11 – Social Pain

Recent research has uncovered important information about a built-in, inherited type of pain that has survival value — social pain. Social pain is experienced when we encounter something in a situation that signals social injury, i.e., that we are losing our attachment to another person or group or that a relationship is somehow being weakened.

Some causes of social pain are being or feeling rejected, ostracized, excluded, devalued or undermined.  We can experience social pain when it seems that others show disinterest in us or there seems to be a loss of intimacy in a relationship. Hostility and frequent conflict are more obvious signs of social injury. Each of these forms of harm, loss or threat to social connection or closeness to others is experienced as distress. Essentially, social pain occurs when we sense, for whatever reason, a loss of connection to another person or group that is important to us.

We are born with built-in, automatic, psychological and physiological responses that are helpful in dealing with the immediate threat to our physical self. These brain mechanisms that mediate the experience of physical pain are fundamentally the same for most mammals that have been studied indicating its basic survival value. That is, those creatures who were more sensitive to pain and who were more able to do something to stop the pain and then later avoid experiencing it again were more likely to live long enough to reproduce and pass on their genes. Recent neurological research indicates that some of the same brain mechanisms that mediate physical pain also mediate social pain.

The distress caused by social pain motivates the sufferer to escape from or avoid getting into situations in which it is experienced. That is the short-term benefit of escape and avoidance behaviors. However, while avoiding situations that have produced social pain in the past may have short-term benefits, e.g., reduction of fear or anxiety, the longer-term social and emotional costs of self-isolating may far outweigh those benefits. The cure, in this case, is often worse than the disease. Loneliness, boredom anxiety and depression are often the result of isolating oneself from social situations. Sometimes, the result is increased mental health problems such as anxiety and depression and increased health risks resulting in increase in illness and earlier death.

Developmental Issues and Major Life-Tasks

It is important that consumers have information on hearing loss as a communication disorder in order to increase awareness of the reported problems and concerns that are risk factors related to hearing loss. Then, they are better able to anticipate and successfully deal with such problems should they arise. It is also helpful in reducing a tendency to self-blame for being personally inadequate or inept in social situations when a difficulty arises—it is a problem for many people who have hearing loss, not just my problem.

All this previously discussed information is important to convey to consumers. However, they need additional information about strategies and tactics for preventing or reducing the kinds of problems and reactions that have been presented to this point. In order to effectively manage hearing loss people who have hearing loss and their communication partners need to learn how to do two things:

  1. Manage communication situations by:

A. Knowing what to do to prevent or reduce communication problems

B. Being able to do it effectively by facilitating cooperation from others

However, even when consumers do everything correctly in communication situations, they are not always successful because sometimes other people don’t cooperate and some environmental conditions can’t be altered. When those situations are encountered, it is helpful to have the ability to regulate one’s level of emotional arousal.

  1. Manage emotional arousal by:

A. Recognizing its physiological and psychosocial signs and effects

B. Practicing procedures for preventing or reducing high emotional arousal