Psychological pain: what is it and what to do in therapy to overcome it

Psychological pain it is a concept that is sometimes used to refer to people who are going through difficult times and who need professional help in therapy.

In this article, we’ll take a look at what this form of discomfort is and what steps mental health professionals take to treat patients who suffer from it.

    What is psychological pain?

    As the name suggests, psychological pain is a type of discomfort, discomfort, or suffering in general that has no physical cause, that is, was not born from stimuli picked up by the nerves that send signals from our body to our brain.

    Thus, it is an unpleasant experience of a diffuse nature, which we cannot attribute to specific parts of the body, and which we generally attribute to what is happening not in the nerve cells which detect organic errors in our bodies. tissues or organs, but to what takes place in our mind.

    This means, among other things, that it is very difficult to know the origin of the psychological pain, because we are not able to know even by approximation the field in which it is a question of acting to “cure”.

    In fact, even the idea of ​​needing a cure for this type of discomfort seems questionable: Is this really what would solve the problem of medical intervention? In fact, there is no reason to take this idea for granted: even the therapeutic resources provided by psychiatry in these cases are usually, hopefully, an aid in sustaining the experience for some time, although we exposing it to side effects and ultimately putting an end to that discomfort.

    So while psychological pain often has objective implications that go beyond what goes on in our consciousness and subjectivity (for example, if it is very intense, it is associated with an increased risk of falling into attempts suicide or the development of addictions to be “relieved” by generating an additional problem), who suffers from it in his own flesh has no other choice but to admit that he does not fully understand what is happening to him, and that ‘he cannot locate the source of the discomfort not in a physical thing, but in his consciousness.

    Despite this, there are aspects where psychological pain and physical pain overlap in the same experience. For example, anxiety, when presented at very intense levels, is usually accompanied by digestive problems, general discomfort in muscles and joints due to muscle tension, increased propensity to suffer from headaches or even migraines (in the case of those who suffer from them).

    This is not strange in itself, nor is it a scientific mystery; it is a reminder that the division between mind and body is fundamentally a social construct that we use to better understand the complexity of the human experience; in reality, the two elements are part of the same reality, and are clearly differentiated only in a superficial sense, in the world of language and metaphors used to describe the mind.

    Difference from chronic pain

    Chronic pain has in common with psychological pain that in this case its presence also does not indicate that there is an organic problem in a place where there are nociceptors (cells that trigger the sensation of pain during detection of lesions in certain body tissues).

    however, in case of psychological pain, there is no doubt that the problem has nothing to do with injuries, inflammation or burns, But with abstract psychological processes that have to do with how we interpret what is happening to us and what we can do.

    So, people who suffer from psychological pain do not feel discomfort in the stretching of the nervous processing that goes from the senses to the brain, but throughout the perception-action-perception cycle itself, that is, say throughout the circle of the brain. : what we believe is happening to us and what we believe we can do about it.

    This problem is not so much physiological as it is philosophical (we don’t have to be important philosophers to accept it, of course).

      What do you do in therapy for psychological pain?

      As we have seen, psychological pain is a very complex phenomenon. This makes it difficult to define even from scientific examples, although in general it has been possible to establish a series of common elements which present cases of psychological pain and which make it possible to distinguish it from the different types of nociception.

      In view of this, psychotherapy is considered to be the set of procedures which, carried out by experts in psychology, it can help overcome or alleviate this discomfort. The key is to act on both sides of the perception-action cycle: Both in the way we interpret reality and analyze what happens to us based on certain beliefs, and in the generation of habits of interaction with the environment and with others.

      In this process, psychologists keep in mind that mental processes are also, in essence, actions, a part of our behavior. After an experience of psychological pain, several patterns of behavior are grouped together which sometimes take the form of anxiety, sometimes depression, sometimes frustration or impulses that are difficult to suppress, etc.

      In any case, in therapy we see which patterns of behavior nourish and reinforce these mental operations and these behaviors observable from the outside and which maintain the discomfort, to modify these elements and replace them by others.

      Are you looking for psychological support?

      If you are feeling psychologically ill and notice that you need professional help, I suggest you contact me for therapy. I am a psychologist specializing in anxiety and / or depression, as well as addictions and poor impulse control, and I base my work on the cognitive-behavioral model and on acceptance and engagement therapy. I attend face-to-face (in Almeria) or online, and if you want to know more about my work, you can visit this page.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Meerwijk, EL; Weiss, SJ; Towards a unifying definition of psychological pain. Journal of Loss & Trauma, 16 (5): pages 402-412.
      • Shneidman ES. The suicidal spirit. Oxford University Press; 1996. Appendix A Survey of psychological pain.
      • Thornhill, R .; Wilmsen, TN (1989). The evolution of psychological pain. At Bell, RW; Bell, New Jersey (ed.). Sociobiology and social sciences. Lubbock, Texas: Texas Tech University Press.
      • Wille, RSG (2011). About the ability to resist mental pain. The Scandinavian Psychoanalytic Review, 34: pages 23-30.

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