Pain is a Valuable Warning
In his book "Pain: the Gift Nobody wants, Dr. Paul Brand describes the devastating effects of living without pain. He worked with leprosy patients in India who do have lost the sensation of pain and made a remarkable discovery. He found that the ravages of leprosy and the horrible disfigurements were not due to the disease organism directly causing the rotting of the flesh, but rather because the disease caused loss of pain sensation in the limbs. Without the protection of pain, the leprosy patients lacked the system to warn them of tissue damage. This is true with diabetics as well. After a lifetime of working with patients suffering from pain and those suffering from lack of pain, Dr. Brand gradually came to view pain not as a remarkable, elegant, and sophisticated biological system that warns us of damage to our body and thus protects us.
CNN had an article (Girl
with Rare Disease Doesn't Know Pain 11/1/04) about a girl named
Ashlyn Blocker who has a rare disease called anhidrosis that makes her
unable to feel pain. Her mother Tara Blocker knows the importance
of pain as a result and said regarding Ashlyn's insensitivity to pain:
Some people would say that's a good thing. But no, it's not, Pain's there for a reason. It lets your body know something's wrong and it needs to be fixed. I'd give anything for her to feel pain."
Ashlyn has had
serious injuries which she could have avoided if she felt pain. A
disease such as appendicitis is much more dangerous for her than for
other people because she wouldn't know she had it until her appendix
burst. That happened to another person with her disease.
One of the values of painful emotions are that they, like physical pain, are a warning that something is wrong and may motivate you to corrective action. If you feel emotional pain it is important to identify what the painful emotion is warning you about and to plan a course of action to deal with the problem to the best of your ability.
Once you plan a course of action the need for feeling the painful emotion is reduced. By reminding oneself of that one can reduce one's motivation to feel that emotion. For example, if one feels anxiety that one will not be able to solve a problem that one believes one has to solve, one can use that anxiety constructively. One can react to ones anxiety by spending some time planning a course of action that will maximize ones chances to solve the problem. Once that plan has been made there is less need to feel anxiety since it will then be less likely to be helpful. Realizing this makes it easier to feel less anxiety.
Aaron Beck in his book Prisoners of Hate tells that without the sting of hurt feelings, we would be putty in the hands of other people. Anyone would be able to take advantage of us, control, manipulate, or betray us, absent our robust efforts to stop such actions.
Psychological pain is often necessary to rouse us to overcome our natural inertia and focus our attention on the wrong and the wrongdoers. Pain impells us to do something to remove the source of the pain--either by righting the wrong or by getting out of the situation. Pain mobilizes our entire system to get away (flight) or to remove the source (fight.) The experience of anger is the catalyst for attacking an external agent; anxiety causes us to escape from it or to avoid it.
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