Emotion Thermometers for Measuring Psychological Pain
The famous Japanese writer, Haruki Murakami claims that mental pain is a set of unavoidable emotions. They’re a part of life because, sometimes, “life hurts”. However, many of us find it difficult to name what we feel. Moreover, we find it hard to attribute intensity to our emotions.
“Feeling bad” can differ in intensity and severity. For example, you might feel this way because you’ve lost your partner. In this circumstance, you’re overwhelmed by emotions such as anguish, longing, and misery. On the other hand, you might feel bad because you’re simply having a rough day which only makes you feel slightly irritable.
Putting a name to your feelings and a number to the intensity with which you experience your negative emotions is essential. It’s important because it helps you to give meaning to your mental pain and act accordingly. One way to do this is to face it instead of avoiding contact with your emotional cosmos.
“It’s good that it hurts. Pain is the signal that you’re confused, that you’re in a lie.”
Psychological pain is a human experience. It’s universal and touches the minds of everyone at some point during their journeys through life. Psychological pain arises from the interrelationship between human biology, psychology, and social and cultural context.
Buddhists believe that pain is part of the normal course of life. Moreover, they think that, when faced with the experience of pain, as human beings, we can choose to face or avoid it. However, avoiding pain equates to suffering. It’s the emotion that emerges when we avoid contact with human experiences, even if they’re aversive.
Suffering has also been given other names. For example, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) identifies it as experience avoidance disorder.
Along these lines, the first step to facing psychological pain lies in knowing what emotions make it up. In this respect, it can be useful to use Plutchik’s Emotional Index. A second step lies in knowing with what intensity we’re experiencing the emotions that besiege us.
“Pain is the body’s and mind’s way of telling us that something needs to change.”
-Dr. Travis Bradberry –
Measuring psychological pain
There are many ways of measuring psychological pain. Some are more sophisticated than others. For instance, they can range from a questionnaire or a psychological evaluation scale to a small exercise with a narrative thermometer. One objective of measuring psychological pain is the determination of its topographic parameters (Crespo et al., 2008). In this context, the parameters refer to the following:
- How many times have you felt like this? And, how often does the pain appear?
- How intensely do you experience it? To measure this, you can make use of an emotional thermometer.
- In which areas of your anatomy do you feel the pain, if any? To give an example, anguish is often experienced in the pit of the stomach.
- At what point does it appear? This refers to its chronology. For instance, you might feel bad just before a certain stressful event, while, after its appearance, you feel worse. It means knowing how long the pain lasts and whether its cycles vary.
The pain you feel is real. That’s because you’re a human being. This is an important point because you often read and hear messages that revolve around superficial happiness when being okay is the norm, instead of the exception. However, validating your emotional experience of pain is extremely important.
“Happiness is not a mask that you can put on your face to hide the sadness that is in your heart.”
Emotional thermometers: understanding the intensity of feelings
Psychological pain, as a human experience, is extraordinarily subjective. For example, an emotion may be experienced by one person with an intensity of ten or as ‘exceptionally painful’. On the other hand, for another individual, it might only be an intensity of three or ‘slightly painful’.
For this reason, we suggest using a simple emotional thermometer. It’s graded from one to ten and is based on pain of minimum to maximum intensity” (Delgado, 2018).
The emotion thermometer
- If you’re at the minimum level or one, you’re probably fine and in harmony with your emotions.
- If you’re at the second level, you might be experiencing slight irritability in the face of certain ups and downs in your life. However, you’re probably able to distract yourself and find some pleasant sources of reinforcement that make you feel good.
- If you’re annoyed and irritated by a large number of factors, you could be at the third level. There are a number of factors that are causing your discomfort to increase, even though you’re capable of coping effectively and you feel better after doing so.
- The fourth level has its own name: bad days. Although you’re able to cope with stressors with integrity, you begin to neglect yourself. Therefore, you must pay attention to the kinds of activities that can help you, like embracing your social life or playing sports.
- At level number five, pain is a constant around which your days start to revolve. If you feel this kind of mental pain, your mental well-being will probably begin to deteriorate. At this stage, you’d be advised to contact a trusted health professional.
- Psychic pain of intensity six indicates danger. When the pain makes it impossible to perform the tasks, activities, and/or hobbies that you enjoy, alarm bells should start ringing. In fact, you may be suffering from anhedonia.
- At level seven, the danger zone appears. Sometimes, if you feel really bad, you might decide to procrastinate to avoid dealing with stressors, thinking that tomorrow’s another day. However, this runs the risk of perpetuating, maintaining, and making your pain chronic. Rumination is typical at this stage.
- At levels eight and nine, numerous anxious-depressive symptoms arise. Pain permeates different areas of your life and takes you over. It affects your interpersonal and family spheres, as well as work and study.
- If you identify with level ten intensity of psychic pain, and feel this way for several days, you should visit your trusted professional. The maximum degree could be classified as an acute pain crisis. If you avoid it, instead of facing it, depression may set in. That’s a friend you certainly don’t want.
Knowing with what intensity you experience mental pain can be a great help. Indeed, you must always take it into account if you often experience intense psychological pain.
Establishing this continuity will offer you valuable information. In fact, it tells you if your coping strategies are working or whether you should enlist the help of an expert.
“Life is like a roller coaster, there are moments of intense emotions and moments of tranquility.”
All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.
- Delgado, A. G. (2018, 14 octubre). ¿Cómo medir el malestar psicólógico? Corio. https://corio.es/2018/06/02/como-medir-el-malestar-psicologico/
- Luciano, C., & Hayes, S. C. (2001). Trastorno de evitación experiencial [Trauma of experiential avoidance]. International Journal of Clinical and Health Psychology, 1(1), 109–157. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2002-10557-005
- Olivares Rodríguez, M.ª Eugenia, & Cruzado Crespo, Juan A.. (2008). Evaluación psicológica del dolor. Clínica y Salud, 19(3), 321-341. Recuperado en 12 de marzo de 2023, de http://scielo.isciii.es/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S1130-52742008000300004&lng=es&tlng=pt.