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Why Is Emotional Pain a Lot More Painful Than Physical Injury​

How the brain processes pain is a factor but there is more to it


By Mateja Klaric

broken image

When life deals us a blow, such as the loss of the loved one or emotional trauma, the pain can be excruciating and visceral. We can literally feel it in our body. Sensations, such as the feeling of breaking heart or walking around with a hole in our chest, are common.

Interestingly enough, it turns out that both physical and emotional pain are processed by the same centers in our brain. But although this can explain why emotional trauma hurts just like a physical one, that doesn’t mean that both types of pain are the same.

Emotional pain often hurts even more than physical injury. This is because it entangles a lot more than just a physical sensation and is thus more complex and harder to deal with.

Getting proper care and support can be a challenge

While physical wounds can be easily seen and cause everyone to fuss around us and get us to the ER asap, things are much different when it comes to emotional trauma.

Since emotional wounds aren’t visible, they tend to be brushed off.

Divorce or death, for instance, can feel as if we were ran over by a bus. But while everyone understands that severe physical injuries take months to heal, rare few show that kind of understanding when it comes to mental anguish.

Just like we might never recover from the most severe physical injuries, we might never be the same again after the most traumatic emotional blows. In both cases, it might take years of slow and painful recovery.

But instead of receiving care and support on par with what we’d receive if we got physically wounded or even disabled, we are usually expected to “move on” and “get over it” in a rather short period of time when it comes to emotional trauma.

This kind of attitude only makes matter worse. On top of the already severe suffering, getting that kind of response makes us feel as if there’s something wrong with us for feeling so much pain. As a result, we feel even worse.

In reality, though, there is nothing wrong with us, for deep emotional hurt is a perfectly normal reaction to a traumatic event. It’s just that our society isn’t accustomed to properly dealing with it.

Emotional pain drains much like bleeding

It’s not unusual for those inflicted with emotional injuries to describe their state as if they were bleeding inside. That’s because emotional wounds indeed bleed — only, they don’t bleed blood, they bleed energy.

For those going through severe emotional trauma the most basic everyday chores often feel like monumental tasks. They might feel completely drained of energy and unable to perform even the simplest tasks.

But while one of the first things we’d do in the case of physical wounds is to help the wounded and try to stop the bleeding, we do nothing of the sort when it comes to emotional wounds.

Consequences, however, are in both cases dire. In the case of physical wounds, loosing to much blood leads to death, and in the case of emotional wounds, not receiving enough care and support during the crisis leads to a downward spiral that might, in the worst case, end up in suicide.

This is not so because the wounded wouldn’t be able to see the way out. It happens because they have been so drained of energy that they have none left to go on living.

Reconvalescence is in order

While it’s self-explanatory that a physically injured person needs a lot of care and time to rest and heal properly, we rarely apply the same standards to the treatment of emotional trauma.

But getting back on one’s feet after severe emotional trauma often takes just as much if not more care and support than recovering from physical injury.

If one feels broken inside, it’s because one has actually been broken, even if we cannot see it from the outside. The broken heart syndrome is real — people actually die from what we call a broken heart.

So let’s start acting with more compassion towards ourselves and others. It’s not right to expect from a person who just went through a major trauma after a loss of a loved one to get back to normal in a matter of days.

We wouldn’t expect that from someone who suffered a major physical injury, now, would we? No, we wouldn’t, so let’s apply these same standards to other kinds of trauma as well.