Tag Archives: Mental Pain

How Emotional Suffering Is Like Physical Pain.

child trauma

At the height of my own mental turmoil, which lasted many years, my emotional suffering and distress was so intense that the only way I could carry on was to remind myself constantly that I could escape it through suicide. The major part of each day I spent obsessively going over and over in my mind how I could accomplish it successfully.

physical pain similar to emotional pain

I wanted a method with a one hundred per cent guarantee of working; however, whenever I came up with a method I thought I’d be brave enough to undertake, I always also came up with an idea of how it, just conceivably, might fail.

However remote the chance of this failure was, it would prevent me going ahead as I was terrified that I would end up not only suicidally depressed, but additionally crippled, quadriplegic, and/or brain damaged. (A previous suicide attempt I’d made, which I thought fool-proof, left me in a coma for five days and easily could have caused me to incur brain damage).

compare physical and mental pain

Furthermore, (and I am embarrassed to admit this) although I am not a religious person, in my paranoid state I was afraid that if I succeeded in killing myself I might be cast into hell and tortured for all eternity (actually, this is a common fear many deeply, clinically depressed people have : to sleep, perchance to dream, as Hamlet metaphorically and euphemistically expressed it). I would then go over and over in my mind all the different kinds of torture I might have to endure.

On one’s own, unable to sleep at 3am (cue thunder clap, lightning strike and eerily howling wind), this is a truly terrifying state of mind to be in.

When I would try to describe to doctors, therapists and psychiatrists how I felt (impossible – this is one of the worst aspects of mental illness, the sheer incommunicability of the depth and intensity of one’s suffering) I would explain, as best I could, that I felt a constant pain in my head which tortured me, and that this pain was neither wholly physical nor wholly mental; rather, it was some indefinable combination of the two.

Why is such emotional suffering so painful, even agonizing? In fact, a look at the neurology underlying emotional pain helps us to understand at least part of the answer.


The Underlying Neurology Of Emotional And Psychological Suffering:

Recent studies (eg Randle et al; DeWall et al) have highlighted how the brain may respond to emotional pain (such as rejection) in a similar manner to how it responds to physical pain.

Indeed, brain scans have revealed that, irrespective of whethet it’s the case that a person is experiencing emotional pain or physical pain, the same brain regions become highly activated. These two brain regions are:



Because the brain seems to interpret physical and emotional pain in similar ways, it is perhaps not surprising that some evidence has been found suggesting some pain killer medication (originally intended to treat only physical pain) may help to ameliorate emotional pain/mental distress, such as aspirin and Tylenol. However, this idea remains (currently) controversial due to the paucity of reliable data.

More research needs to be conducted – at the time of writing the jury remains out.

The Cycle Of Pain:

The pain cycle

Above: The cycle of pain shown above is applicable to both mental and physical pain:




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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).


Living With Mental Agony

mental agony



For many years of my life, I was in a state of unremitting, intense mental pain; indeed, terms like mental agony and mental torture would be far from inappropriate ways of describing my psychological condition.

I was rendered almost demented mental turmoil, unable think with anything approaching clarity, make decisions, talk in much more than mono-syllables, or function in relation to even the most basic of everyday tasks (as I have written about elsewhere).

I constantly thought of suicide as a way to end my suffering. Paradoxically, this knowledge that I could end my pain allowed me to carry on (although one suicide attempt very nearly killed me, as I have also written about elsewhere).

Mental pain, then, caused me, and has caused countless others, profound and protracted suffering. Such pain is also sometimes referred to as emotional, psychological or psychic pain. As one would expect, such a state of mind involves the sufferer experiencing deeply negative beliefs, feelings, thoughts and behaviours (which are likely, frequently, to be highly self-destructive).

The psychologist, Schneider, attributed the cause of such excruciating pain in the mind to frustrated psychological needs.

Many social psychologists, more specifically, attribute this almost unendurable mental anguish to being rejected by society, humiliation, and hurt feelings on a profound level.


Mental Agony And Sufferers Of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD):

We have seen in other articles that I have published on this site that those of us who suffered significant childhood trauma are at greatly increased risk of developing BPD than is the average person.

Research now indicates that those with this most serious of mental conditions (ie BPD) suffer more intense mental pain, on average, than those with any other psychiatric illness. This is borne out by the absolutely staggering statistic that 10% of BPD sufferers die by suicide suggesting that current care and treatment of such individuals is disgracefully inadequate. Indeed, much stigma still exists in association with a diagnosis of BPD, as the potentially fatal illness is generally very poorly understood.

The mental pain that sufferers of BPD experience is generally most intense in response to rejection and social isolation 

So utterly desperate can BPD sufferers become to escape their mental pain, with all its dementing effects, that they impulsively turn to behaviours that are self-destructive. These include:

– very excessive drinking

– self-harm (the self-inflicted physical pain floods the brain with endorphins which may temporarily alleviate psychologicaldistress).

– extreme overspending leading to massive and ruinous debt

– extreme gambling, leading to same effects as above

– violence/aggression (release of pent-up rage).

– sexual promiscuity/ sex addiction/ pornography addiction / sexual deviancy ( release of pent-up up tension, followed by self-loathing and self-disgust).

– hard drugs (in particular those with strong pain-killer effects such as morphine and heroin).

In fact, as may be partially inferred from the above list, research currently suggests that the mental suffering that BPD entails is even greater than was originally thought.

Possible Treatments:

This condition is so serious that expert help and advice is clearly essential.

Research suggests that some brain regions, such as the anterior cingulate cortex and the prefrontal cortex may be involved in the processing of both physical and mental pain. It follows from this that some treatments for physical pain, such a paracetomal, may, if taken over a long period, help to reduce mental  pain – however, more research into this is necessary.

Hypnosis, too, is used by some dentists in order to reduce the patient’s experience of pain so much that their dental work can be carried out without anaesthetic. Again, then, it follows hypnosis may be effective in also reducing mental pain.

Mindfulness, too, may help some individuals.


Hypnosis_for_pain_relief Hypnosis For Pain Relief (click here).




Above eBook now available on Amazon for immediate download. Click here.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).