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For me, emotional pain is much worse than physical pain because it takes a greater toll on a person overall and they have little to no control over it.
Emotional pain is stressful and very draining. Your heart feels broken and heavy, you have no motivation, and you don’t smile much, if at all. You don’t laugh or enjoy anything.
It can also cause people to be angry and depressed. Being in emotional pain also causes low self-esteem, and a person going through emotional pain might tend to bottle up emotions that can sometimes overflow into constant tears/crying (the bottled up emotions eventually get released, but not always right away).
When a person is feeling better, painful memories can come back at any point … which can trigger emotional pain, and can affect you all over again.
With physical pain the memories can be brought back, but you don’t feel that physical pain anymore. (Someone can remember breaking their arm, but the pain doesn’t’ come back when you remember it).
Emotional pain can be relived over and over again, unlike physical pain. Sometimes you don’t know why you are having emotional pain, but with physical pain you can see something wrong and know what the pain is about.
Emotional pain can damage long-term mental health also, and can be felt more deeply; it can stay sometimes with you for a long time, whereas something like a broken leg will heal in a few months.
One thing that gets me is that with emotional pain, people can’t “see” it; it is invisible. Physical pain can be seen and people go to them right away to help.
I read an article somewhere years ago about (paraphrased) how people react to others’ situations so differently (physical illness vs mental illness). The people with cancer (this was the example in the article) always had people bringing meals over, helping out in every way they could, etc.
But there were also people who had mental illness (schizophrenia was the example) … who everyone also knew about also … but those same people didn’t do one thing to help out the family with the person who had schizophrenia. It would have been helpful though, because of the emotional pain the person has (or their family), the energy it takes out of people, etc. Some help and encouragement along the way would have been really nice and supportive (end of article).
This article really resonated with me … after reading it, I asked my mother if anyone had helped her out with anything (specifically from her church family, which she was and is still heavily active in) in the beginning when all of the mental illness stuff started … she said no, not one thing … no cards, dinners, nothing. She had no support from anyone. (and I am relating this to her more than me because I was living with her and she was dealing with me on a day to day basis, when I had no idea what was going on).
Then I asked her about people she’s known who have/had cancer (in the same church family), and if people helped them out with different things and she said yes, that they were helped out a lot … dinners, cards, offers to drive them places. My mother would have really appreciated some help. But people couldn’t see it (the mental illness) so it was as if it didn’t exist. And I just said “it sucks it’s like that.” And she nodded her head ‘yes.’
Emotional pain can be felt everywhere … it can cause headaches, backaches, digestive problems, sleep problems etc; emotional pain is basically everywhere, all the time, until it resolves (could be a day, could be a year, you never know).
Personally, I can handle physical pain I can handle. Even with chronic pain, it isn’t a big deal for me. It hurts, but I am aware of it and can more or less control it. I can’t control emotional pain. It just doesn’t work that way.
But they are both pain, just 2 different types of it. And no matter what, it all hurts and is painful to feel … just in a different way.
Like I was saying though, to me emotional pain is a lot worse than physical pain.
Here is another perspective. This is my story about pain… I have had depression oddly enough since I was six years old. It was thought to partly be the result of a physical illness I was born with. I was born with something called RH Disease.
When I was 26 I broke my spine, hip and pelvis in a snowboarding accident. I have been snowboarding most of my life, so I was doing something quite risky, but typical for my skill level. As a result I incured extensive nerve damage extending from my lumbar spine down to below my left knee. I lost blood supply to my left leg because my femoral artery was pinched for six hours.
Since then I live in physical pain every day. Some days are worse than others. For the most part I have gradually come to accept that I will hurt as long as I live. I no longer treat this pain. I just live with it. The first few years I attempted suicide a few times because it was hard to get used to unremitting physical pain.
Before I had my first spine surgery I would vomit from pain every morning as soon as I woke up. Every time I awakened from my drug-induced sleep, it’s like I was hit with a wave of pain equivalent to what I felt the moment my femur broke through my ascetabular rim (the rotator cup in my hip).
