We have so many examples of mishandled pain. How are we going to address the problem? When are we going to ask, why is this occurring and what we can do about it?
News about people shooting each other is so common now that many times it seems just part of the human landscape. Often what follows is a public rationalization of the violence and the actions of the shooter: …probably couldn’t take it… …sounds like a bad person… …I would never do that… And so it goes. Eventually, we move on to other things claiming our attention.
When we hear of a young person opening fire at a school killing others, we assume that we are dealing with a “bad” person. On so many occasions we hear of an individual who had been abused opening fire on others. Too often, abuse and neglect were a part of the relationship between the shooter and the victim(s) until the shooter and the victim change roles.
We expect people to put up with social abuse as if it does not cause pain. Recent research would indicate otherwise. According to the February 24, 2012 article in Medical News Today ” Naomi Eisenberger of the University of California-Los Angeles, the author of a new paper published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, physical pain and social pain are processed in some of the same regions of the brain.”
This means that the person who is being abused or bullied is feeling physical pain whenever the abuse occurs. The individual who is rejected repeatedly for being different is experiencing more physical pain with each negative experience.
The human body has the capacity to process experiences and “digest” them. However, when we become overloaded the ability to process and digest experiences can break down. We all have limits that need to be respected.
For a very long time, social pain has been treated as a problem in the individual. It has been a way to make social ranking, social rejection and other forms of social abuse unimportant at the institutional level. We are paying a high price for our willful ignorance. The handling of the COVID pandemic is the most recent example.
Denying social pain makes survival an individual matter and the well being of an individual also the problem of the individual. Making people responsible for their well being is not intrinsically bad. However, when the individual is in an environment where well being is not possible, then they are caught in an untenable situation.
I think we have let our institutions off the hook for too long. If it is not the job of institutions to create conditions that promote well being, what are they here for? I think it is time we asked ourselves and our institutions that question.