How Emotional Pain Addiction Causes Physical Issues (2022)

Emotional pain is pain or hurt that originates from non-physical sources. Sometimes this emotional distress is the result of the actions of others. Other times, it might be the result of regret, grief, or loss. In other cases, it might be the result of an underlying mental health condition such as depression or anxiety.

No matter what the cause, this psychological pain can be intense and significantly affect many different areas of your life.

While it is often dismissed as being less serious than physical pain, it is important that emotional pain is taken seriously. There are a number of common feelings that are associated with emotional pain that can have an impact on both your physical and mental health.

Also Known As: Psychic pain, spiritual pain, psychalgia, emotional suffering, psychological pain, algopsychalia, soul pain, or mental pain

Symptoms

Symptoms of emotional pain can include feelings of:

  • Deep sorrow, sadness, or depression
  • Grief
  • Intense distress
  • Loneliness and isolation
  • Negative emotions
  • Panic
  • Rage
  • Shame
  • Worthlessness

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In some cases, feelings of emotional pain may lead to physical symptoms that do not have an identifiable physical cause. When these thoughts, feelings, or behaviors that are connected to somatic symptoms result in significant distress or interruption in a person's ability to function, they may be diagnosed with a somatic symptom disorder.

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Causes

There are a number of different emotions that can lead to psychological pain. Everyone may experience these feelings from time to time, but when such feelings are intense and persistent, they can interfere with a person's ability to function and perform normal daily activities.

Sadness

Sadness is a natural emotion that is associated with loss and disappointment. However, if it doesn't fade with time, it might point to a treatable condition, depression, that can impact your whole body.

If sadness lasts for more than just a few days and impacts your daily life, it may be necessary to seek out medical intervention.

You should consult with your doctor and be completely honest about any alcohol or drugs you have been using to cope and self-medicate.

Unexpressed Anger

Anger is a basic human emotion. It releases adrenaline, which increases muscle tension and speeds up breathing. This is the "fight" part of the "fight/flight/freeze" response. It can be mobilizing at times; however, if it's not adequately managed, this response can lead to long-term physical consequences.

(Video) The mystery of chronic pain - Elliot Krane

Anxiety

As with anger, anxiety and fear both also release adrenaline. This generally results in jumpiness, a tendency to startle easily, the inability to relax (the "flight" response), or a feeling of being immobilized or stuck (the “freeze” response).

In some people, anxiety is a symptom of an anxiety disorder, and psychotherapy or prescription medication can help.

Anxiety can also be induced by substance use, in which case, quitting alcohol and drugs can often improve the symptoms. Tell your doctor about any alcohol or drug use to ensure you are properly diagnosed and treated.

Shame and Guilt

Shame and guilt often result in a feeling of "butterflies" or weight in the stomach. Common among people with addictions, shame leads to and is worsened by the need for secrecy.

If not addressed, prolonged feelings of shame and guilt may lead to physical symptoms.

How to Deal With Negative Emotions

Impact

Psychological pain can also contribute to or worsen physical pain in different areas of the body. Some common types of physical pain that may be connected to emotional distress include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Muscle pain, particularly in the neck
  • Nausea
  • Pain in the arms and legs
  • Stomachache or gastrointestinal upset

Emotional pain can also be accompanied by:

  • Aggression and violence
  • Alcohol or substance use
  • Attempted suicide
  • Compulsive behaviors including shopping, gambling, and sex addiction
  • Eating disorders
  • Risky behaviors
  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal thoughts

Such behaviors are often an attempt to diffuse or escape the intense dysphoria caused by emotional pain.

Physical vs. Emotional Pain

While physical pain and emotional pain are different, there is research that suggests that both types of pain may share some neurological similarities. Both emotional and physical pain are linked to changes in the prefrontal cortex and cingulate cortex.

Some researchers argue that rather than viewing emotional pain and physical pain as fundamentally different, they should be conceptualized as both being part of a broader pain continuum. Some types of pain are purely physical while others are purely emotional; but many times, pain lies somewhere in the middle.

Treatment

Treatment for emotional pain often involves addressing the underlying source of the symptoms, so treatment often depends upon the individual diagnosis. Psychological conditions such as anxiety and depression may be treated with psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of the two.