My husband would lift me out of bed and I would whine and yelp begging him to stop because any movement was agony. I would beg him to put me down, but soon learned that it would hurt just as much to be laid back down. Any change in temperature made my agony increase to the point that I would lose consciousness. This would happen after my husband would pull my pants down to sit me down on the toilet. I was too stubborn to use adult diapers.
I remember very little of the first six months that I was bed-ridden. Although I did want to live during the time I was suffering physically, it isn’t a fair comparison between the months of depression I experienced previously and subsequently. My daughter had just turned one when I got hurt. The sadness about the losses I faced as a result of this injury did not hit me until the worst of the pain was over. I never ended up using my master’s degree. I somehow finished it that very same year. I don’t even remember how I defended my thesis.
Physical pain doesn’t necessarily always improve and or go away either. My husband eventually left me after I was no longer bed-ridden. I became addicted to OxyContin for almost two years and although I finished school was too injured to do anything with my education and have no job to this day. It has been almost three years since. I am now 29 and walk alone with a cane. I haven’t taken pain meds in 5 months now.
I see depression as a lack of feeling due to being chronically overwhelmed by life, whereas the peak of physical pain is an overwhelming experience of its own. Although I cried and begged everybody around me to help me when my pain got bad, all that I wanted was for it to stop. I think this is what hurt my family the most; that they couldn’t help me or move me to a position that hurt less no matter how much I begged them.
My husband was never the same since. I didn’t want to die the way I often do now that the worst of my physical pain is behind me. I just wanted to return to a state where I could feel anything at all other than pain which brought on waves of cold sweat, fevers, vomiting and weakness.
It’s strange to me that although it was clearly harder for me to bare the physical pain, it is the emotional pain that makes me want to end my life. Maybe feeling anything at all is better than feeling nothing.
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Physical pain is more of a stimulus that you want to dull. Whereas psychological pain (especially as depression) is more of an emptiness that you want to fill. Psychological pain is more manageable, but this is all extremely personal and relative.
I survived cancer at 18 and experienced post-traumatic stress syndrome and depression afterwards. So I’ve experienced a tremendous amount of both kinds of pain. Both are terrible, but they are different.
There are two types of bad physical pain: chronic, and acute.
Bad chronic pain:
For bad chronic pain, painkillers don’t get rid of the pain, they just dull it. Once I was in so much pain, morphine wasn’t even enough. And yes, I was doing meditation and biofeedback and it provided temporary relief, but didn’t help once I finished meditating.
Chronic pain is also exhausting because it takes a lot of energy out of you to be in pain. It’s a constant fight. It can also keep you awake at night. So when you want to sleep, you might not be able to. Even if you take sleeping pills, you don’t get the high quality rest that you need. So you’re tired all the time. You also feel hazy from the painkillers, exhausted and helpless and conquered by the world.
Pain killers do very little for acute pain. Ever had a bone marrow aspiration without anesthesia? I did. You know they’re jamming a hollow needle over an inch deep into your hip bone and you can feel it. You hear your bones cracking. You meditate and zone out a bit, but you still know what they’re doing. You’re sweating, you’re in agony, and there’s nothing you can do about. You feel helpless and at the mercy of fate and your doctors which brings on psychological pain and anxiety.
This brings me to…
Depression and Psychological pain:
I suffered from PTSS and depression after I had cancer due to the cancer and some family issues. Psychological pain hurts–a lot–but in a different way. It’s an emptiness that you can often fill, with some effort.
With psychological pain, you hurt. You feel awful and sick, you can’t get out of bed, you feel alone and empty, your stomach hurts and your chest is tight… Maybe you harm yourself and cause yourself physical pain. But most of my friends who have engaged in self-harm were doing so because they felt pain and numbness and wanted to feel some gnawing minor to moderate physical pain to take their minds off the psychological pain.
For psychological pain, there is a brighter light at the end of the tunnel than there is for bad chronic pain. Once you take action–get out of bed, talk, see a doctor, take meds maybe–bad psychological pain is more manageable than bad physical pain and dealing with it doesn’t cause depression.
