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Emotional and Physical Pain Activate Similar Brain Regions

When people feel emotional pain, the same areas of the brain get activated as when people feel physical pain: the anterior insula and the anterior cingulate cortex.

...Over the course of evolution, our bodies decided to take the economy route and use a single neural system to detect and feel pain, regardless of whether it is emotional or physical...

Pain, of course, is always both a physical and an emotional experience. If I stub my toe, in addition to the physical pain, I am likely to be also angry or disappointed with myself or with someone else who is convenient to blame (Why did you leave that box in the hallway where I couldn’t see it until I hurt myself? Now look what you’ve done!!).

...Emotional pain may be located in the body in those places where an expression was meant to happen but failed to materialize. If I felt like screaming at the person who left the object in the hall, the object that stubbed my toe, but I didn’t actually scream, and in fact, I didn’t take my anger out on the person, I might still have residual muscle tension in my neck, throat, and jaw (holding back my angry scream). Deeper insults go deeper into the body. Rage and hatred are the ultimate gut feelings, down in the bowels (I’m so mad I could puke; You make me sick to my stomach).

For emotional pain, an analgesic will help us temporarily but it won’t take away the unresolved feelings that never got seen or expressed or really felt. In order to get over grief, resolve anger, and even embrace happiness, we have to really feel those things in the body. We are quick to access the body locations of pleasurable feelings (food, drink, sex, warmth, touch) so why not also let ourselves go to the places of emotional pain? Yes, it hurts for a while, but then – miraculously — there can be relief and the emergence of a new perspective on ourselves and others.

-Alan Fogel, Ph.D

Read the full article here.

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