How Words Can Hurt Just As Much As Sticks and Stones

If somebody really hit me with a stick or threw a rock at me, it would likely hurt. Fortunately, I have not had a lot of that happening recently. It is also my good fortune that I have always had a fairly high pain tolerance. Apparently my brain is effective at releasing opium (opioid) like chemicals and equally efficient opioid receptors (a heartfelt nod to our recently departed friend Candace Pert PhD who helped discover these).

Helping people with pain for the last 25 years as a massage therapist and then as a chiropractor, I knew that our brain released these chemicals to reduce our perceptions of physical pain and enable us to (when things are working properly) move on and not be constantly focusing on pain. We have our own sustainable and locally produced internal source of pain meds when we physically injury ourselves.

Recently I ran across a fascinating new discovery that expanded my appreciation for our brain's compassionate action. It also made the connection for me of the personal to the collective. Healthy bodies very similar to thriving communities.

The study, found that we create our own locally sourced and grown (endogenous) pain relieving chemicals not only when we have physical pain but also when we have undergone the pain of social rejection.

In a unique experiment, participants were allowed to choose from on online dating website to pick individuals that they found attractive and would be interested in dating. While lying in a PET brain scanner, they were informed that those very people were not interested in them in return. In those moments they measured the areas of the brain that were known to cause relief from physical pain and voila, pain chemical release was occurring! The kicker is, the participants knew in advance that it was a sham, that the site was not real and neither were the ejections and yet even with such warnings, internal neurochemical self protective pain mechanisms occurred.

Another fascinating aspect of the study was that those participants who received the most pain relieving chemicals and were most effective in surviving the rejection with the least amount of pain were those who scored the highest on a personality trait known as "resilience," the ability to easily adjust to environmental change.

Finally, for some of the participants, when they received notice of mutual acceptance by their romantic hopefuls, there was also an increase of opioid substances showing that these chemicals were involved in both relieving pain and also in creating a feeling of happiness or pleasure.

So what does this tell us? There are many thoughts I have here. Firstly, that emotional pain is equally able to trigger "real pain" and real pain mechanisms as is physical pain. Secondly, that perhaps the estimated 20-30% of "highly sensitive" people are perhaps ones that are physiologically less resilient or have less efficient biological mechanisms for pain relief, both physically and emotionally. Lastly, I think have the opportunity to appreciate and rejoice when we see the science that illustrates that we are made up of a stew of hormones, thoughts, neurotransmitters, feelings, vibrations, organs, beliefs, subtle energies and much more that are interconnected in an inseparable way. We are privileged to live at an epic moment in history when science is validating the inter-connectedness of all these things rather than artificially dividing them "a la (De) cartes" as has been done for centuries.