Physical and psychological pain are connected:
With physical pain, you’re at the mercy of the pain and have no idea how it will persist in intensity nor duration. That causes anxiety, which makes the pain it worse. So what really sucks about physical pain is that it often brings about psychological pain. Then you have to deal with the psychological pain too which is a long process.
By converse, mental pain brings about physical pain too. But generally the physical pain that comes from psychological pain goes away once the psychological pain starts to go away.
All this said, the worst kind of pain is the pain you’re in that you can’t manage nor anticipate the end of.
If you’re still not convinced:
I occasionally get flashbacks to suppressed memories of the physical pain I endured, and the accompanying feelings of fear, anxiety, and helplessness. Whereas, I can remember psychological pain, but I don’t have traumatic flashbacks about it.
A personal anecdote:
When I started chemotherapy, my grandmother’s friend told me that depression was worse than chemotherapy. I’d never been depressed before so I figured depression was the worst thing in the world. After experiencing depression, I realized that my grandmother’s friend just had much lighter chemotherapy than me.
I would say that it’s Definitely “Emotional Pain”, that’s far worse! Our bodies can react to help with most physical pains and, there Are Medications to help, as well!
But there’s no effective medication for emotional pain and no physiological reaction, that’ll help relieve it!
Emotional Pain, can last a lifetime! It still saddens me to recall how I was treated as a child! My father often took out his frustrations on me, beating me till bloody or bruised! That was half as hurtful, as him never wanting to do anything With ME !
Those rare times that “we” did go somewhere, such as one of the many nearby parks, he always invited a Car Full of other kids! There were 4 kids next door, spaced about 4 years apart!
He could grab any one of them and they would call to invite the others, at his request! I was just one of the bunch!
I can recall the closeness that my mother and had, very I was small! The beating start at age 7 or 8 and rather than protect her child, she would go to where she could hear him cussing me, or hear me screaming! So, my father ruined the relationship I had with my mother! Now, I hate that, more than the beatings he inflicted upon me!
I think the Worse he ever hurt me, was when “out of anger”, my father destroyed the New Bicycle my grandmother had Just Given Me, for my tenth birthday! As a child, it was the Only New Bike, I ever had! The other few I had, I’d fished out of other people’s trash and repaired, myself !
I’ve suffered some rather severe physical pain too! But now, it’s nearly forgotten! Four years ago, I had a knee replaced and THAT, was quite painful! But worse than than, was having a Medical Pump Device that’s implanted in my abdomen, changed out and waking up, during the surgery!
But now, several years later, that pain is all but forgotten, as is the pain of the two weeks of Pancreatitis I suffered from, in early 2002 ! But the pain of my mostly dismal childhood, still persists!
They’re both bad, but in different ways.
I have Bipolar1 (severe Manic Depression), diagnosed in 1989; stable (on Lithium) only since 2013.
I also have severe degenerative joint disease of the spine, hips, wrists and hands, and IBS. These conditions have caused me enormous physical pain since 2007.
The worst psychological pain I’ve ever experienced is what’s known as a “Mixed Episode”. It’s essentially the feelings of depression, but with the huge energy, restlessness, and psychosis of Mania. It’s HORRIBLE. It’s like absolute despair at 100mph. Everything hurts, desperately. All feelings of frustration, self-hatred, shame, anxiety, guilt, fear and angst but instead of feeling fatigued and unable to get out of bed, you’re climbing the walls. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.
The worst physical pain is from my spine. I have minimal disc space (ie, between my vertebrae) from T2 to S1, inclusive. Or, as my doctor puts it, from bra fastening to knicker elastic 🙂 bless him! It’s not just the mechanical, grinding pain of bone-on-bone (which is very bad). It’s also the pain of cramps, muscle spasms, from my back trying to stabilise itself physically – by muscle power, if the bones aren’t up to the job. It’s like having cramp – I believe Americans call it a ‘charley-horse’? – on either side of the spinal column, and on the big pads of muscle just inside your hips, just above the buttocks. It’s immobilising. And the painkillers I take for bone and nerve pain have absolutely no effect on it 🙁
But if I have to pick, I’ll say I’ve had more pain and suffering from Bipolar. It’s more destructive to your life chances, relationships, financial security, self-esteem, family life, and social standing.
