Social pain: characteristics, causes and associated psychological factors

Pain is an unpleasant experience that living beings undergo in any part of their body, being caused by several reasons and two types of pain should be highlighted: physical pain and social pain.

There is a strong consensus that social pain could be defined as an unpleasant emotional experience and triggered when a person feels rejected by other people with whom they wish to integrate socially, so that rejection can produce the same feelings of pain as if you are in physical pain.

This article will attempt to explain the differences and common characteristics between physical pain and social pain.

    The concept of pain

    When we talk about the concept of pain, we mean a universal experience in all beings; however, the different ways of suffering and the different ways of feeling it have many nuances.

    For example, when we accidentally cut our finger while cutting a lemon, we are more likely to experience pain in that finger; while we also often feel pain when we feel rejection from a loved one or someone we admire.

    The word for this feeling that we experience in both cases is pain; however, the origin that caused it is completely different. Then one wonders if the physiological mechanisms underlying the two types of pain are similar.

      What is social pain?

      Social pain is defined as an embarrassing and unpleasant emotional experience. be triggered when a person feels rejected by another person or a group of people with whom they would like to have a relationship, so that this rejection can cause that person suffering very similar to what they would experience from physical pain. Additionally, social pain also includes experiences of loneliness, ostracism, stacking up, grieving, loss, rejection, interpersonal conflict, and negative social feedback.

      There is currently research that has shed light on the role of the social factor in people in coping with pain and how fluctuations in mood or behavior can trigger supportive reactions in other people as well as changes in their social relationships. Research in the field of neuroscience has also identified an underlying shared neural pathway in emergencies of social pain and physical pain.

      A person’s social rejection is experienced by themselves with feelings of pain because their reaction to this rejection is measured by the same neurological processing systems as if they were experiencing physical pain.

      This is why social rejection, bullying and other forms that make a person feel socially excluded cause social pain to the person who suffers from it, deep and devastating pain on many levels. To experience this social pain in the person’s brain as if he had just suffered a physical blow.

      It is important to give the importance that harassment or any form of social rejection that many people undergo on a daily basis deserve., with an emphasis on children, so psychology and neuroscience have done a lot of studies on this.

      In addition, it is common for people and society in general not to attach the same importance to social violence, the result of rejection which leads to the isolation of the rejected person, as to physical violence, although the Pain experienced in both cases are quite similar and can worsen the psychological consequences of social pain.

        Relationship between social pain and physical pain

        Social pain and physical pain, when experienced, they even activate similar brain regions as a means of responding to the emotional experience experienced as a result of the two types of discomfort. And it is that both are able to activate dysphoric emotional states, elicit cognitive assessment patterns and motivate behavioral changes.

        At the same time, research that looked at both types of pain has shown that people who are more sensitive to physical pain, in most cases are also more sensitive to social pain. Sensitivity to physical pain has also been linked to experiences of social rejection or support and social pain.

          Experiments on social pain

          Research investigated the neurophysiology of social pain with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) techniques, finding that areas of the brain involved in physical pain distress also play a role. a relevant role in anxiety caused by a failed social experience that was painful for a person.

          On the other hand, people who had greater social support or a more active social life showed less activity in areas of the brain involved in physical and social pain. This research has been able to show that undergoing a negative evaluation at the social level, accompanied by negative comments denoting a rejection of oneself by others, activates regions of the brain linked to the affective dimension of pain.

          Scientific hypotheses and theories have been developed on the biological utility of this overlap between social pain and physical pain as evolutionary mechanisms to serve as a tool for social animals to respond to different threats to social inclusion.

          There is other research that suggests that in animals and humans, there is a convergence between the two types of pain at different levels, because due to the long process of development and the path to maturity that human beings experience, their social attachment system could have superimposed on the pain system, also taking as its seat this signal to perceive pain in the face to social rejection to avoid the harmful consequences of human separation and isolation for human beings.

          When a person suffers from social pain in a timely manner, their way of reacting to this negative event may be socially appropriate; on the other hand, if this social pain could become a chronic disease, their self-esteem could be affected, while they could develop feelings of rejection towards others and behave in a way against them, so they would use ineffective but harmful coping strategies, reduce their intentions to engage in prosocial behavior.

          There are also studies on social pain which have shown that pain it tends to reappear years after the end of the negative social situation experienced in the past, therefore, real cases have been found of adults who continue to have unpleasant feelings related to social pain that could be closely related to bullying suffered as a child.

          It was also found that if people who had experienced negative social experiences in the past no more than 5 years ago were asked to experience severe pain mentally reliving them.

          A meta-analysis in which a sample of 308,849 people was carefully studied over a follow-up period (7.5 years), reflecting among the results that people who had healthy social relationships and strong bonds with d ‘other people used to enjoy’ better health and it is also estimated that they have a 50% higher chance of survival; comparable to long-term smoking cessation action. In addition, social isolation outweighed other health risk factors such as physical inactivity and obesity.

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