‘Even if my arms should want to embrace you again. And even if I’m all cried out no longer in pain. No I’ll never fall in love that way again!’ Do these words ring a bell? We are sure most of you go through these feelings after a heart break. But research my friend says you’re misery has company in this distraught world. A novel study shows that the pain we feel by emotional distress is more deeply felt and lasts longer than physical pain.
Dr. Kip Williams of Purdue University in the United States and colleagues at Macquarie University and the University of New South Wales in Australia conducted a series of four experiments. They discovered that painful emotional memories linger longer than those involving physical pain or injury suggesting that the intensity of emotional pain is as real as physical pain.
Lead author Dr. Williams mentioned, “While both types of pain can hurt very much at the time they occur, social pain has the unique ability to come back over and over again, whereas physical pain lingers only as an awareness that it was indeed at one time painful. Why aren’t we always suffering pain by recollections of social betrayal and other forms of social pain? Because we are pretty good at keeping these memories at bay.”
To find how people actually get over emotional or physical pain, the psychologists asked volunteers to give detail descriptions of their past painful experiences. They were required to relive painful memories by penning out what had happened over the previous five years. The first two studies involved a questionnaire to re-live both emotional and physical pain. The third and fourth experiment required subjects to perform cognitive tasks with different levels of difficulty after reliving a socially or physically painful event.
The researchers were amazed to find higher levels of pain in participants in the emotional pain condition as against those in the physical pain condition. They also reported to have lesser pain on re-living the experiences than they had before writing them out. Similarly the cognitive tests revealed that emotionally hurt participants performed worse than those who had thought of physical injury.
Far more vivid memories of emotional pain may thus put to question the old adage that ‘sticks and stones can break your bones, but words can never hurt you.’
The study is published in the journal Psychological Science.