Social pain and physical pain similar in the brain

A study at University of Michigan found that ‘physical pain and intense feelings of social rejection “hurt” in the same way’. Social psychologist Ethan Kross states: “We found that powerfully inducing feelings of social rejection activate regions of the brain that are involved in physical pain sensation, which are rarely activated in neuro-imaging studies of emotion. These findings are consistent with the idea that the experience of social rejection, or social loss more generally, may represent a distinct emotional experience that is uniquely associated with physical pain.”

There was another 2021 study showing “patients with somatoform pain disorder (SPD) are highly sensitive to social rejection in comparison with healthy controls. The level of rejection sensitivity was significantly higher in patients with SPD compared to healthy controls.In addition, insecure attachment styles as well as depressive symptoms and childhood adversities are strongly associated with rejection sensitivity.”

So feelings of social rejection might impact, cause, or amplify physical symptoms like pain. There is an overlap in the brain neural pathways and this can be how emotional pain could end up as physical pain in the body.