In the 1970’s there were many studies supporting the notion that infants have a natural fear of strangers referred to as “stranger anxiety”. However these studies have been criticized for ignoring context in which only some infants have a so called “fear of strangers”. Infants seem to respond quite differently when introduction to strangers is happening in a lab versus a home, with their mother present versus absent. Plus it is also argued for most infants, the fear of strangers is a temporary phase that resolves.
“…and fear only emerges in some infants when the context is threatening” – LoBue & Adolf 2019
The debate continues as to the degree in which the extreme fear of strangers is nature versus nurture. The same question needs to still be answered with respect to the extreme fear of pain; nature or nurture?
The classic view based on decades of biased research is that the fears of snakes, spiders, height, strangers and PAIN are evolutionary adaptive. It is however argued that such fears could in fact be maladaptive based on parental upbringing, culture and experiences. This study demonstrated a direct association between children’s fear and anxiety scores with their parents… this should really not come a shock to anyone.
“But fear doesn’t just magnify our senses. Fear also amplifies danger signals like pain.” –Alan Gordon, The Way Out
“Fear is the fuel for pain”
So what can be done? At a personal level, as healthcare providers, parents or role models to children, we need to demonstrate that acute pains post injuries are okay and a natural part of life. There’s no reason to fear pain, as pain is often good for recovery. At a societal level, we also need to promote the message that acute pain and inflammation post injuries are beneficial to healing and long-term well-being.
“We all have the urgency to escape discomfort, but if we are always running away from pain, what exactly are we running towards? Sometimes we may be running towards things that are more harmful and destructive than the pain itself. Sometimes, not running away, not fighting but the temporary acceptance of the discomfort may be the best management strategy for optimal recovery.” – Bahram Jam, PT
Listen to my 7-minute meditation on pain acceptance, leave a comment. Let me know what you think.