The Nature of Physical and Emotional Pain

The Nature of Physical and Emotional Pain

Yesterday was an amazing day. I helped deliver my new baby grand daughter. Her name is Ella and she is tiny and gorgeous of course. It was a relatively fast birth, as they go. Within 3 hours the little bundle slid out and took her first breath. No time for the civilized accessories of modern pain killers.

Albert Einstein once explained relativity as “a minute sitting on a hot stove seems longer than an hour with a pretty girl.” For my daughter at the time each minute would have been very long.

But at the end, she said “I don’t remember the pain.”

Physical and Emotional PainThis is really the nature of physical pain. Once it’s over, and for child birth there is mostly an abrupt end, it’s gone. You can remember having the pain, but not actually re experience it.

When it comes to emotional pain, it’s a completely different story. That extraordinary gut wrenching feeling of being rejected or of grief for a loss, of fear, loneliness can be re experienced time after time like some personal Ground hog day nightmare.

My favorite comment in that classic movie was Bill Murray talking about a day he had that was absolutely perfect for him and saying “Why couldn’t I get that day over and over again?” Because for some reason, most of us rehash the emotionally painful experiences over and over, rather than the amazing ones.

But apart from that, is emotional pain the same as physical pain, if we can re experience it by recalling the original situation? Consider that physical pain is felt in different areas of the body, from pain receptors sending information to our brain. Whereas our emotional states come from our interpretations of the external world. They are visceral sensations we generate in response to our perceptions (for instance threats to status, connection or self image).

They are entirely different pathways.

2 comments
car repos - July 26, 2011

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