“Pain Really Is All in Your Head and Emotion Controls Intensity” is the title of a new book by David Linden, professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University. This title has created some controversy. This phrase “it’s all in your head” has been used historically in an attempt to explain (or possibly dismiss) explainable symptoms. For example, you've been through a battery of specialists and tests that yield no explanation for your condition. However, Linden’s book, despite its title, really does give credence to this explainable pain. Perhaps a more fitting title could have been, “Pain Really Is All in Your Head and It’s Real. But Emotion Does Control Intensity.”
Chronic pain has gotten even more press recently with the movie Cake with Jennifer Aniston.
The reason I am talking about this topic as pelvic floor therapist is because a lot of my clients experience pelvic pain. And they have been to specialist after specialist and none of the tests have provided any clarify as to WHY they are experiencing pain “down there.” It’s not a UTI, it’s not bladder stones, and it’s not IBS. We hear a long list of what it ISN’T. Then what IS it?
By the time I finally see my clients, the answer to this question is what they so badly want to know. They are exhausted from the feeling of not being understood and not getting the clarity of a diagnosis for what they are experiencing. Could it all be in their head?
The role of emotion, as Linden’s book states, comes strongly into play here.
‘"The brain can say turn up the volume on this pain information that's coming in.' Or it can say, 'let's turn down the volume on that and pay less attention to it.
The brain also determines the emotion we attach to each painful experience. One system determines the pain's location, intensity and characteristics: stabbing, aching, burning, etc”
"And then," Linden says, "there is a completely separate system for the emotional aspect of pain — the part that makes us say, “This is terrible."
Linden says positive emotions like feeling calm and safe can minimize pain. However, negative emotions tend to have the opposite effect.
This is powerful! The descriptive category that we place our understanding of pain can ultimately determine our experience of it.
Share this with laboring women everywhere! Share this with anyone experiencing “explainable, undiagnosable” pain.
The emotion we use to process our experience does have its influence over us. This is empowering; there’s an aspect to the “unexplainable” that we can control!