You can take paracetamol, aspirin, diclofenac, codeine, morphine, gabapebtin, fentanyl for pain, and if they don’t take away the very worst pain, they still offer relief from pain the vast majority of the time.
But nothing – not even effective treatments like Lithium or Sertraline – take away the *damagedone, or the immense pain and distress and shame, of Bipolar1.
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Pain is a very interesting concept in itself.
As a Physiotherapist physical pain is my bread and butter. There are some extremely physically sore people in the world unfortuantely.
But over the years – just from listening – I have come to appreciate how much emotional pain people are in as well.
The interesting thing is they are intrinsically linked.
From my experience emotional pain is worse for two reasons.
- It has the potential to last for longer
- Its the foundational for which all physical pain is built upon.
Number two may sound a little weird but it is a VERY important concept to appreciate when trying to solve physical pain.
And here’s why:
Physical pain is essentially your brain’s interpretation of threat. Its a protective mechanism geared to help you survive.
If your back suddenly starts to hurt its not that youve suddenly damaged something. Its a signal from your brain that you’ve breached it’s threshold for coping with something. It just doesnt tell you what that “something” is.
Whats important to understand here is that the AMOUNT of pain you experience is influenced by how “threatened” your brain and nervous system already feel.
If you are already anxious, stressed, frustrated, angry, fearful, worried etc your brain and nervous system will already be in a heightened, more “threatened” state as it attempts to cope. This higher baseline makes any physical “pain” potentially greater and more sinister. It’ll lower your threshold for the onset of pain as well.
So while physical pain can be horrific for some people and potentially worse based on your rating relative rating scale, it squarely relates to your emotional “pain”.
For me your emotional pain is far more important and “worse” as it forms the foundation of your physical pain experience. Nail the emotional side of things and you’ll have far more control over the physical.
Does that make any sense at all?
I don’t think I can accurately answer this since I’ve never experienced extreme physical pain, but I think that emotional pain is way worse than people give you credit for, and should be taken more seriously by doctors.
For physical pain, doctors will give you anything to make it more bearable. Morphine (an opiate) is the gold standard: literally, all other painkillers are rated against it, with morphine being 1, aspirin being 1/360, and ibuprofen and Tylenol each being something like 1/240. All these painkillers kick in in less than an hour. Also, opiates not only kill physical pain, but also emotional pain, because they’re on the same neurotransmitters. In fact, they used to prescribe opiates for depression and anxiety up until around the 1940s.
Mental pain is handled differently by today’s doctors. If you tell a doctor you’re having emotional problems, if the doctor doesn’t just tell you to tough it out, you might get a prescription for an antidepressant like Prozac, Zoloft, or any of about 50 others. These drugs take weeks to do anything, not every one works for every person, and some scientists think they basically just provide a placebo effect.
Like I said, I’m not an authority on physical pain. I’m sure pain from cancer or a broken bone is considerably worse than just “feeling bad,” and it would be disrespectful to imply that it wasn’t. But, emotional pain should be taken more seriously by doctors than it currently is. If the drugs that are legally prescribed for physical pain can knock out mental pain as well, and there isn’t some shortage of the drugs, they should just go ahead and prescribe them. The fact that mental pain isn’t very effectively treated is the only thing that maybe makes it “worse.”
I wish my sister could be on Quora to answer this question of yours. I can’t exectly answer your question but I”ll try my best to do so.
She is suffering from mental sickness since 2009. She was doing fine in her life but then she changed her school and me and my family still regret that moment when she opted for this change. It’s really a long story so I’ll come to the point.
1) If you are mentally sick ,people can be very supportive and sometimes they won’t be.
At some point of time they’ll have these thoughts like , he/she is eating well,sleeping well, is physically healthy as we can see then why lying on the bed all the time. Is she trying to trick us? Is she trying to fool us using this sickness as an excuse so that she don’t have to study/don’t have to go to the job ?
2. When you are mentally ill you can’t really enjoy anything.
If you have a fracture in leg, you can watch T.V , listen to music, eat a lot lying on couch. but if you are mentally ill neither a movie nor a song nor a hot cup of coffee can give u joy for a moment.
