Physical Pain vs Mental Pain

   Which one is worse? Does it have something to do with the level of control over the trigger (or the perception over that control)? How do these two influence each other?

   There are probably many factors that need to be taken into consideration for this topic and I’m sure I’ll miss a few, but let’s take this from an overall choice (if we can call it like that). Of course, it would be better to have no pain, but if we would have a choice, what kind of pain would we chose? The physical one or the mental one?

   The duration, intensity, source and pain threshold are some of the most important factors that influence that decision. Each of us has different pain thresholds, so for the same source and intensity, which type of pain could we endure the most? The thing is that it might be harder to locate that pain. When some part of our body hurts, we can locate that easier than when we have some mental suffering. This might tilt the balance towards physical pain because once we know what hurts us, we can do something to fix it (or not), but at least we can come up with a plan (pills, surgery and so on). When we feel some sort of mental pain, it’s not that easy to locate it so we won’t be that specific. We can’t say that our perception about something/someone hurts, can we?

   We often use physical terms to describe mental pain. We talk about a broken heart from a mental point of view, not a physical one. A broken leg is not that metaphorical, is it? Having a hole in the soul is not the same with having a hole in the hand. This last hole might need some immediate attention if it’s too big, but we can walk around with the hole in our soul for a while until it gets too hard to endure. Both of these holes are able to interrupt our daily routine, but the physical one has a immediate influence, whilst the mental one has a long term effect.

   One type of pain can create the other, but not necessarily. There are many cases about people that went through high levels of physical pain because they had a strong mindset, but I believe this doesn’t apply the other way around. A strong body doesn’t necessarily drive us through high levels of mental pain. If we’re anxious or sad, we won’t necessarily get better because we have muscles. Sure, if we think about this from a long term point of view, having a strong healthy body helps us have a strong mind too, but if we think about just a specific moment, when the mental pain is triggered, does that strong body make a difference? I don’t think so. But a strong mindset makes a difference when we face physical pain because it influences the threshold. Also, we can choose to eliminate that mental pain easier than the physical one. We can decide if we’re going to let some words or ideas to keep “provide” the pain, but we cannot decide to stop feeling the pain our hole in the hand causes.

   If I have a choice, I prefer physical pain because I can give a certain meaning to it and if I label it as helpful for me in long term, I can find the required mental resources to get through it. If it’s not helpful in long term, I’ll figure out a way to move forward despite it. I find it harder to do the same when I face mental pain.

   If you have to choose one of the two, what type of pain would you choose?

51 thoughts on “Physical Pain vs Mental Pain

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  1. I have a low threshold of pain. I think I would choose physical though. It is easier to find the cause of the physical pain and manage it. It is difficult to know what is the cause of mental pain.
    I have epilepsy the pain and distress after having a seizure is indescribable.

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      1. I haven’t had a major one in a few months. From time to time I do get nocturnal jerks. It is not bad. For a fleeting moment I suddenly get up from bed unaware of my surroundings. The sudden break in sleep is troublesome.

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  2. I would say mental pain is by far the worst kind of pain – if only because it makes it so hard to think clearly enough to find a way to deal with it.

    Having said that, I would choose mental pain over physical pain any day. I can handle an extraordinary amount of mental pain, and every time I do, I come out of it so much stronger and with a whole lot of new skills, tools and wisdom. Mental pain is also an awesome source of creativity for me.

    Whereas I’m an absolute coward with physical pain. I manage to turn even the slightest pain into something excruciating, and usually convince myself it’s terminal.

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  3. This is a really interesting topic to discuss. Physical pain is definitely understood a hell of a lot more than mental pain, simply by the fact that you can see it. But I’m still not sure if I would pick it.
    I agree with what Natalie has said above^ mental pain is often much worse because it affects the way you think and the actions you take and sometimes what you can’t see is actually the most powerful. However, it does help you grow stronger as a person and I’m not sure how great I would be at dealing with physical pain. I guess in my experience I’ve dealt with mental pain predominantly and I think that if I’ve managed to make it up to this point, then surely I would be able to continue.

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  4. I posit that people would select the pain they are accustomed to experiencing. I have a tendency to think that women are more likely to choose mental pain just as men would likely select physical pain.
    I would select mental pain because I am experienced with it. And your mind can play tricks on you so physical pain may be experienced… differently.

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      1. I’m quite comfortable in the dark depths of my mind. But with physical pain i guess it depends on what type. Is it muscular, around the joints or in my gut? A superficial graze or gash on the skin would be different to being eviscerated.
        My body is really sensitive. I’m super ticklish at being touched, so I need a firm touch or whatever to not flinch.

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  5. Physical sensations can be overcome by mental control; you are what you think.

    In the British Royal Marines, they teach you to forget the meaning of the word ‘pain’, because this removes the negative association.

    This leaves you with just a ‘sensation’, which can be processed much easily.

