Is there a difference between physical pain and social pain?

Hypnosis has long been known to be associated with heightened control over physical processes and has been used as a therapeutic tool since mankind’s early history. As a Hypnosis Clinician, I have found that hypnosis is also associated with control over emotional processes from certain episodes of our lives which may remain for a lifetime. Break-ups, loss, disappointments and frustrations normally may come and go but certain situations can lead you into social pain. When something in your past or the present prevents you from moving on, it is imperative that you find ways to lessen the discomfort and find some control.

Is there a difference between physical pain and social pain?  A neuroimaging study examined the neural correlates of social exclusion and tested the hypothesis that the brain bases of social pain are similar to those of physical pain. Participants were scanned while playing a virtual ball-tossing game in which they were ultimately excluded. Paralleling results from physical pain studies, the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) was more active during exclusion than during inclusion and correlated positively with self-reported distress.

Another study demonstrated that people would prefer physical pain over social pain. Why? One reason is that victims of one form of social pain, ostracism, want some type attention, even if it is negative attention. Actually, people who suffer from an extended period of the silence have often remarked that they would rather have physical abuse for two reasons: to achieve a form of acknowledgement and also be capable of displaying to others physical evidence of their suffering.

But there may be another purpose. Both types of pains can be excruciating. Physical pain is usually short-term while social pain may last a lifetime. The significance of this distinction is important. It appears there is an upsurge of support of the belief that social pain is essentially akin to, or even resultant from, physical pain; but we need to recognize that there are significant differences between the two types of pain.

Pain is, by definition, unpleasant, but functions as an evolutionary critical function. Pain catches other’s attention, warns them to a hazard to their normal satisfactory condition, and prompts them to take corrective action. When pain occurs from tissue damage, the important attention-getting role of pain is obvious. If animals are not aware of a physical injury, they would not be inspired to evade the potential life-threatening dangers. Nevertheless, human beings, in company with other mammals, have another source of potential protection from perils of life; that is one another. From birth, all mammals are extremely dependent beings whose survival is established by the quality of their social bonds.

Some researchers believe that the neural design for the capability to experience social pain is connected as a part of the already established neural design that had developed for the experience of physical pain. Additionally, they propose that during the evolution of mammals, social pain initiated a threat defense response such as distress calls, by stimulating an evolutionary more primitive system for dealing with physical injury, the pain system. The overlap between these two systems is supported by physical and psychological evidence. Using hypnosis as a supportive, self-regulation skill for social pain management assists in separation and individuation.


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