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The Experience of Pain Dismissal in Adolescence

Defenderfer, Ellen K. MS*; Bauer, Kate MSc; Igler, Eva MA*; Uihlein, Julia A. MA; Davies, W. Hobart PhD*

doi: 10.1097/AJP.0000000000000530
Original Articles

Context: Pain in adolescence has psychosocial effects lasting into adulthood, including increased likelihood of pain in adulthood and higher rates of depression and anxiety. Many adolescents with chronic pain describe skepticism of pain reports, but this has not yet been evaluated in a sample of typically developing adolescents.

Objective: The current study sought to describe the experience of perceived pain dismissal during adolescence in a community sample.

Method: Nearly 2000 (1931) emerging adults were recruited from the community and answered open-ended questions regarding whether they had experienced dismissal of their pain in adolescence, who dismissed their pain, characteristics of the dismisser, and what that experience was like. Qualitative responses were coded using a Delphi method.

Results: One in 10 young adults reported an experience of pain dismissal during adolescence. Young adults reported that dismissals by parents and physicians were the most distressing. Often, this experience was associated with a lasting sense of hostility toward the person who dismissed their pain, as well as anger, self-directed negativity, damage to the relationship, and feelings of isolation.

Conclusions: One in 10 young adults reported at least one instance of dismissed pain and half of these instances involved a parent or medical provider. Results suggest a lasting negative impact of perceived dismissal. Pain in adolescence is a complicated experience and the current study indicates that parents and physicians need further guidance on how best to respond to reports of pain.

*Psychology Department, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Medical College of Wisconsin, Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities, Milwaukee

University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, WI

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Reprints: Ellen K. Defenderfer, MS, Department of Psychology, 2441 E Hartford Avenue, P.O. Box 413, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, WI 53201 (e-mail:

Received July 13, 2016

Received in revised form January 12, 2017

Accepted June 11, 2017

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