Today our focus is on why we need to take emotional pain as seriously as we do physical pain?
If your face is bruised and bleeds even a little, your physical pain and discomfort will be noticed and you will receive compassion, consideration and attention, because people see the wound. But if your heart is ripped and bleeding and the emotional pain is so severe and debilitating, you will receive none of these because there is no evidence that you are hurt. Yet even broken bones and bleeding skin inflicts none of the profound cognitive, emotional and psychological impairments emotional pain does.
With physical pain, it’s easy to investigate what the problem might be and in most cases figure out what needs to be done which is not the case with emotional pain. Emotional pain is devastating and causes us severe unbearable anguish which could go on for days, weeks or even months. Scientific studies indicate that emotional pain affects our brains in such a way that one experiences withdrawal symptoms similar to those experienced by people who are addicted to cocaine or heroin.
The fact that emotional pain often goes unrecognized or ignored by others makes it more devastating. One may receive support and comfort but only for a limited time. When Patrick’s mother died, his friends moved in to help him organize for the burial. Several weeks after the burial, just his siblings and a few close friends checked on how he was coping. Nobody seemed to see his pain, after all he is an African man who is not expected to be weak and as a firstborn he should be “strong” for the family.
In some situations, the person going through emotional pain is not only denied support and compassion but is also forced to use the dwindling emotional reserves to hide their pain to avoid being judged as weak and overly emotional. Emotional pain is worse than physical pain in the following ways:- Memories trigger emotional pain but not physical pain. Our ability to evoke emotional pain by merely remembering distressing events is profound in contrast to total inability to re-experience physical pain. A woman who gives birth after a painful labour and caesarean section and is rejected by the “baby daddy” is more likely to see the scar and remember the day, not because of the labour pains but because of the pain of rejection.
We use physical pain as a distraction from emotional pain and not vice versa. Some people engage in physically draining activities such as excessive exercise in the gym, mountain climbing, weight lifting, some even cut their skin because the physical pain distracts them from heartbreak. You cannot on the other hand try to recall how you were rejected by an ex-lover to distract you from the pain of a broken bone.
Physical pain gets more empathy than emotional pain. We underestimate others emotional pain but not their physical pain. Because physical pain has evidence of suffering. Emotional pain echoes in ways physical pain does not. Emotional pain leaves numerous reminders, associations and triggers that reactivate our pain when we encounter them. Patrick had received news of the death of his mother while out drinking with his friends at, Wazee Hukumbuka, their favourite village bar. That bar became a constant reminder of his pain and it took Patrick close to a year to enjoy his beer in the bar without feeling extremely sad. On the other hand, had Patrick fallen off the bar stool and broken his neck he was likely to be back to the bar as soon as he was healed unless the circumstances for the neck injury were emotionally traumatic.
Emotional pain can damage our self esteem and long-term mental health as opposed to physical pain. For physical pain to affect our personality the circumstances of the physical pain have to emotionally traumatic, but a single episode of emotional pain can damage our emotional health. For example a single painful rejection can lead to years of loneliness and withdrawal, being overly criticized as a child can make one develop into a shy introverted adult.
If emotional pain were visible we would be kinder, we would show concern, we would be less judgemental when we see others taking longer to go through heart breaks, we would be more self-compassionate, feel less shameful about our pain and be more open to asking for help.
March 2020 – My Heart Beats
On Emotional Healing
Copyrighted, Lucy Ngari
Kenya, March 2020