What is Pain?
Physiologically speaking, pain is felt when our bodies perceive unpleasant stimuli. Those stimuli travel along nerve pathways and are interpreted by our brains as painful. Perception is a key element in the understanding of pain, as it speaks to the varying thresholds both men and women possess. The ways in which we treat, view, and understand pain are not only related to physical discomfort, but emotional and mental, too.
There are plenty of anecdotal descriptions of the ways in which men and women interpret their pain. Men are often seen as weak and run down by even the mildest of flu like symptoms, whereas women are seen, in general, as weathering pain even when it appears debilitating. While such narratives provide plenty of fodder for comedians, science does not, at least entirely, support these claims. Studies find that men and women have been socialized to respond to different types of pain in remarkably different ways. Men for example, are given permission to feel pain and discomfort to a point, while alternately being discouraged from crying. The phrase “man up” is a way in which boys and men are reminded to be stoic and aloof when it comes to expressing pain, whether physical or emotional.
Pain is an issue that affects public welfare on a global as well as individual basis. Where we live, how we conduct ourselves, the convictions we hold dear, the alcohol or other substances we use for fun or comfort, and our overall worldviews affect how severely, or not, we perceive pain. For example, individuals who find themselves in dangerous situations, such as combat, may not translate gaping wounds as painfully as they appear because their focus has to be on survival in the moment. Folks who live in environments that are safe, nurturing, and highly attentive, may translate more minor injuries as horrifically painful.