Aging Successfully: Is your pain physical or emotional?

Imagine the following scenarios. In the morning you turn on the shower and place a thermometer under the flow to make sure the temperature is correct. Later a friend asks you to go swimming in the lake. You say, “No, thank you,” without explanation. Then in the evening, and every evening, you examine each inch of your body to make sure you have no abrasions or bruises.

Now imagine a life without being able to appreciate a magnificent sunset or enjoy the kisses of a new-born puppy.

While the above reads like something out of a novel, these concerns are a living reality for those who suffer from congenital insensitivity to pain (CIP). CIP is a rare condition in which a person cannot feel — and has never felt — physical pain.

In addition to feeling no pain, these people have a limited ability to experience emotion.

One example is a 70-year old lady with CIP fell and when she stood up she walked funny, but carried on throughout her day. A year later she learned she had broken her hip in that fall.

If you suffer from severe chronic pain, CIP may sound like utopia. However, this condition can be deadly because these people cannot feel anything from a sunburn, to a cut, to an allergic bee sting. Few people with this condition survive to become adults.

For decades experts in the American medical field believed there was a distinct difference between physical and emotional pain. With modern research techniques, including MRI scans, these experts are discovering the opposite is true.

While physical pain travels through a different neural pathway than emotional pain does, the two pathways are similar. When the brain receives a pain message it has a similar reaction to both the physical and emotional pain sensors. One analogy is to think of the brain believing physical and emotional pain are fraternal twins.

Remember, pain itself is not the problem. Pain is nothing more, and nothing less, than a warning system. It tells us something is wrong physically and/or emotionally.

Primary care providers are learning more and are expanding treatment options for patients. If you suffer from chronic pain definitely embrace pain management techniques, then be proactive in discovering the cause of the pain.

What is not working inside, causing your body’s alarm system to sound thus increasing your pain? Is the cause something physical or emotional or both? If your primary care provider will not work with you, ask for a referral or find someone who is willing to help. Seeking help for emotional pain is now considered acceptable and is encouraged.

When my (now deceased) husband had severe aches and pains no one understood the cause was his depression, so he suffered needlessly. Later, when he had cancer he experienced acute pain and anxiety. His wise physician first got the pain under control then searched for the cause. My husband’s feeding tube had slipped out of place. Once that was dealt with, the pain disappeared.

Another example is a dear friend with chronic asthma. As she went to counseling to deal with her childhood trauma the asthma gradually disappeared.

I encourage you to explore all areas of your life and to seek out the root cause of your pain, be it physical, emotional or both. If the pain cannot be eliminated, it can be greatly reduced.

In his classic book, “My Utmost for His Highest,” Oswald Chambers wrote, “If we were never depressed we should not be alive…A human being is capable of depression, otherwise there would be no capacity for exaltation.”

Being human, I do not like to feel physical pain, or negative emotions, such as sadness. Fortunately, I have learned that it is the negative in my life which enables me to cherish the positive.

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Crystal Linn is a multi-published author and an award-winning poet. When not writing, or teaching workshops, she enjoys reading a good mystery, hiking, and sailing with friends and family. See