    This is also why I believe mental pain to be worse; a healthy mind gives a healthy body (so to speak). If you are constantly thinking about being ill and depressed, you will most likely manifest those things.

    And yet, the same process applies. The things that trouble us mentally, actually have to be embraced to be understood and healed, because a thought just by itself has no real power, but if we push against it then it does. That’s why depression is something to go through, and not push away.

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  6. I have a really high threshold for both kinds of pain as I have lived through both kinds since years. But given a choice, I would take physical pain over the mental one any day. Mental pain takes me to the depths of darkness that I do not want to enter. I can’t control it, where as with the physical one I work through it and know that I can overcome it. And I usually do.

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  7. This is a deep post. thanks for the topic. I think I would use physical pain too. I dont know if I can handle mental pain. its just too hard to decribe. I’ve been in somewhat of a mental pain that that got me all looney at one point in my life. Everything becomes paralyzed. So I would always choose a physical pain over mental pain.

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  8. Being abused causes both. I have to say, mental anguish is worse because it leaves residual images in the mind you cannot escape from. Nightmares that flourish in the mind and leave you unable to rest.

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  9. I suffer from both depression and chronic physical pain. What I’ve found is that CBT has allowed me to separate the pain from the suffering, for the most part, but when my mood is low, it makes the physical pain far harder to cope with. So I suppose I’d have to say that I’d always choose chronic pain over depression, just like I would much rather be in physical pain than have to deal with the chronic exhaustion from having ME.

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    1. If our mind is ok, we can take in higher levels of physical pain. I think that our physical pain threshold is somehow related to the state of the mind.

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  10. I would choose physical pain as I am better able to comfort myself and manage it. For example, when my lower back flares up, I know: exactly how to sleep (on my side, fetal position, pillow between knees), I may have to take some Flexeril (prescription muscle relaxant), I have to curtail any activity that involves bending and I will take warm baths and lay on a heating pad, and that I will be able to easily communicate my pain to others. However, when my anxiety flares up and my mind is racing with horrible thoughts, I don’t have the same confidence in tools: CBT sometimes works, as do relaxation techniques and medication. Yet the absence of certainty of relief and of understanding from others, makes it the more challenging type of pain to manage, for me anyway.

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    1. You made a very good point here. Physical pain is easier to be understood by other people so the level of empathy we receive is higher compared to mental pain.

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  11. This is super deep, I would pick physical a well i can someone control my pain . With mental pain sometimes you cant control it and if you do its proberbly something you take to forget which could lead into much more physical pain.

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  12. When I gave birth to my children, I thought that was the worst pain in the world. Then, I got gallbladder disease and thought that was the worst pain in the world. Then, I had an acute pancreatic attack. If there is any worse pain, I would rather not know. However, I feel that each experience prepared me for the next. And, I overcame each.

    When I was in an abusive relationship, I preferred to be hit instead of feeling the pain of emotional abuse. When he hit me, I would think he was an asshole. When he said hurtful things, I felt unloved. That hurt more.

    Also, with mental pain, I would much rather have depression that anxiety. With depression, I felt like I wanted to die. I can fight that. With anxiety, I feel like my brain is going to shut off and there’s nothing I can do about it.

    So, I would say, my answer is physical pain is a better experience for me.

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  13. Physical pain from a malady or injury is one thing, and I’d choose that over emotional pain as it’s far easier to reconcile and treat.
    However I believe there can be many types of physical pain. in my experience I have some chronic physical pain which has a very real emotional component behind it. Trapped trauma and stress can also cause pain, in my experience.
    Ever heard of Dr John Sarno? He came up with a theory that a lot of chronic back pain which people experience is just your brains way of ‘doing you a favor’ by distracting your attention away from emotional stress or pain. He concluded that when you have physical pain to focus on it shifts your focus away from the emotional stress. He came up with the acronym: TMS to describe that kind of body/muscle pain.

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  14. Mental pain can cause physical pain, therefore, if you choose mental pain you may end up with both. If I had a choice, I would choose physical pain in hopes that it could be well managed so I could still live a full life without depression and anxiety. Mental pain is agony beyond belief to me. I have both, and they definitely affect each other.

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  15. Oooh great question! As someone who has been dealing with both everyday for years, I think I would choose physical pain. Honestly, they both suck and they seem to feed off each other in order to protect each other. At least with physical pain, I’m reminded that at least I can feel…I’m alive. Mental pain can make you question everything, including your own existence.

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    1. Yes, one can feed off the other, but the biggest influence is mind over body, not the other way around. Because if this, I believe that with a strong mind we can overcome any physical pain.

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  16. I have chronic pain. When it’s bad, it will almost always lead to depression. I’d rather have just the depression. Mental pain. I know if I get out and move or stay busy it will pass. But I never know with my physical pain just how long it will last. Plus as I said, it almost always goes hand in hand with mental pain. Double whammy!

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