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy to treat emotional may involve the use of talk therapy, including specific approaches such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

CBT focuses on identifying negative thoughts and emotions that contribute to emotional pain and then replacing these thoughts with more adaptive, realistic thoughts and behaviors.

Medications

Medications may sometimes be prescribed to address certain symptoms of emotional pain. Such medications may include:

  • Antidepressants, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Prozac (fluoxetine) and Zoloft (sertraline).
  • Anti-anxiety medications, including benzodiazepines such as Valium (diazepam) and Xanax (alprazolam).

Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Sometimes alternative treatments such as acupuncture, Tai chi, yoga, biofeedback, hypnosis, and meditation may also be used to help alleviate symptoms of emotional pain.

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Coping

Emotional pain can often feel as strong as physical pain and at times can even cause symptoms of pain throughout the body. It can also have a detrimental impact on both short-term and long-term mental well-being, so getting appropriate help and treatment is important.

Because emotional pain can be so distressing, people often turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms, including drugs and alcohol. The problem is that while these methods might provide short-term relief, they cause greater damage in the long run.

Some healthier ways to manage your symptoms of emotional pain can include:

  • Talking to someone: Social support is critical for emotional well-being, and talking to a trusted person, whether its a good friend or a counselor, can help.
  • Exercising: Physical activity has been shown to be effective for improving mood, so it can be a good way to help deal with feelings of emotional pain. Blowing off feelings of anger with a run around the block is a better choice than acting out aggressively. Taking an afternoon stroll can do more to lift your mood than scrolling endlessly through social media posts.
  • Practicing mindfulness: Mindfulness, a mental practice that involves focusing on the present moment, can be useful when you are trying to cope with difficult emotions such as anxiety, grief, sadness, and anger. The process involves not only becoming more aware of your emotions but also stress learning to accept and let go of the need to control or eliminate these emotions.

Most importantly, if symptoms of emotional pain are causing significant distress or interfering with your daily life, talk to your doctor or mental health professional.

If you or a loved one are struggling with emotional pain, contact theSubstance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helplineat 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see ourNational Helpline Database.

9 Sources

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing; 2013.

  2. Slavin-Spenny O, Lumley MA, Thakur ER, Nevedal DC, Hijazi AM. Effects of anger awareness and expression training versus relaxation training on headaches: A randomized trial. Ann Behav Med. 2013;46(2):181-92. doi:10.1007/s12160-013-9500-z

  3. Smith JP, Randall CL. Anxiety and alcohol use disorders: Comorbidity and treatment considerations. Alcohol Res. 2012;34(4):414-31.

  4. Dolezal L, Lyons B. Health-related shame: An affective determinant of health?. Med Humanit. 2017;43(4):257-263. doi:10.1136/medhum-2017-011186

  5. Ahmad AH, Zakaria R. Pain in times of stress.Malays J Med Sci. 2015;22(Spec Issue):52-61.

  6. Molaie AM, Chiu CY, Habib Z, et al. Emotional pain mediates the link between preoccupied attachment and non-suicidal self-injury in high suicide risk psychiatric inpatients.Front Psychol. 2019;10:289. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00289

  7. Eisenberger NI. The neural bases of social pain: Evidence for shared representations with physical pain.Psychosom Med. 2012;74(2):126-135. doi:10.1097/PSY.0b013e3182464dd1

  8. Biro D. Is there such a thing as psychological pain? And why it matters.Cult Med Psychiatry. 2010;34(4):658-667. doi:10.1007/s11013-010-9190-y

  9. Brand S, Colledge F, Ludyga S, et al. Acute bouts of exercising improved mood, rumination and social interaction in inpatients with mental disorders.Front Psychol. 2018;9:249. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00249

(Video) Mental and Emotional Aspects of Addiction and Chronic Pain

How Emotional Pain Addiction Causes Physical Issues (2)

By Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD
Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD is a psychologist, professor, and Director of the Centre for Health Leadership and Research at Royal Roads University, Canada.

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(Video) Physical pain, emotional pain, addiction, numbing out

FAQs

Can emotional pain cause physical damage? ›

A new study reveals that our emotional stress can cause a noticeable decline in our physical health which, in turn, may lead to us experiencing physical pain.

