To feel pain is something that nobody likes, being something unpleasant in spite of having an origin and an evolutionarily adaptive function. Probably when we think of pain we think of a physical pain, of injuries or illnesses.

But there is also another kind of pain, which we have all felt at some point and which causes us great suffering: the emotional pain that can be caused by our experiences or the lack of them . It is about this last type of pain that we are going to talk about throughout this article.

Emotional pain: what is it and what are its causes?

Although it is not unknown to anyone, we call emotional pain to all those sensations of suffering generated at a psychic level without a physical reason for their appearance. The causes of emotional pain are purely mental, and generally refer to the experience of some kind of aversive experience (being therefore its origin generally environmental).

There is a practically unlimited number of situations that can generate this discomfort. Some examples that tend to generate this type of pain are break-ups and disappointments in love , fights and serious conflicts with loved ones, loss of abilities, the appearance of a serious, chronic or even terminal illness or the death of people we love.

As with physical pain, emotional pain is to some extent functional and adaptive: it allows us to avoid painful situations or seek protection from aversive events. However ceases to be so when it becomes a suffering that is prolonged in time or permanent or exceeds personal capacities and/or resources.

Can generate physical alterations

Emotional pain is a type of condition that is suffered at a psychic level, not appearing due to the presence of a medical illness (or at least not as a direct effect of the illness) or some deteriorated or injured tissue or organ. However, what is certain is that emotional and physical pain are linked, and the former can even cause an affectation at a physiological level: it is possible that we come to somatize our emotional suffering .

To somatize is to express through the body the discomfort of suffering originated on a psychological level, and symptoms may appear in the form of pain experienced as physical in different parts of the body. This pain does not have an organic cause, or if there is a real illness it is not the cause of the pain or it should not be as intense as the one experienced. However, the pain is neither unreal nor feigned , but is actually perceived.

Some of the different discomforts that emotional pain can cause are the presence of back pain, vomiting and diarrhea, febrile episodes, headaches and dizziness. Gastric problems or sexual dysfunctions such as erectile dysfunction or loss of libido may also occur. In very extreme cases it could even lead to blockages in basic functions such as speech or movement, and even loss of sensation in some limbs.

Managing emotional pain

The emotional pain and suffering it generates is, as we have said, adaptive at first. We must allow ourselves to feel it, and not avoid it or hide it, valuing it as something that can be very natural as a response to a given situation. If someone who is loved dies or decides to cease his or her relationship with us, it is logical and normal to have a high level of suffering, a sad state of mind, and a decrease in energy levels and the desire to do things. However, the passage of time and the arrival of new experiences will contribute to the fact that we will gradually manage our pain and move forward, overcoming it .

It will be when we cannot manage it, limit our life to a great extent or are unable to adapt to the new situation that some kind of action or professional help will be necessary.

The first thing is to recognise the existence of emotional pain , to validate it and to take into account that each painful experience implies a more or less prolonged process of overcoming it. It will also be necessary to identify the emotions that generate the suffering and the events that have caused them, in the case that they are not already known.

After that, we must allow these to be expressed and to flow, trying to learn how to modify them or even to introduce experiences that generate emotions that are incompatible with suffering. The search for alternatives and solutions to the reasons for suffering, or the experimentation of new experiences , can be of great help in overcoming pain.

One aspect to keep in mind in case of somatization: while it is possible to work and even successfully treat the physical symptoms derived from it, a complete recovery will not be possible unless the cause of the emotional pain is treated, as it will probably recur.