Benign pain: what is it and what is it for?
Certain kinds of painful experiences may help people who are prone to self-injury.
What if you were told that self-inflicted Pain could actually be an effective coping mechanism to reduce negative or unpleasant emotions? Sounds a bit strange, doesn't it? Well, so suggests a recent study by researcher Ashley Doukas and colleagues (2019), published in the journal Emotion.
In this article we will see in detail what this research consisted of, what its results and conclusions were, and also what it said about benign pain (this type of pain we will explain) a previous experiment.
What is benign pain?
New research, from 2019, published in the journal Emotion and led by Ashely Doukas, suggests that this type of pain is involved in the regulation of our emotions..
Thus, according to this study, benign pain is a type of physical pain, which could help us to reduce distress and other psychological symptoms. It would therefore be a strategy for regulating emotions.
But what do we mean when we talk about benign pain (according to this study)? We are referring to part of the psychological phenomena that lie behind non-suicidal self-injurious behaviors (NSSI). (NSSI). These behaviors are usually carried out by people with some kind of mental disorder (e.g. anorexia, depression...). However, according to this study on benign pain, these behaviors are also developed by a part of the population that does not suffer from any mental disorder.
Why these behaviors? It has always been thought that these people (those who have some kind of mental disorder) commit these acts because they want some kind of pain to avoid feeling the emotional pain they suffer, which is why they cause themselves this pain catalogued as benign pain.
However, the research we are talking about suggests that beyond this reason, there is the following: regulating extreme emotional states. This statement is supported by the author of the study, Ashley Doukas.
Thus, as observed in this research, there would be a part of the healthy population (the "control" group) that would use this benign pain to counteract certain negative emotions. This benign pain is not always self-induced, and could also include sensations of cold, coldness, coldness, coldness, coldness, coldness, coldness, and coldness. could also include sensations of cold, heat, or non-harmful pressure (as used in the experiment (as used in the experiment). Specifically, this group reported a reduction in negative emotions after receiving a painful stimulus.
What did the experiment consist of?
In the research we told you about that attempted to explain why benign pain occurs, the researchers proceeded as follows: they exposed 60 participants to disturbing images, and offered them two types of cognitive strategies, as well as two physical strategies, to cope with the negative emotions produced by those images. produced by those images.
Participants were told that they could reduce that negative emotion in different ways:
- By thinking of a different image.
- By changing the meaning of the image in their mind.
- Self-administering a painful shock.
- Self-administering painless electrical stimulation.
The results of the benign pain research were as follows: 67.5% of the participants chose, at least once, the self-administration of the painful shock..
Sixteen trials were conducted, and in these trials, participants chose painful shock between 0 and 13 times (on average 2 times per participant). The same participants rated as equally effective as others the strategy of painful stimulation, in order to regulate the distress they felt when viewing the unpleasant images.
Ashley Doukas, the author of the study, hopes, from these results, that people who engage in this type of self-injurious behaviors will be destigmatized, since, according to her, benign pain would be another way to regulate negative emotions.. From this point of view, it is true that there are self-injurious behaviors that are very harmful to oneself, but then there are others, carried out by a group, that hide a "good intention" behind them, and that is self-regulation.
This study may seem a bit outlandish: who can say that self-injury is good? But we should not stay with the superficial part; what Doukas implies, with his research, is that there are very negative self-injurious behaviors, of course, but that there are others that are not so negative, because in reality the pain that is caused is not to harm oneself, but to regulate an unpleasant internal state, but to regulate an unpleasant internal state. to regulate an unpleasant internal state, as a self-coping mechanism..
Doukas, in his study, suggests that we think about when people give themselves intense massages, which "hurt" but at the same time are pleasant, or when we add hot sauce to our tacos. In these situations we are causing ourselves "benign pain".
In research prior to the one mentioned above, we proceeded as follows: the participants of the experiment were exposed to sit alone in an empty room for 10 minutes.
They were instructed not to sleep, read or use a cell phone. But they were allowed to do one thing: To self-administer, as often as desired, painful or painless electrical stimulation..
What happened in this experiment? The results showed that 60% of the participants decided to self-administer, at least once, the painful electrical stimulation.How many times did they administer the stimulation? This number ranged from 0 to 69, with an average of 13, which is very many.
That is, they preferred feeling pain to being bored. As in the previous experiment, benign pain, in this case, acted as a self-regulatory strategy to reduce negative emotions, such as boredom.
As a result of the research explained above, we can ask ourselves (as Doukas did): Where are the limits between "healthy" pain and "healthy" pain?Where are the boundaries between "healthy" pain and "unhealthy" pain??
According to her, not so much in the pain itself, but in the mechanism to produce such pain; it is not the same to get a cut as to give oneself a cramp, for example. Thus, perhaps the limit lies in the way in which the pain is inflicted.
Its importance in the face of self-injurious behaviors
Ashley Doukas insists that benign pain is part of the non-clinical populations, and therefore does not cease to give it a special importance in the face of self-injurious behaviors.She therefore does not fail to give the importance it deserves to self-injurious behaviors in patients with a mental pathology, because these are very serious cases. But she differentiates between them; they are not the same actions, nor do they have the same purpose.
Doukas aims, through her research and future research on benign pain, to expand the treatment options for people with self-injurious behavior. The aim is to enable them to use "healthier" mechanisms and, for example, instead of burning or cutting their skin, to use some form of non-harmful electrical stimulation.
Doukas speaks of TENS (electrical stimulation devices) to enable such treatments. TENS (electrical stimulation devices), devices that are frequently used in the field of physiotherapy.. The author encourages the elimination of stigmas and open-mindedness, especially for health and mental health professionals.
- Doukas, A. M., D'Andrea, W. M., Gregory, W. E., Joachim, B., Lee, K. A., Robinson, G., Freed, S. J., Khedari-DePierro, V., Pfeffer, K. A., Todman, M., & Siegle, G. J. (2019). Hurts so good: Pain as an emotion regulation strategy. Emotion. Advance online publication.
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)