Where does emotional pain show up in the body? ›

Where does emotion hurt in the body? 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. In one study, these regions were activated when people experienced an experimental social rejection from peers.

How does emotions affect the body? ›

Poor emotional health can weaken your body's immune system, making you more likely to get colds and other infections during emotionally difficult times. Also, when you are feeling stressed, anxious or upset, you may not take care of your health as well as you should.

Can you be addicted to emotional pain? ›

Scientists have discovered negative emotions have an addictive quality that trigger the reward centers in the brain. In other words, you feel like you're rewarding yourself when you succumb to negative emotions. Worry activates areas of the brain that trick you into feeling soothed.

Where is guilt stored in the body? ›

Guilt, Fishkin says, is associated with activity in the prefrontal cortex, the logical-thinking part of the brain. Guilt can also trigger activity in the limbic system. (That's why it can feel so anxiety-provoking.)

Is emotional damage worse than physical? ›

Yet, short of catastrophic injuries or illnesses, emotional pain often impacts our lives far more than physical pain does.

How do I know if I'm traumatized? ›

Suffering from severe fear, anxiety, or depression. Unable to form close, satisfying relationships. Experiencing terrifying memories, nightmares, or flashbacks. Avoiding more and more anything that reminds you of the trauma.

How do you know if someone is emotionally painful? ›

Know the 5 signs of Emotional Suffering
  1. Personality change in a way that seems different for that person.
  2. Agitation or displaying anger, anxiety or moodiness.
  3. Withdrawal or isolation from others.
  4. Poor self-care and perhaps engaging in risky behavior.
  5. Hopelessness, or feelings of being overwhelmed and worthless.
Dec 11, 2020

How do negative emotions affect physical health? ›

Poorly-managed negative emotions are not good for your health. Negative attitudes and feelings of helplessness and hopelessness can create chronic stress, which upsets the body's hormone balance, depletes the brain chemicals required for happiness, and damages the immune system.

Can emotional health affect physical health? ›

Being in a good mental state can keep you healthy and help prevent serious health conditions. A study found that positive psychological well-being can reduce the risks of heart attacks and strokes. On the other hand, poor mental health can lead to poor physical health or harmful behaviors.

Can emotions have physical implications on body? ›

Your body responds to the way you think, feel, and act. This is one type of “mind/body connection.” When you are stressed, anxious, or upset, your body reacts physically. For example, you might develop high blood pressure or a stomach ulcer after a particularly stressful event, such as the death of a loved one.

What does emotional addiction look like? ›

Those who develop an emotional addiction become hooked to feeling a familiar way or responding to their powerful, innate emotions. The brain gives off chemical reactions in response to certain emotions, similar to those experienced while taking part in other addictive behaviors or substances.

What's an emotional masochist? ›

Emotional masochists seek out complicated relationships time and time again. Subconsciously, they believe that fear - often the fear of losing someone - ignites passion and desire. Familiarity spoils the fantasy of falling in love - a challenge, however, keeps those senses in overload.

Can someone be addicted to crying? ›

Teens who have been addicted see emotions and emotional expressions like crying as pain. Treatment and therapy teaches teens in recovery that turning away from emotions is just a turn back toward addiction.

Which is more painful emotional pain or physical pain? ›

Pain caused by emotional distress is more deeply felt and longer lasting than that caused by physical injuries, according to a new study.

What do you do when emotional pain is unbearable? ›

Nine Ways to Cope with Emotional Pain
  1. Find a New Hobby. ...
  2. Move Your Body. ...
  3. Don't Ruminate. ...
  4. Stop Telling the Story. ...
  5. Start Keeping a Journal. ...
  6. Cry. ...
  7. Open Yourself to Others, Let Them In. ...
  8. Make a List of What You're Thankful For.
Apr 6, 2016

Is emotional pain the same as physical pain? ›

Although the brain does not process emotional pain and physical pain identically, research on neural pathways suggests there is substantial overlap between the experience of physical and social pain.

Can emotional pain change your personality? ›

“The study shows people with chronic pain experience disruptions in the communication between brain cells. This could lead to a change in personality through a reduction of their ability to effectively process emotions.

Videos

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4. The Mental & Emotional Hell of Living With Chronic Pain
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