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Parallel worlds and personified pain: A mixed-methods analysis of pain metaphor use by women with endometriosis.

Bullo, Stella and Hearn, Jasmine Heath (2020) Parallel worlds and personified pain: A mixed-methods analysis of pain metaphor use by women with endometriosis. British Journal of Health Psychology. e12472-e12472. ISSN 1359-107X

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Abstract

OBJECTIVES:Endometriosis is a long-term condition in which endometrial-like tissue grows outside of the womb, causing intense chronic pain. Previous work has demonstrated the physical and emotional impact on women who live with endometriosis, and metaphors can play an influential role in communicating the experience of pain, but there exists little understanding of the role and impact of such language for women with endometriosis. DESIGN:A qualitative, semi-structured interview design. METHODS:Conceptual Metaphor Theory (CMT) and Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) were utilized in a mixed-methods study to examine the prevalence, types, and meaning of metaphors and metaphor use as a health communication strategy. Twenty-one women aged between 23 and 53 years (mean age 36.1 years) with endometriosis took part in audio-recorded interviews. RESULTS:The women reported experiencing symptoms for an average of 11 years before receiving a formal diagnosis of endometriosis, and the mean age of diagnosis was 27.6 years. Seven distinct conceptual metaphors were identified in 221 metaphorical expressions used across all participants, with most common ones referring to pain as physical properties of elements such as temperature and pressure, physical damage, and an external attacker. IPA revealed three themes pertaining to the feeling of vulnerability and helplessness, pain being incomprehensible, and a drive to manage and conceal pain simultaneously. CONCLUSIONS:This study demonstrates the power of language in facilitating understanding and empathy in the listener, alongside the challenge of communicating endometriosis pain to others. Imagery-based techniques may assist in adaptation to, interpretation, and acceptance of pain to reduce pain-related distress.

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