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Does The Memory of Pain Cause Pain?

Fibromyalgia patients make scarce reference to pain in self-defining memories.
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Self-defining memories (SDMs) are vivid, emotionally intense and well-rehearsed autobiographical memories that provide fundamental information about one’s cognitive affective motivational representation of self. Exploring SDMs in fibromyalgia (FM) is of interest for understanding the psychopathology of this disorder and improving clinical interventions. Our aim was to compare patients and healthy controls (HC) on SDM characteristics.


We included 25 patients with FM and 24 HC matched for age, sex and education level. Each participant described five SDMs, which were coded for content, specificity, integration, tension, redemption, contamination, affective response, date, and reference to pain. We statistically controlled our results for the most plausible confounding factors related to FM that could affect SDM recall, namely depression, anxiety, cognitive inhibition, pain severity and medication.


Compared with HC, patients retrieved less specific SDMs with a more negative emotional valence but less tension. They reported more relationship-related memories, and fewer redemptive ones, with less meaning-making. The number of memories referring to physical or psychological pain did not differ between groups. None of the confounding factors we analysed could explain (either alone or in combination) the statistical differences between groups for SDMs characteristics.


We discuss functional avoidance and alexithymia as two main factors for poor reference to pain in patients’ SDMs that further reveal affective dysregulation in FM. In clinical practice, remediating the way in which pain is integrated into SDMs in FM may help to mitigate its negative impact on everyday life.

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Source:  Vucurovic K, Dupont-Gaudin C, Raucher-Chéné D, Kaladjian A, Cuervo-Lombard CV.  Fibromyalgia patients make scarce reference  to pain in self-defining memories. Compr Psychiatry. 2019 Jan 7;90:30-36. doi: 10.1016/j.comppsych.2018.12.013. [Epub ahead of print]

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