Social psychology and pain collective experience

Pain has typically been described as the archetypal existential experience. It is immediately personal, private, fundamental, and closed to external scrutiny or validation. However, in its ubiquity it is also an archetypal common, collective, and fundamentally social experience. Although there are arguments that pain is "language-stealing" or even a prelinguistic experience [5], in coming to make sense of pain, it is in social linguistic exchange that people seek meaning for their pain. There is much study on the beliefs that are held about the meaning of pain, in particular as to the cause, consequence, treatment, and broader abstract meaning. In acute pain, much of which is common everyday pain, such as headache, or is accident related, the meaning is often either clear or diagnostically useful. However, in chronic nonmalig-nant conditions the meaning of pain is typically neither of these things, and often becomes contested.

Psychologists are interested in the beliefs that people hold about their pain, and their negotiation, because these beliefs are implicated in patient behavior. For example, those who believe that back pain is caused by a medical condition will resist treatment attempts aimed at movement despite pain and a therapeutic focus on stress-related factors. Similarly, those who cannot accept that a valuable life can be led without analgesia will not benefit from attempts to teach self-management, without addressing those beliefs. Matching belief to adaptive behavior is a socially mediated process. For a recent example, worrying thoughts and beliefs about the meaning of pain can lead people to seek medical support, which when appropriate is adaptive. However, when a medical cure is pursued in opposition to unhelpful, unchanged beliefs about the cause of pain, this pursuit can fuel anxiety, depression and disability [6].

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