I took my sis out many times for fun, but she never smiles. So many times she leaves the theater before interval of the movie.
3.People visit you, support you when you are physically ill.
And when you are mentally ill, even if people visit or show sympathy, you simply can’t listen or focus to what they are saying or how much they care.
My sis doesn’t have a single friend, not in real not even a virtual one (fb, etc)
4. You have a hope that after some time all physical pain will go away.
You take pills , you take heating pads, you try your best to reduce your pain. But this anxiety, this intense pain ,like needles poking your brain can’t be easily go away, all you can do is take pills and sleep. And we all know too much sleeping leaves a person more blue.
My sister keep telling me that sometimes she feel someone is clawing her brain apart and scooping her brain out. So, do we have a medicine for that kind of pain? No.
5. Sometimes a mentally ill person can say all the mean hurting things they don’t mean .
And even supportive people can listen up to a limit. They can control their anger, they won’t respond but after a while some mean things will be said by them too.
Imagine the eldest child screaming on his parents ,abusing them ,pointing all their faults, telling them to die somewhere and later on crying in a corner for what he did.
6. You can’t be certain for how long you’ll be fine.
7. You’re useless to others even if you want to help.
8. You can’t explain your situation to anyone.
9. You need to be looked after 24 x 7 . Which left your family strangled.
10. You can never live a normal family life neither anyone in your family.
Well I have been subjected to both for 32 years. I have been raped multiple times, first time I was 6 my sister was 7. It was by 2 men and lasted a year. My mother hated me but only me out of 4 kids ( one of them being a 17 year old rapist) She would punch me, kick me down right fight me like a full grown man, as if I was a man. I never fought back, couldn’t. I was called the fat ugly bitch. Always calling me a liar. Never buying me anything but I’d get to watch her love my siblings. One of her bf tried kissing me and touching me. They were always drunk. Now my way of escaping her when I was 16 was to get an older bf. So I did 32 years old to be exact. I didn’t know how to take care of myself let alone bills or drive. But I’ve was suicidal by 10 and since I was raped at a party by a 26 year old I had a daughter. Point is I needed to get away from my mother. The pattern just kept repeating. I used to say i date the devil he just changes masks. Every guy was massively abusive. By the time I was 32 with 4 kids .I tried to kill myself every way short of shooting myself(I didn’t own a gun) but one night I stayed up holding a knife I was gonna cut his throat while he slept. I finally put the khalif down n slept for 1 hour before kids had to wake. When he went to work my oldest came down stairs and said” I was gonna kill him I brought my knife” i cried n thought no don’t let my baby go ri jail because idk how to save us. One day not long after that we ran away with only the clothes on our backs homeless. 1 year later I got them the house I promised. But we never had a happy life we all rebelled and it was so hard to get used to the quiet. We all had to learn what some consider basic skills n knowledge. So now we r free, independent and even get to experience happiness. But the echoes of their harsh words try to take that happiness away. All of my physical scars are healed. I’m 36 now free for 4 years n I still only see the fat ugly bitch that was never good enough. And i have an amazing bf now. But I don’t have confidence. And believe me if I put all the abuse I’ve endored in this answer, it would be a book. So I know the emotional and mental abuse is by far the worst. Be careful what you say to the ones you love esp. Your kids. They won’t forget. I only ever tell my kids they are beautiful.
Emotional pain is far more intense and overwhelmingly fearsome than is physical pain.
Physical pain can be addressed with drugs, but emotional pain can never be addressed by any physical substance or drug. It must be internally overcome or it will result in mental illness, depression, shame and suicidal imaginations.
The masking and avoidance of emotional pain with ongoing drug treatments, drug addictions or alcoholism are all precisely the same attempt to reconcile the damage to the unrecognized Noble nature, by using animal cures and potions.
This is why none of our treatments and addictions actually works to improve our internal condition. You cannot nurse the dog, in order to heal the master.
The noble psyche in pain must either overcome, or be diminished and stripped of yet more godlikeness, no drug or physical material can come into play, as the condition is entirely meta-physically internal.
