address the chronic pain epidemic (between 1/3 and 1/5 Australians currently suffering from chronic pain), then we need to include psycho-social factors. It is no longer acceptable that our health practitioners pretend that we are no more than a faulty machine when experiencing chronic health or pain problems.

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