Why Love Literally Hurts

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by Sarah Kerns

I came across an article this week from the Association for Psychological Science (aps) and it was titled, “Why Love Literally Hurts.” It was able to link that when you feel emotional pain, you also feel physical pain and vice versa. Those who were feeling an emotional distress were split into two groups. One group was given a low dose of morphine, and others nothing at all. They found that those who were given morphine, cried less intensely than those without it.

In a review of studies conducted since this seminal work, published in the February 2012 issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science, Eisenberger offered a potential evolutionary reason for the relationship. Early humans needed social bonds to survive: things like acquiring food, eluding predators, and nursing offspring are all easier done in partnership with others. Maybe over time this social alert system piggybacked onto the physical pain system so people could recognize social distress and quickly correct it.

“In other words,” wrote Eisenberger, “to the extent that being separated from a caregiver or from the social group is detrimental to survival, feeling ‘hurt’ by this separation may have been an adaptive way to prevent it.”

The article goes on to say;

Still it’s not quite accurate to say that physical and social pain are exactly the same. As other research suggests, social pain may actually be much worse in the long run. A kick to the groin might feel just as bad as a breakup in the moment, but while the physical aching goes away, the memory of lost love can linger forever. (http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/publications/observer/2013/february-13/why-love-literally-hurts.html)

When I read these findings I thought less about typical emotional pain that happens to you, and the effects of emotional pain on children. I think all too often people are okay with saying mean things to their child because they’re not actually “hurting” them. This research shows that words do in fact hurt, sometimes more than physical pain. Children are so very fragile and we need to make sure that we are helping them with everything we do instead of hurting them. As my little picture demonstrates, ignoring a child gives the same emotional pain as physically harming them.



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