The Psychomatrix: A Deeper Understanding of Our Relationship with Pain, by Doreen M. Francis

It is not the pain we suffer, but our relationship to it that makes life complicated

pain-image (2)

My book The Psychomatrix began with just a shadow of an idea that had haunted me for many years.

Pain! What is it about pain that excites people to cry out tearfully in deafening sounds or silent screams, laugh hysterically, escape into compulsive behaviours, seek out more pain – suffer with it, but more importantly suffer without it.

pain-demands (1)I began to see this very same trend within my own life, the lives of those closest to me, and every single patient/client that I saw – and everywhere.  People who have found meaning and purpose in their lives do it because they realize the significance of the vitality of pain within their lives.

In our mother’s womb we struggle to survive our wondrous yet treacherous development and then birth, as does our mother. In pain we pass into this world to face the delicate balances of psychological/emotional, physical and spiritual survival – relationships, belonging and connectedness.

We need our pain, take away our pain and we take away who we are, what motivates us, what inspires us.  And yet on the other hand pain can destroy and wreak havoc on our lives and the lives of others.  If we fail to understand how and why pain is a vital entity in our lives and how it can be modulated to bring about a meaningful and purposeful life, we miss understanding its power. In our attempts to rid ourselves of pain – because somehow we have the impression that it is our ‘right’ to demand pleasure and to be ‘pain free’ – we have made having pain in our lives a ‘sin’ and the need for ‘punishment’, a commodity to control others, a weapon to destroy and a rationale to escape from responsibility!


“it is not the pain we suffer, but our relationship to it that makes life complicated”

I began to see then that it is not the pain we suffer, but our relationship to it that makes life complicated.  Melzack and Wall studied pain from this perspective and wrote about how pain behaved in our bodies, its impact on not only the physical and the brain, but also the psychological/emotional states of the mind. Melzack’s Neuromatrix sets out the matrix of the neuronal pathways. Freud had, over ten decades prior, set out the matrix of the mental pathways.  He had laid the firm foundation from where we could begin to comprehend how pain behaved in our minds and how pain compelled us to respond to life’s experiences – from cradle to the grave and our journey in between.

This book is my first attempt to explain my concept of one’s relationship with his/her pain and how we respond to life is contingent upon this relationship.  I have defined pain based on an integration of Melzack’s and Wall’s and Freud’s definitions. The questions to ask then is: what does my pain mean to me and what purpose does it serve.

The case studies that I chose have particular interests for me, as each is a representation of one of the four main categories of scenarios that I have found exist in life in general –  1) grief and mourning, 2) compulsive, repetitive behaviour, rituals and addictions, 3) victimization, and 4) revenge.

If one choses to live in denial – one must also realise that it is a long journey with many hidden, dark fears that twist and turn…

37171Dr Doreen M. Francis has worked in the field of mental health for over thirty years, specializing in the psychotherapeutic treatment of mental illness and addictions. After completing a certificate in Human Services Counselling she achieved a Bachelor of Social Work at Ryerson University, Toronto, as well as an MA and PhD in Contemporary Psychoanalysis at Brunel University, London, and a Diploma in Logotherapy through the Viktor Frankl Institute, UK. Dr Francis has dedicated her career to pursuing a deeper understanding of human behaviour, emotional and psychological pain, its impact, meaning and management.

Her book The Psychomatrix: A Deeper Understanding of Our Relationship with Pain has recently been published by Karnac Books.

Reviews and Endorsements

‘Although pain is a universal human experience, which has been investigated by the widest range of scholars and researchers for thousands of years, it still remains poorly understood. In this groundbreaking study, Doreen M. Francis combines a psychoanalytic perspective with the revolutionary insights on the neuromatrix of Melzack and Wall, in order to argue that pain is neither a mere sensory, nor a primarily emotional experience, but a relational phenomenon, which can only be properly appreciated if we take account of how a human being as subject relates to his or her pain qua object. Academic as it may be, this book is a pleasure to read, and should be studied by everyone who has a vested interest in gaining a better understanding of pain.’
–Dany Nobus, Professor of Psychoanalytic Psychology and Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Brunel University London, and Chair of the Freud Museum, London


Melzack and Wall: ‘Pain and the neuromatrix in the brain’

One thought on “The Psychomatrix: A Deeper Understanding of Our Relationship with Pain, by Doreen M. Francis

  1. Pingback: The Motive for Metaphor: brief essays on poetry and psychoanalysis, by Henry M. Seiden |

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