When is emotional pain worse than physical pain?

When is emotional pain worse than physical pain?

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Posted Aug 31, 2011 - 9:15 AM:
Subject: When is emotional pain worse than physical pain?
Physical pain is supposed to be worse overall but there are many cases when emotional pain is worse. Cheating on a significant other is probably the worst type of emotional pain. Being yelled at can be worse than some physical pain as well. There are also cases where the threat of physical pain produces emotional pain. What else is there?
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Posted Aug 31, 2011 - 10:10 AM:

gbagcn wrote:
Physical pain is supposed to be worse overall but there are many cases when emotional pain is worse. Cheating on a significant other is probably the worst type of emotional pain. Being yelled at can be worse than some physical pain as well. There are also cases where the threat of physical pain produces emotional pain. What else is there?

Who supposes physical pain to be worse overall? Mental and emotional pain is pretty much always worse. When has anyone ever killed themselves from purely physical pain? Maybe from the thought that they may have to endure a large amount of physical pain, but that is still mental pain, not physical.
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Posted Aug 31, 2011 - 10:31 AM:

Often it is possible to avoid or mitigate emotional pain by altering one's attitudes, judgments and internal narrative about the hurtful subject. Physical pain is more difficult to avoid or mitigate. Also, I find that I haven't learned too many lessons from physical pain since I was a child, but continue to learn very useful lessons from emotional pain.
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Posted Aug 31, 2011 - 11:25 AM:

The body probably can't tell the difference. Emotional pain can lead to long-term physical consequences. Look at people who suffer from anxiety attacks or PTSD. The difference is that emotional pain is pain you are inflicting on yourself.
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Posted Aug 31, 2011 - 11:51 AM:

When is emotional pain worse than physical pain?

Simple... when it is.

Pain, both emotional and physical are relative states of being. There is no standard of measure for degrees of pain.

Case in point:

Physical pain... I have very little. The pain receptors in my body just do not work as well as in others. Is that good? Well... 18 months ago I completely tore my Achilles tendon. There was no pain at all. I continued to limp around for 2 weeks before it was diagnosed. This added many potential problems in terms of recovery from such a horrid injury.

Easter I tore my meniscus. A 3rd degree tear which is not just a little ouch. I felt no pain. I noticed that over the next 3 months my performance was declining rapidly. I had trained over 14,000 km on my bicycle and played 20 baseball games (not to mention practices and by the way... I pitch... it was my landing leg, the one that gets all of the impact). This lack of pain resulted in many complications, but...

I was operated on just 9 days. I have now ridden my bike some 8 hours in the past three days. I still have stitches in. No pain. No swelling. No problems.

No pain has it's upside and downside.

Emotional pain...

I have had some rather dramatic stuff in my life. Funny thing is, the result of this pain has made me less 'weak' in the face of pain of the emotional kind. I have not lost my ability to feel emotionally. Just the opposite is true. I feel even more and deeper the emotions. I just do not let the pain 'get to me'.

I would not bother comparing the two, as honestly they do not have much in common other than the expression of pain. Sure threats of physical pain can cause emotional pain, just as having your heart broken emotionally can cause physical pain. Making a contest out of the two is a bit odd. Why worry with comparing pain? Would not the capacity to relieve pain or learn to cope with pain be much more prudent questions to address?

Again... when? Easy... when it is.


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Posted Aug 31, 2011 - 3:44 PM:

Perhaps the question is asking at a way to compare emotional/mental pain with physical pain in order to understand how to act in a negative-utilitarian system. Because of the subjectivity of pain and suffering, we are unable to determine the scope of pain that others experience. Empathy and assumption are utilitarianism's best friends in this regard. Now, I can't be sure if this is what's under contention here, but personally I shy away from any systems which try to minimize suffering.

Another complication is that mental/emotional pain is a metaphor. Physical pain has a material basis. Usually, sensory neurons which identify pressure and temperature changes react with pain at extremes of temperature or pressure changes (like a hot element on the stove or a pinprick). Sometimes, also, the brain will fire without input to cause inexplicable pain. And the discoveries regarding phantom limb are fascinating, especially because of how very physical the reason is that there is pain in, say, a non-physical missing arm.

But materially, mental and emotional pain are not pain in the strictest sense (except some emotional pain felt in the neural net around the viscera). It is by use of a metaphor derived from the sensation of physical pain that we can call it pain, and by understanding our metaphor, having felt pain, that others understand our meaning. But description by pain is one of several ways to describe what is going on, and personally I don't like it. I don't mind the elimination of physical suffering, after all, but a world without mental or emotional suffering would be insipid, and bring its own form of suffering with it. So, I might prefer metaphors like "mental turmoil" or "emotionally unsettled."

We don't have to agree on these metaphors, which I have just pulled out of my hat, but the fact is that they make some sense and they do not liken the experience to a form of pain.

All this is to show is that you are comparing two very different things on the premise that they operate using the same word. But the reasoning is in reverse order: you only understand it as pain after you use the metaphor which you understand only from feeling physical pain. Such mental/emotional experiences were what they were before we decided to call them pain.

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Posted Sep 1, 2011 - 6:36 PM:

Emotional pain is worse than physical pain when it causes more suffering to the individual on the receiving end of the pain. Example: stepping on your foot compared to suicide of your significant other. The other way around: physical pain is worse than emotional pain when it causes more suffering. Example: breaking a limb compared to being nervous for a test.


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Posted Sep 1, 2011 - 11:51 PM:

I think they're two very different kinds of pain. I think this is a good example of language as restricting.

We say "emotional pain" and "physical pain" because these are both things that cause us harm and distress so we categorize them together under the concept of "pain" and therefore compare them as if they are the same or somehow related, but are they?

To me emotional and physical pain are very different things and cannot be compared. I don't think you can say you ever experience worse emotional pain than physical or vis-versa. I think they're just two very different things.
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Posted Sep 2, 2011 - 4:41 AM:

While my previous post also argues why the two forms of suffering shouldn't be lumped together under one heading ("pain"), this sort of pain presents an interesting bridge between the two.

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Posted Sep 2, 2011 - 6:07 AM:

Well I am of the view that neither type of pain has a monopoly on how much discomfort they can inflict (mental or physical), in fact quite often the two go together. A person traumatized by something such as rape (and yes I do know what I am talking about here), will often find that the mental anguish that comes from dealing with the realities of such a horrid experience and past, also includes monumental anger towards oneself or others that can become expressed in a variety of ways including those that cause physical pain.

Which is worse? Some will say in this scenario the emotional pain as it precipitated the physical pain, which would be a fair judgement if it were not for the fact that the human body is riddled with nerves that not only register intense physical pain but institute a whole heap of reactions to it.

At the end of the day, both physical and mental pain are capable of shutting down the human body from being able to function effectively and in this context, one is neither worse than the other if the same outcome regardless of whether it was initiated by a mental or physical stimulus, still causes havoc for a person's life.

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