Emotional pain – where does it hurt?

A skilled doctor, nurse or consultant will try to help his or her patients describe their pain as accurately as possible.

They’ll aim to find out about it in a number of different dimensions such as: intensity (How much does it hurt), location (Where does it hurt?), quality (What does the pain feel like – is it burning, stabbing, aching etc?), and duration (Is the pain continuous, or does it come and go? Does it only hurt when you do something specific?).

They’ll also be interested in how unpleasant you find it – and to what degree you have an urge to escape the unpleasantness.

And you just thought you’d got an aching leg.


The point is, physical pain is often used as a diagnostic tool, providing a medical expert with his or her first clues about what’s wrong.

If I have a pain in my side, it doesn’t really matter that I don’t know where my liver or kidneys are.

If I point to where it hurts, and do my best to describe what it feels like, the professional will generally do the rest.

I think we’re not surprised that physical health is tackled in this way, so I wonder why we may not always be inclined to take a similar approach to our mental wellbeing?

If you’re feeling down, do you stop to think about where the hurt really is?

Is it in your head, or your heart, or your stomach?

All these and others are valid places to have feelings.

What does the hurt feel like?

Is it a kind of a sharp pain?

Or more of an ache?

I won’t go into the whole pack of questions you might ask yourself, but think about what a professional might ask you about physical pain, and you’ll almost certainly see the type of things you might ask yourself about emotional pain.

Just as important, if you do have better days, be sure to ask yourself why this feels good.

See if you can pinpoint where the good feeling sits, and how it actually feels.

I’m sure we’d all like more good days, so it’s a good start to understand what we actually mean when we say we feel good.

Putting feelings into words is an invaluable step towards understanding them.

And speaking them out loud (to someone who cares) is a brilliant way of being understood.

One thought on “Emotional pain – where does it hurt?

  1. Emotional pain hurts in my neurons: it fires a short-circuit in many different places of my brain. It may create the equivalent of near seizures or the equivalent of paralysis in some of my limbs, or sometimes all of them. At its best, it is just my legs, at its worse, it is the fingers that are typing this comment.

    It clogs the train of thoughts. It blurs the speech. It creates a loop of the same damaging self-deprecating ideas or at best some mantras that can’t get out of the area of my head.

    The emotional pain constricts the throat and oxygen cannot flow freely then, the pain will open my mouth like a fish out of the water. My heart will start hurting because of that chain of event. Only breathing can appease the panic.

    Emotional pain is making a lot of noise and makes it very difficult to hear what others are telling me, their words will reach me in hindsight when I realize they were talking to me, and I have to translate what they told me from noise to words to meaning. It may take minutes before the process is over, but they have already gone to another part of their lives.

    Emotional pain makes me live at a different pace than when it is not there.

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