Pain and Pathos Dr Byron Rigby – Consultant Physician in Psychiatry

September 17, 2013

Byron Rigby has written an interesting paper on the relationship between depression/pathos and pain. The studies of pain have exploded in recent years but, frankly, I am more confused than ever.  Especially with regard to chronic pain and CPRS. I have included some excerpts from Byron’s paper.

Medical practitioners and healing professionals of all persuasions are endlessly called upon to treat pain, anxiety, depression, unhappiness, distress and suffering in all their combinations and kinds. Yet the subtle relationships between these experiences are seldom considered, and have only recently been subject to serious research.

In almost all languages, the words for physical pain and mental suffering are similar, or even the same. Our expressions of distress about them, including crying, tone of voice, withdrawal and mutual sympathy are also often nearly identical. The behavioural, social and pharmaceutical measures we adopt to ameliorate these experiences are also sometimes similar.

Language reflects connections between many experiential, cognitive and affective states that are increasingly being found to be neurologically grounded. We talk about someone or some event as a “headache”. A person or event that distresses us may be referred to as a “pain in the …. (neck, gut, etc)”. We routinely refer to “wounded pride”, “a broken heart,” “hurt feelings”, “painful memories”, etc. The wistful memory of past things is called “nostalgia” (“our pain”).

Words like “pathos” and “passion” have migrated across languages with meanings varying between emotional and physical pain. Languages are replete with synaesthetic references, the commonest of which deserve to be regarded as potential leads to neurological connections.



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