Have you ever experienced some physical pain in some part of your body and your doctor told you that it was all in your head? Well, he may be right. Now before I continue, it is important that I do acknowledge at this point the legitimacy of the thousands of patients that have ever walked away from bad doctors and false diagnoses of pain that was never imagined. However, on the flip side of the coin, there is a such thing as psychosomatic pain. Psychosomatic pain or somatoform disorder is a “felt” physical pain that can be caused by or influenced by underlying emotional pain or stress.
“John” and his back pain from UPS
I know a person named “John” who worked at the United Parcel Service (UPS) for three years before he actually developed serious back problems from all the heavy lifting he did. When the pain first started he was 26 years old with a wife and two small children to provide for. At first, John just brushed the pain off thinking it was muscular and that it would go away with time. After months of the pain growing progressively worse, being in chronic and intense pain all of the time, and even developing into clinical depression with the thought that he may have to live in that condition for the rest of his life he finally went to the doctor. For a guy that was athletic and accustomed to enjoying good health, the news he received on this particular day was nothing short of mentally traumatic. What he discovered was that he developed two areas in his back with phase II subluxation degeneration according to his chiropractor. His chiropractor further told him that if his conditioned worsened into a phase III degeneration that he would have chronic pain for the rest of his life. Since the pain was so excruciating up to this point, the thought of slipping into a phase III condition was terrifying to John. He had to make a change in work. Up to this point, the physical pain John had felt had nothing to do with the psychosomatic sort. Let’s fast forward 14 years.
Here is where the psychosomatic pain entered into the picture for John. We now find John working at a less physically demanding office job for over the past decade. John is 100% pain free. However, with a family doubled in size, John begins to get stressed out over their finances and decides to take on a part-time job stocking shelves at night. At first, John’s back begins to hurt from not being used to the physically demanding labor. After one month the pain in his back is starting to become chronic and he can’t sleep at night from the fears of wondering if he has slipped into phase III degeneration. Even though his chiropractor assured him that as long as he practices good bending techniques at his new job that his back would be able to hold up, John notices he becomes quite preoccupied and consumed by every little quirk that goes on in his shoulders and back. He notices he has become quite irritable, anxiety-proned, and full of dread and depression. All of his mental thoughts are tailored toward the state of his back and the constant fear that something is dreadfully going wrong. He wonders how much is mental and how much is actually physical. John inwardly yearns to know what is going on…until finally one day, the word “psychosomatic” pops into his mind.
Link between our mind and body
It has long been established that our minds (the way we think) can lead us into physical disease and even actually grieve us to death upon the loss of a mate. The adverse effects that stress and negative emotions (the mind) have upon the physical members of the body is not short on evidence. The World Heart Federation reports that “three psychological risk factors are associated with coronary heart disease (CHD): acute and chronic stress, hostility and depression.”
In essence, without any help from cigarettes, it is possible to give yourself a heart disease–just get stressed out enough.
Have you ever felt your shoulders and neck “tightening” up with the onslaught of bad news, conflict, or stress? Have you ever had a hunch that your physical ailments are probably much more related to your emotional health than to some other possible physical problem? Did you know that stress can induce tens of physical problems such as asthma, insomnia, acid peptic disease, irritable bowel syndrome, skin diseases like Psoriasis and even sexual dysfunction among many others?
Did you know that anger is thought to damage the liver, which in turn can create a cycle of disease and destructive emotional energy?
Julia Chang, of sensiblehealth.com, through a personal journey of experiencing a rejuvenated “emotionally healthy” liver says the liver, “is the most emotion sensitive organ and its weakness is often connected to emotional sensitivity. Individuals who are emotionally sensitive are more prone to weak liver…” This would correspond with current medical research that would verify that personality types do have an impact on our physical well-being.
Our personality type also plays a huge role in whether we are prone to injuries, how well we respond to stress (what’s stressful to one person may be all in a day’s work for another) and therefore, how likely we are to develop physical diseases. People with “Type A” personalities tend to create stress-related illnesses for themselves as a result of their approach to life being too driven, too ambitious, time-conscientious, and too rushed.
There are four basic types of somatoform disorders: Somatization disorder, Hypochondriasis, Body dysmorphic disorder and Conversion disorder. For more detailed information on any one of these simply click on any one of the names of them above.
Treatment may require both therapy to the mind (psychotherapy) and therapy to the body-mind (pharmacotherapy). Most clinicians value the approach of having a client being free to express and articulate their feelings over life and problems in an environment that is full of compassion, empathy, and a nonjudgmental attitude. Everyone one needs at least one other person that they can confide in about anything. That these sessions or meetings are regular, reciprocal in pursuit, and where a person is willing to put the work into where the real problem lies. For additional help, click here.
Meditation, volunteering, and relaxing techniques are also very helpful in getting our mind off of the body part that appears to be aching and help us work towards easing the “pain” that seems to be coming from that body part.