Emotional Pain Explained (Part 1)

by Ruchir Sodhani – Mental Health Counsellor/Therapist at Rukmani Birla Hospital in Jaipur

emotional pain explained - what your therapist wants to tell you

The ‘reality’ of emotional pain

Many times, we experience pain ‘physically’ – in our bodies.

At other times, we experience it ‘emotionally’ – in our hearts. 

Emotional pain may be a result of – 

  • Feeling hurt
  • Grief
  • Sadness
  • Regret
  • Shame
  • Shock
emotional pain examples

It could even be due to significant losses such as ‘broken’ –

  • Dreams
  • Hopes
  • Relationships
  • Respect
  • Aspirations
  • Health
  • Trust

The reality of emotional pain and its impact on our body and mind is actually very similar to physical pain.

However, it is common for people to regard feeling emotional pain to be a ‘weakness’ in their character, especially for men.

This is an example of something we call ‘fragile masculinity.

Such family or social attitudes may force us to suffer emotional pain quietly, inside, alone, and in shame.

Physical Signs of Emotional Pain

We all know that physical pain can lead to emotional pain.

Especially when physical pain is intense or prolonged or if we have low control over its occurrence and remedy.

However, it is not as well known or acknowledged that the reverse is equally true.

Emotional pain can cause physical pain too. Especially when it is intense or prolonged, or we have low control over its occurrence and remedy. 

Some physical symptoms of emotional pain may include –

  • Headaches
  • Migraines
  • Indigestion
  • Racing heart
  • Sluggishness
  • Low or no self-care
  • Fits or fainting, often accompanied by loss of appetite, memory, energy, motivation, interaction or intent.
signs of emotional pain

We all understand that emotional pain may be caused by a ‘traumatic’ situation.

But emotional pain can also slowly build up over time. 

Many smaller events may contribute to our pain and eventually add up to become substantial.

Especially if the smaller events were not fully attended to or healing options were not considered at the time.

Again, this is similar to the residual effects of physical illnesses being carried forward, like extra baggage.

It is obvious that we feel emotional pain in situations that affect us directly.

But it can also be felt when we see loss or trauma being faced by others. Such pain can be even more than when experiencing a trauma ourselves. Such vicarious pain is quite evident when people close to us are suffering. 

However, we may also feel it deeply when our ‘core values’ are threatened or crushed. 

This may include witnessing the dark side of life, such as –

  • Poverty
  • Injustice
  • Oppression
  • Conflict
  • Lack of dignity
  • Degradation of nature
  • And cruelty towards animals. 

We can feel other people’s pain, other living things, and even mother nature!

Our very ‘personal’ response to emotional pain

What we consider to be traumatic, feeling hurt and how bad it feels, how it impacts us, and how long the after-effects last − vary from person to person, even within the same family

emotional pain

The way of coping or dealing with trauma also varies from person to person. 

Hence, we may often find that even friends or family are puzzled and frustrated by –

  • How we feel about an incident
  • The intensity of our feelings
  • How long we feel them
  • How we behave/react. 

We feel that they cannot understand us.

And in turn, they may be triggered into being judgmental, giving advice, desperately wishing that we behave differently, being angry, blaming, or saying that ‘if we think like this, we deserve this suffering’.

Sadly, this makes us disengaged and even more isolated!

Emotional pain can be intense, debilitating, build up over time, and arise in response to indirect events.

Why is emotional pain painful? Could this pain be trying to tell us something?

Pain is a natural in-built signal. Its job is to tell us that something is not quite right and needs attention.

Emotional pain may be seen as a signal to stop, attend, reminisce, grieve, share, reconcile, or cherish. 

Even though we may have little control over the circumstances, it may help to see it as an invitation to find ways to care for, protect, nourish, and heal ourselves

A call to thought and action – A call to be aware, but also to be creative in our response.

When avoiding emotional pain becomes an (unstated?) motive

Naturally, we all try to lower the risk of feeling hurt.

But alas, we can become obsessive in trying to avoid pain.

emotional pain

This avoidance may be unconscious or unstated.

It can become the ‘driver’ of our entire decision-making process.

(Does this happen to you sometimes?) We may get caught up in overthinking how things could go wrong, fretting about everything, and frozen into inaction. 

Things, people, activities and choices that have sparked, excited, and propelled us in the past, can do so now too.

But we retreat into a shell. We forget events and learnings from our own lives that some risk and some emotional pain is inevitable and even healthy.

The thought of facing more pain or feeling hurt may make us fearful and helpless, leading us to make bad choices.

emotional pain

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