It is not simply a cocktail of animal chemicals causing pain, as emotional pain is very obviously perceptual. But unlike the physical pain that we experience, emotional trauma may attack our very core and perceptions of self-worth, without relief and for a life-time.
It is in the overcoming of the most egregious pain and fear that some aspect of our noble instincts and power must either be born or the creature simply contracts back into itself and into deeper minimization and pain.
Here again we must overcome our animal instincts, in order to heal the animal by the power and the reasoning of our Nobility.
The Noble heroic instincts of the mind should learn to love the animal world enough to overcome all emotional pain on its behalf, and for the securing of its contentment.
Viktor Frankyl in his book, man’s search for meaning says
Any suffering behaves like gas, no matter how small or huge it is, it takes up the whole room of your life. So, it doesn’t matter what it is, how insignificant it is, people will always describe the suffering as if it has taken all the space in their lives.
It’s true for both, emotional and physical suffering. A toothache can reduce you in tears and so does a rude remark by the one you love. I have only experience to narrate.
Yes, I was on a wheelchair. Just after I landed from chennai to new delhi after a painful surgery.
I recently had an accident where I broke my collarbone. I cried 3 times during the whole ordeal. It included a surgery to place a titanium plate to support it. I got it done after 3 weeks of the accident.
1) After two hours of the accident when I was finally left alone to sleep with injections and all. Before that I was cracking lamest jokes ever and somehow everyone was laughing ( I ll share, if you request). I cried because I was 2500 km away from my home, where I knew no one and I couldn’t even get up from my bed. I was shocked how my life has suddenly changed in matter of minutes. I was recently posted,learning the new language and understanding work and now here I am figuring out how will I change my clothes, go to washroom and hell, get up from my bed.
2) I cried when a doctor, where I went for 4th opinion told me, I will have to get the surgery done. Though the bone will be unite after an year or so and it would leave only a small bent in my left shoulder area. I cried because my collar bones were the best part of my body. I always loved to flaunt them and learnt the proper way to project them by watching Ftv in my teenage. I cried that my body won’t be flawless anymore, EVER! And no one will marry me. Yes, I was worried for this too.
3) I cried third time, after I came back home finally after 4 weeks of accident. By now, I had got my surgery done in chennai where I was with one close friend. She was my “attendant” for next 5 days when I couldn’t get up from my bed. I cried because my mother told all my pain was my fault. She had asked me to buy car but I bought scooty. So, I was responsible for all the trouble I and my family had to go through especially to see me in so much pain. Remind you, I hadn’t complained about my pain ever! I was happy to be taken care off and have loads of time to think.
I didn’t cry when I was wheeled out of operation theater with the fresh 9 inch wound on my shoulder with no pain killers. I didn’t cry when everytime I got up or laid down on my bed, my stiches were stretched and people described my face expression as someone was taking away my dear life from me. I was so happy when I got into comfortable position and all pain subsided. I didn’t cry when I could feel each and every pebble in my collar bone while being driven in super slow car.
In my heart, I knew all this pain is transcendental. The pain albeit at snail pace, reduced from first 5 minutes after the surgery to 4 hours after the surgery and so on. I just had to tell myself, at least it’s better than last time. I had to only wait for time to heal it once I made peace with my own demons of physical beauty and being dependant on other people for my each and every need.
So, finally I wrote the story here. Relax. I don’t appreciate unnecessary sympathy or queries about my health. I had injury 8 months ago and I survived. I learnt a lot about myself, people and life.
All I need to explain was we as humans know how to deal with physical pain, but emotional, not so much!
Edit: My jokes..
1) You must go and see the road where I fell down. If i ve broken my bone, I must have broken the road too. There has to be a huge hole.
2) When the nurse was collecting my blood sample in few vials: Ma’am, I can understand that you need the blood for blood bank. I promise to come back and donate blood but it’s unethical to take too much of blood from a patient who had an accident and you can.
3) After I saw my X ray : My bone count has increased to 209.
4) When someone told me I was courageous : I ve broken my collar bone, not spine.
And many more…