BY DR LYDIA THURTON
Somatization is when your body takes emotional pain and creates a physical problem. Patients will have all kinds of diagnostic testing only to be told that everything is normal. More than 80% of patients with dizziness, chest pain and fatigue have no medical explanation.
Patients are frustrated when they are told that a physical symptom is “all in their head.” To them, it discounts their experience and makes them feel crazy. This is not true at all! Your body is trying to talk to you in a way you understand. Everyone understands physical pain, not all of us will acknowledge feelings of sadness, grief and shame. Many of us are taught to disconnect from our emotional state, stuff down our feelings and put on a brave face. When we do this for a long period of time physical problems can result.
Think about your upbringing, with your parents. When you were sad or fearful, were you praised for identifying your emotions? And comforted? If not, then you probably have a tendency to avoid feeling and pretend that things are fine when they really aren’t. Most of our emotional reactions are learned in childhood. It is important to be honest with how emotionally intelligent your household was growing up.
If you have children think about your reaction to their emotional pain. This is especially critical for young boys. I feel much of the violence in our world is perpetrated by men who are hurting emotionally. And have no safe outlet.
Physical abuse or sexual trauma puts people at increased risk for somatization. If you have trauma in your history your body may use somatization as an ego defense mechanism. Defense mechanisms protect our minds from having to re-experience painful events. Instead of reliving the abuse you suffered, the body turns that pain into a sore back, or period cramps, or digestive upset. You are still experiencing pain, but body pain feels safer to us. Mental, emotional pain is much more unpredictable and complex to treat.
When a condition starts out of the blue take stock of your life. Are you upset at someone and biting your tongue? Do you feel powerless? Do you feel disrespected? Are you heart-broken? If you have been diagnosed with anxiety, depression or another psychiatric illness you are at increased risk to have your body talk to you. Digestion, sleep and physical pain are all very real consequences of mental illness.
When emotional problems are the cause, often illnesses will be in multiple body systems. For example, stomach cramps and headaches, insomnia and heart palpitations, painful sex and nausea. Symptoms can be vague and ever-changing. It can be very frustrating and scary for the patient because they know something is wrong but they hit a dead end with every test.
If this sounds like you, take an honest look at your emotional state. There is no shame is having emotional pain. Being a caring, compassionate human being means that there will be suffering and hurt. The more truthful you are with yourself and others, the better off we all are. If your body is talking to you, try your best to listen.