If people experienced emotional pain as physical pain, they’d run to get help.

Peeking out of a wounded heart.

Peeking out of a wounded heart.

Unfortunately, though millions of people are experiencing emotional pain, far too few seek professional help.

This thought occurred to me recently when I learned about CRPS (chronic regional pain syndrome) and RSD (reflex sympathetic dystrophy.) These two disorders are characterized by excruciating pain – often the pain level caused by amputation without anesthesia – and can persist with little relief for years or for life. There is no known cure.

When confronted with the pain of CRPS/RSD – or any significant physical pain for that matter – people run to a physician to find the cause and get relief. Although CRPS/RSD has visible signs like mottled skin and variation in skin temperature from non-affected parts of the body (the only pain disorder with this characteristic) it is surprisingly difficult to diagnose.

This is in part because there are few health care professionals who choose to be trained to diagnose and treat CRPS/RSD. It is indeed personally difficult to work with a condition that may not improve regardless of treatment. The instinct of those who treat pain is to make it go away and it can be demotivating when it does not, despite best efforts.

Those who do treat these relatively rare and often debilitating conditions have learned that if they help patients to function better with available medications and other techniques, they also enable them to distract themselves from the pain and focus on leading more normal and fulfilling lives. This is significant when we consider that the disease does not kill, but suicide is the result for some who do not get the right help.

So what parallels or differences can we identify by comparing physical to emotional pain?

  1. We know when we’re feeling physical pain, but we may not identify any specific emotional pain as the cause of our problems. Although our important relationships may be in trouble and we may feel insecure, sad, lonely, depressed, frightened, anxious, angry, hopeless or an array of negative emotions, we don’t label these as “pain.”
  2. Like CRPS/RSD, where the physical pain has outward visible signs, so does emotional pain. Think chronic negativity, addiction, arrogance, violence, isolation, divorce, sleep disturbance, sexual problems and other dysfunctional conditions.
  3. Like CRPS/RSD, when you understand the causes and properly label the pain, you can learn to function better and live a happier life – even if the pain may never completely go away.
  4. Like CRPS/RSD the most extreme result of failing to get the right help is suicide.
  5. Unlike with CRPS/RSD, there are knowledgeable, dedicated professionals who choose to treat emotional pain. You may need to search for a while to find the right therapist for you – and you should. But the fact is that help is available.

You wouldn’t think twice of running to your doctor if you became aware of an excruciating physical pain anywhere in your body. So if you recognize any of the signs of emotional pain as mentioned above, don’t think twice about seeking help from an experienced and highly recommended mental health professional.

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Jeff Levine

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