From the very fountain of enchantment there arises a taste of bitterness to spread anguish amongst the flowers.

Lucretius

Anguish

The suffering that permeates our daily lives is mainly the by product of social pain. The emotion of feeling hurt signifies mental suffering or torment associated with painful emotional experiences of the past. It is a blend of fear and sadness.1

When pain is experienced, there is an urgent need to escape the harmful stimulus that triggered the pain sensation. The means we use to avoid this pain is rooted in the human sympathetic nervous system. This system deals with fight or flight responses and the human drive instinct to achieve and procreate. The sympathetic nervous system is catabolic. When we operate or react from here, we break down our body, mind and spirit-the human psyche.

Social or Emotional Pain

Emotional pain refers to the activation of pain by any stimulus other than physical injury. It can be activated by threats to loss of social connections, or perception of social injury. Shame based feelings of powerlessness, isolation, inadequacy, fear, anger, depression, anxiety and disgust are some of the common reactions associated with emotional pain.2

Recent research suggests that threats to social connection may stimulate painful feelings, or social pain, via some of the same physiological mechanisms activated by physical injury.

Causes

Not living up to the expectation of others, news, and media can be some of the sources of social pain. Emotional pain can be as excruciating as physical pain. For example, individuals who were asked to relive the pain from a past instance of betrayal rated that pain (using the McGill Pain Index) at levels equivalent to cancer patient norms.

Feelings of rejection, or social exclusion is a major cause of emotional suffering. It is a tyrant that tears the heart to shreds. A sense of belonging is crucial for survival and reproduction among all social animals including human beings. Incidents of frustrated desires, criticism, betrayal, and explicit rejection is seen as a threat to survival. Messages perceived as most hurtful are those delivered by people who are close to us, and is perceived to be intentionally hurtful acts of shaming, such as humiliation and denigration.

Emotional Suffering Due to Relational Devaluation

The primary underlying cause for hurt feelings is relational devaluation, or a sense that the transgressor does not view her or his relationship with the victim to be as valuable, close, or important as the victim desires. The most hurtful messages may be those that connote threats to multiple sources of connection (e.g., “Nobody loves you”).

Non-inclusion or the failure to receive positive behavior from others may be painful in a fashion similar to the threats caused by negative behavior from others. For example, being ignored or ostracized, where no threat is made as in rejection, is just as hurtful and damaging to the human psyche.

Evaluation of you by another, that gradually changes from positive to negative, has a higher degree of hurt associated with it then one in which a person gets negative feedback or rejections from the start. This is because in the former, there is a perceived loss of reward through initial acceptance, accompanied by rejection experienced through negative response, while in the later there is only rejection so no expectation of reward is anticipated.

Why Emotional Pain Hurts

Hurt feelings arise when one’s perceived ability to find comfort through desired objects and relationships is diminished. Both threats to the belief that one is worthy of love and to the belief that relational partners can be counted on create disruptions to one’s certainty that support can be found when needed. Perhaps, then, it is violence done to expectations of support, now and in the future, that is the injury that leads to hurt feelings.

Emotional suffering due to social exclusion is deemed extremely threatening because it reflects one's low social standing. Exclusion from a particular relationship involves not just the presence of threat but also the loss of important rewards. For example, feelings of intimacy and validation can be considered some of the primary rewards of romantic relationships. These rewards are lost if the relationship dissolves, potentially leading to immense distress.

Further, the frustration caused by a failure to obtain strongly desired relationship rewards, such as in unrequited, or one sided love, can also be highly distressing.3 Non-inclusion or the failure to receive positive behavior from others may be painful in a fashion similar to the threats caused by negative behavior from others. For example, being ignored or ostracized, where no threat is made as in rejection, is just as hurtful and damaging to the human psyche.

Evaluation that gradually changes from positive to negative has a higher degree of hurt associated with it then one in which a person gets negative feedback or rejections from the start. This is because in the former, there is a perceived loss of reward through initial acceptance, accompanied by rejection experienced through negative response, while in the later there is only rejection so no expectation of reward is anticipated.

The Agony of Emotional Infidelity vs Sexual

The most hurtful episodes in romantic relationships involve infidelity.4 Emotional infidelity is reported to be more devastating than just sexual infidelity. This may be the case because emotional infidelity provides a stronger signal that the cheating partner devalues the relationship. This may be the case because love is seen as a more limited resource than sex.

As a result, emotional infidelity has the potential to lead to a stronger sense of loss because it means sharing emotional intimacy, rather than just sexual infidelity which need not involve these deeper feelings that constitute love. As a result, even if emotional and sexual infidelity feel equally threatening, emotional infidelity appears to involve a stronger and more irrevocable sense of lost reward, possibly explaining why it may be more hurtful.

Reactions to Emotional Suffering

Surprise, confusion, anger, and fear are some of the initial reactions to offended love, followed by shame, aversion, apathy, anxiety, envy, jealousy and extreme sadness. Strongly hurtful events like the childhood, emotional and physical abuse, breakdown of a marriage or relationships are complicated and multi-faceted, touching on core aspects of the self that are extremely sensitive and extremely resistant to change.

Such events can take months, years or a lifetime to process and fully integrate with one’s views of the self as lovable and of others as dependable.5 This is why mindfulness is extremely important to nurture the empathy needed for the cultivation of compassion for self and others.

Anguish Related Suffering

Abandonment
A feeling of being castoff or deserted by others. This leads to a feeling of being unloved combined with feelings of rejection, or social exclusion.

Abuse
Abuse is defined as any action that intentionally harms or injures another person physically or emotionally.

Attacked

Someone directing abusive, condescending, and demeaning remarks towards you instead of providing evidence on the subject matter being discussed.

Cheated

Feeling that violence has been done to expectations of support and the cheating party devalued the relationship and violated the trust.

Humiliated

Made to feel foolish and disgraced, by being mocked and ridiculed, mostly in public.

Scorned

Made to feel unworthy and unimportant. Disrespected and made to feel low, through thought, word, or deed.

Stress

A mentally or emotionally disturbing influence that disrupts the tranquility of the mind on repeated occasions.