Researchers have discovered that subliminal messages can influence how we perceive pain. If that’s the case, we can also work to change our perceptions to reduce our pain.
A new study conducted by a team at Harvard Medical School and the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm demonstrated that subliminal messages, along with normal cues, can modify the level of pain we experience.
For the study, one group of people was conditioned to associate normal images of faces with either more or less pain from heat applied to their arm. A second group was exposed to these images subliminally; they were flashed so briefly the participants were not aware of seeing them.
Both groups—those conditioned normally to images and those exposed to the subliminal images—later experienced more or less pain by the applied heat when exposed to the images. The team’s results show that our pain responses are shaped by expectations, some of which we may not even be aware.
This study can help us to reflect on and to better understand our levels of pain. Even though this study focused on physical pain, I would wager that the results also apply to emotional pain.
For instance, you broke a leg while skiing in a forest and, in great pain waiting for help to arrive, you are surrounded by the sound of birds making a racket in the trees. For months afterwards, whenever you hear lots of birds, you feel more pain in your leg—but you never realized that you only felt that pain when you heard birds chattering.
Does your pain seem to get better or worse in certain places, with certain people or animals, around certain sounds, objects or images?
What makes you feel good? Do you have a photo that always makes you feel good to help reduce your pain? What makes you feel bad? Can you avoid what makes you feel bad to reduce your pain? If you can’t avoid what makes you feel bad, can you change your response to it?
If we can become conditioned to react with more pain around certain images, places, people or objects then, conversely, we can change our reactions to them so that they don’t have that effect on us anymore. And, we can train ourselves to feel less pain around specific images, places, people or objects that make us feel good.
Train yourself to change your reaction to stimuli that cause more pain.
Start by paying more attention to your pain. Notice when it gets better, when it gets worse. Don’t jump to conclusions right away. Keep track of your pain in a journal if it helps.
Once you’ve got enough information to recognize patterns, then start to change your reactions to stimuli that seem to cause more pain. Look at an image that makes you feel good or think of a place or person that makes you feel good. Open Your Heart. Do your Line of Calm.
Don’t give up after a few tries; it can take time to decondition our automatic responses to stimuli, whether they are subliminal or in our face.
Scientific American online. “Subliminal Messages Influence Our Experience of Pain.” By Simon Makin. Posted Aug 13, 2015. Accessed Sept. 23, 2015. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/subliminal-messages-influence-our-experience-of-pain/