You Asked: Pain causes anger. Can relieving anger relieve pain?

angerTheories suggesting that pain can be eliminated or suppressed by anger management are hard to confirm. Various studies have investigated this claim, however, the results tend to be contradictory. Factors such as gender, age, hormones, genetic status and behavioural anger expression may heavily influence the results of the experiments. In 2009, a study conducted by Stephen Bruehl et al. concluded that gender, which is normally overlooked, might be an important variable when considering the regulation of anger. For example, it was shown that the body’s natural pain killers, the endorphins, required to inhibit and suppress anger are influenced by gender. Estradiol, a female sex hormone, may be responsible for higher endorphin-mediated analgesia in females than in males. Perhaps this may add weight to the stereotypical belief that women tend to be the more gentile and less aggressive of the two genders. However, the study did state that due to insufficient knowledge of gender influence on endorphin function, no clear link could be established.

A study conducted in 1996 by Burns et al. revealed that hostile subjects with elevated anger experienced more pain. But in this case, it was the females who suffered more from joint problems. This is consistent with another study conducted in the Netherlands where negative emotions like anger and sadness, worsened pain for female patients suffering from fibromyalgia. Despite this finding, caveats exist. It isn’t clear that the researchers had a consistent and accurate method of measuring the intensity of the negative emotions experienced by the patients. In addition, some patients were not able to express their feelings directly. Overall, this poorly conducted study cannot substantiate theories linking anger to pain intensity.

Interestingly, neuroimaging techniques have revealed that significant overlap of the brain structures regulating pain and anger may exist. From an evolutionary perspective, such overlap should be expected because anger and pain would underlie the fight or flight responses required for survival. Logically, one would deduce that anger would be the initial response to pain. After all, who experiences joy when inflicted with acute or chronic pain? Nevertheless, pain and anger are subjective; hence, variability does exist and must be taken into account when conducting experiments. Moreover, the endorphin-based mechanisms, existing in these interlinked brain regions, which reduce our pain sensitivities differ genetically and biochemically among individuals. For now, no clear evidence can concretely state that pain and anger can be eradicated through the suppression or inhibition of the other. But hopefully further investigation will shed light on psychological issues and their relationship to pain. Actually researching this was quite painful due to lack of good data. That made me angry.


Alexandra Pires-Ménard


One response to “You Asked: Pain causes anger. Can relieving anger relieve pain?”

  1. Lila Mayes says:

    This is theoretically possible and if it’s practically possible it will be a great achievement. I am a physiotherapist and if there is pain in your body, we have to do massage therapies to recover you from the pain, but this study, if becomes practical, there won’t be any need for the massages, just needs to keep you calm.

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