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Physical and Psychic Pain: The pain of loss, by the way of the phantom limb.

Sérgio Spritzer © May 24, 2021.

In neurology, the expression “phantom limb” is used to describe the experience of people who lose a limb or part of their body and continue to feel its presence, tingling, moving, flexing, touching, as if it were right there. Even knowing that this limb is not actually there, its experience remains present and may be associated with a pain reaction in the phantom limb.

A pain, unreal but intense. One of the most used techniques to rehabilitate phantom limb pain is to place a mirror in such a way that the subject gets used to looking at the "presence" (in the mirror) of the limb and this helps their imagination to subconsciously accept its existence, as the subject perceives “outside of himself” (form of his representation of bodily unity) the existence of “truth” of this member. This example clearly highlights how the imaginary representation of the body is neither an intellectual nor a rational experience. No one explaining the loss will make the subject's mind “elaborate” it and deny its existence in the imaginary not associated with verbal control and command. He's ineffective in taking care of that.

This clinical example can serve as a hypothesis to understand in scale other forms of loss, traumatic, at so-called mental levels, which are similarly difficult to be forgotten, such as that of loved ones or at the end of a marriage, dating, or even in the change in the way of life resulting from financial losses or from moving to another city or country. Even changing the decoration or removing furniture from a familiar environment, people feel a difference: a feeling of loss if the object was "incorporated" imaginatively as desired, or relief if the opposite is true. Other forms of trauma such as invasion and possession of bodies and objects perceived as yours can also be better understood by examining the body image experience considered here not only in the sense of visual recognition, including the dimensions of physical, auditory, olfactory and other experiences. that are still unknown, such as the visceroceptive experience (the feeling of the stomach, heart, intestines, bladder, posture, bones, and so on).

One of the interesting techniques to improve the pain of trauma due to lack of experience is to “mirror” its presence in a way analogous to what is done with phantom limbs. Such presence being assimilated into the imaginary would free the person from the actual experience of the objective event of loss. It is not a question here of elaborating a loss, as this implies accommodating oneself to it, but redefining a presence now on an imaginary plane and no longer objective, physically tangible.

An example of work with grief is, in a meditative state, differentiating the presence of the person, object or even part of the body on an imaginary plane and their presence on an external, objective plane, even if mentally represented in this work. In other words, in an introspective state a person can imagine both realities outside and inside and deal with both.

The meditative or introspective state, in which the subject is more likely to perceive how the intimate imaginary phenomenology goes, is similar to the state of almost sleep and almost awakening, the subject being able to find themselves between one and the other, when it is possible then listening to verbal guidance and responding with a plane of internal awareness that is expanded in relation to that of interpersonal awareness, the so-called awareness of the waking state. The two fields of presence, being perceived as different, allow the subject to live with them in a different way.

Analogous work is done with situations of subjective imagination that are experienced as real in the external world, as in the movie “A Brilliant Mind” in which a Nobel Prize-winning mathematician John Nash is treated to live with his hallucinations knowing how to differentiate them with the time of objectively evident reality[1].

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