“As far as your brain is concerned, a broken heart is not so different from a broken arm.” —Naomi Eisenberger, PhD
Social rejection is painful.
When we feel rejected, our self-worth is dealt a heavy blow. We lose a sense of security, a sense of belonging, and perhaps a sense that we matter.
At its most extreme, the pain from social rejection can lead to suicide, according to the interpersonal theory of suicide.
Although we know social rejection is painful, neuropsychological research has revealed how social rejection affects the same regions of the brain as physical pain, and therefore respond similarly to the affect of painkillers.
In the study, participants were given acetaminophen (commonly known as Tylenol), or a placebo pill. After three weeks of regular doses, those who received the drug reported lower levels of social pain, in addition to showing lower levels of pain in fMRI brain scans:
…acetaminophen reduced neural responses to social rejection in brain regions previously associated with distress caused by social pain and the affective component of physical pain…
These findings are particularly relevant given the recent opioid epidemic. Beyond over-prescription and their highly addictive properties, this drug of choice might also tell us something about the health of our social context.
Beyond coping with physical pain, individuals who feel rejected may be self-medicating with opioids to cope with social pain.
We can see this phenomenon in studies on populations with a heightened risk of opiate use: groups with low income, low education, those lacking permanent housing, those who are unmarried, recently released prison inmates, veterans, and LGBT groups.
Once someone begins experiencing an opiate addiction, they may then find themselves feeling even further rejected, especially if it results in heightened poverty. In turn, this perpetuates the downward spiral of self-medicating to further reduce the social pain, in addition to the physical pain of withdrawal.
Promoting social health means combating barriers to social integration. These barriers include stigma, prejudice, economic inequality, and lack of social programs/support for individuals undergoing major life transitions, as seen among veterans in transition to civilian life.
When treating and preventing opiate addiction, we need to be mindful of the social dimension of the issue, in addition to the biological and psychological.
Source: On Missing Combat
It can be difficult to explain posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms to friends, but it helps me to do so. PTSD symptoms include an array of possibilities such as anxiety, depression, panic attacks, difficulty bonding, addiction, insomnia, and dissociation. People experience PTSD in very different ways, based on their trauma history, resilience, supports and a myriad of other factors. So here is why I find it beneficial to explain how my specific PTSD symptoms manifest themselves, and why you might too.
Explain What PTSD Symptoms Look Like to Friends
Many people have a narrow definition of PTSD. With so many veterans developing PTSD, it is understandable that a common perception of PTSD involves someone who has been in a combat situation. However, PTSD is not choosy. It impacts the military, emergency response personnel, victims of abuse, witnesses to abuse, and other individuals who have experienced significant trauma.
When I tell someone I have PTSD it is because I want them to understand me better. I want them to know that at times I might appear spacey or inattentive, react poorly to sudden changes in routines or plans, become hypervigilant in unfamiliar spaces, and seldom get enough sleep. In explaining my PTSD symptoms, I hope to set the stage for supportive interactions when my symptoms manifest.
If you find yourself avoiding situations or backing out of plans at the last minute or you feel trapped at times because you become anxious or agitated, it might be a chance to share some of your symptoms with friends and talk about how they impact you when they appear. It doesn’t even require much detail. For example, I tell friends, “I am hoping to come to your party, but I often get very nervous thinking about being around strangers, so I may not be in the right frame of mind to be there.”
Explain PTSD by Symptoms to Reduce Them
Once I began to explain my PTSD symptoms to my friends, something interesting happened. I found myself attending more functions, more comfortable asking someone to repeat themselves when I had lost focus on the conversation, and more able to respond to last-minute requests by taking a few moments to process. My friends and acquaintances have even begun to show me support by giving me advanced notice for changes, inviting me to arrive at gatherings early, or asking me if I need a break or would like to get some fresh air when we are in tight spaces.
By sharing my triggers and reactions, I have made it easier to join in activities. I find that knowing I have a way out of an uncomfortable situation that those around me can understand removes a significant amount of worry. When my stress is lower, my symptoms are more in control.
Do you have any thoughts on this? How much do you explain to friends and family about your symptoms? Please join in the conversation by leaving a comment below.
In regard to PTSD, I’ve heard so many times – from both survivors and clinicians – once you’re broken you can’t be fixed (Three Ways Trauma Affects Your Brain). Really? I find that hard to believe.
And now, there’s proof that’s all a bunch of baloney.
Your Brain Can Change and Recover From PTSD
In my own trauma recovery, I got to a day that things seemed so dire and destined never to change that I almost gave up. And then a little voice inside me said, Go dance. Ridiculous, right? Not really. Dancing made me feel free, transcendent, joyful and very in the present moment.
I listened to that little voice and signed up for dance classes every day of the week. Seven straight days of every week of every month, I danced every day for four months. I stopped working on my PTSD recovery and just chased after the good feelings that dance brought me.
I didn’t know it, but I was doing something years ago that science today proves works: I was creating positive experiences for myself that trained my brain to rewire. And you know what? It was fun! Not only that, all of those good feelings became addictive. I couldn’t get enough.
In addition to shocking me with the fact that I could actually feel joy (I had long suspected that would never be possible for me) all of that good feeling translated into a new strength and courage that allowed me to go back into the work of PTSD healing. This time, I finally and completely got the job done.
A few years after my PTSD recovery, I went to the annual trauma conference in Boston. The focus of the conference was heavily in the direction of the emerging neuroscience research. A lot of it proved how with MRIs and fMRIs we can actually see how PTSD impacts and changes the brain. Which got me to thinking….
If trauma impacts the brain in such a way that we develop PTSD, meaning the experience of trauma causes the brain to change, then can’t a subsequent experience also cause the brain to change? Was that, in fact, what I had done with all those positive hours of dance experience? Maybe. I cornered a neuroscientist who had presented at the conference and asked him point blank:
If neurological PTSD symptoms come about in response to a powerful psychological experience, is it possible to reverse those neurological changes by engaging in an equally powerful opposite experience?
“You mean, instead of experiencing trauma, experiencing a powerful bliss?” David asked. I nodded. “Yes.”
David didn’t even hesitate: “Yes. Definitely. If you could induce an equally powerful inverse experience, it would impact the brain and cause neurological changes.”
Huh. What do you think about that? A scientist, someone hardcore and a stickler for proof, unequivocally said that the brain can change. In fact, what I came to learn later is that not only can the brain change, it is hardwired to change. You are genetically built for your brain to change again and again and again until the end of your life.
Now, doesn’t all that just make you begin to think about recovery in a whole new way? You are perfectly fine. Your neuronal pathways and activity just needs to be changed. Work? Of course. Doable? Eminently.
Please mindful of those veterans around you and the fireworks. For some of us it is still very traumatic to hear loud sounds that would remind us of combat. I am not saying do not celebrate with firework just be aware that some veterans could be upset from the noise. The worst case scenario would be that a veteran comes out of his house shooting his weapons. God Bless America and those that keeps it save.