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poofandmook's avatar

Is there really a difference between pain and "all in your head" pain?

Asked by poofandmook (17272points) May 28th, 2010

Last night, my roommate and I were out waiting to pick something up, and we were talking about his husband and his chronic pain. He gets annoyed because he says that the pain is all in his head and that he invents it.

My argument was that whether or not he invents it, it’s still pain that he feels. And for the most part, people that are “inventing” pain in their head aren’t necessarily doing it intentionally and aren’t aware of it, so to him, it’s just pain.

Is there really a difference between the two?

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13 Answers

janbb's avatar

I would intuitively say there is no difference, but I am curious to see what some of the psychologists and doctors on the site say.

filmfann's avatar

just as painful, just as debilitating. I am not a doctor tho.

Lightlyseared's avatar

Pain is whatever the person experiencing it says it is.

eden2eve's avatar

The big difference, I think, would be in the manner it should be treated. Each can benefit from treatment, but in order to understand what methodology to use, one must first learn the cause.

As @filmfann and @Lightlyseared said, it is not more real because it’s not organic. And I don’t believe it should be dismissed, nor should the person be reviled.

Fyrius's avatar

Are we talking about a serious psychological disorder here, or just a mentally normal guy who likes to whine?
As arbitrary as the distinction may sound.

I’m not qualified to say anything definite on this either, but technically, all pain is of course in your head, or at least the experience of pain is. I don’t think it’s inconceivable that there can be something wrong with your brain that makes you feel a painful sensation without actually getting any input. A sort of hallucination.

Is it anything like that?

dpworkin's avatar

Pain is pain. Psychosomatic pain is pain. Besides, as we learn new things, our ideas about etiology change. For example, gastric ulcers (very painful) were thought to be psychosomatic, then we thought they had to do with diet and lifestyle, now we know that they are an infection caused by H. pylori.

Trillian's avatar

Well, what constitutes a “hypochondriac”? I used to think my mother was one many years ago. I thought she was just wanting attention. After she and my dad divorced, she stopped having pain for every little thing all the time.
I also know people who claim to have pain all the time no matter what and I doubt that they really do, they are just complainers. I could be wrong and uncharitable.
But the brain is an amazing thing. I read a great book called Phantoms in the Brain by V.S. Ramachandran, and I find it fascinating and a bit scary. Your brain can turn on you and make you perceive things that are not there, or ignore things that are there. It can make you forget who you are, and see people that you love as cartoons and completely cut off your ability to have an emotional attachment. It can make you forget things in the short term so that you literally cannot remember what happened fifteen minutes ago.
With all that we know about the brain, there is so much more that we don’t know. I try to keep that in mind when I look at people and hear them talk about their pain. I’m far too quick to dismiss people, so I need this as a constant reminder. I could be right, but what if I’m wrong? I’m glad I’m not a doctor having to make that call.

evandad's avatar

If there really is pain then I guess there is no difference. If the pain is a story to gain sympathy or escape responsibility then they should be called on it.

roundsquare's avatar

The difference is the source. Is it because something has happened to your body or for some other reason. Trace the pain back and till you find what is causing it. Is it that you don’t want to go to work or that you have a broken leg?

This matters because of the treatment. Normally people think “pain in your head” can be treated by “bucking up” but other pain needs “real” treatment.

Overall though, as @Fyrius said, pain is pain.

Cruiser's avatar

Depends on the person and circumstances. Injury pain is real but much of it can be overcome by mental focus or a meditative trance. In your head pain I have associated with people under other types of stresses, emotional in particular that pain is a way of manifesting a distraction or even attention to that stress! Lots of whining usually accompanies that kind of pain.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

As a Psychologist who lives with chronic pain, I can assure you that all pain has psychological components and moreover pain is a subjective experience whether the physical components are well understood or not.

Pain that has no known physical cause and manifests in ways that make no biological sense are usually not influenced any pain treatments. Such pain is thought to be psychogenic and responds best to psychoactive medications and treatments.

Pain which is easier to understand medically often responds to some extent to medical treatments for pain.

The subjective experience of pain is similar and the suffering is real. Psychoactive medications are often helpful in dealling with medically understood pain as an adjuct to other pain treatments.

anartist's avatar

Physical pain [like from holding your hand over a candle] is a warning that something physical needs to be attended to. “All in your head” pain may hurt just as much but is a red herring, leading those who treat physical ailments on a wild goose chase, the end of which would be recommendation to find a cure for that pain with a psychiatric [MD] practitioner and ultimately psychotherapy.

I am not an MD

Primobabe's avatar

Hypochondriacs certainly do suffer, because the mind has so much control over the body. Although the malady is a fiction, the symptoms are very real. I think of it as a sort of reverse placebo effect.

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