When you are suffering from physical pain, your first instinct is to visit a medical doctor to determine the cause. But, your physical pain may actually be the result of emotional distress. This is called psychosomatic illness. If medical problems were ruled out and someone has suggested that your gastrointestinal problems, high blood pressure or overall pain is psychosomatic or “all in your head,” that doesn’t mean you are crazy – your mind has chosen to convert your psychic pain into physical pain, and that pain is real. Your gastrointestinal problems could be due to anxiety. Your lightheadedness may indicate that you still need to heal from previous trauma. Your overall pain could be the result of extreme sadness. There is a huge misconception and unfortunate stigma when it comes to psychosomatic illness. But once you understand what is happening to your body, you can begin to heal with the help of an experienced mental health professional.

Don’t Take it Personally

When people hear the words “psychosomatic illness,” they often take it very personally and become defensive. They believe they are being accused of lying or making it up. But that’s not true at all – they aren’t making it up. Those physical symptoms are real, and your undiagnosed pain is indicating that something is wrong.

Everyone experiences physical symptoms when they are unhappy or suffering from anxiety. It’s a part of being human, and it doesn’t mean you’re weak. When life is hard, people handle it differently. There are those of us who get angry or complain, sleep a lot or stop sleeping, overeat or avoid food, soothe with alcohol, or experience physical pain. One way isn’t better than the other – they are all indicators that something is wrong. Where the mind goes, the body follows.

What Is Psychosomatic Illness?

Towards the end of the 19th century, Sigmund Freud created the term conversion disorder to describe a condition when symptoms that cannot be explained by organic diseases are determined to be the result of an unconscious conflict. For example, if someone experienced a paralyzed arm, but no disease was present, then he theorized that their emotions were the cause. While neurology continues to use that term, psychology commonly refers to it as psychosomatic illness.

As a psychoanalytically-trained therapist, I understand the power of our brains to intensify pain that may exist, making it worse. Our minds are very powerful. They have the power to prevent us from feeling emotions, but instead to experience physical symptoms such as sweat, stomachaches, headaches, body shakes and a pounding heart. What may appear as a heart condition could actually be a panic attack or anxiety.

How Do I Know If My Symptoms are Psychosomatic?

Unfortunately, many people find it hard to associate their physical problems with life events, especially ones that are traumatic. Instead, they compartmentalize and put their emotions and their physical pain in separate boxes. For symptoms related to their physical self, they will visit a medical doctor, and if they go through something that is obviously stressful or upsetting, then they will go see a mental health professional. What is often lost is the overlap – everything is connected. Often, it takes an outsider, such as a medical doctor, a trusted friend, or loved one to suggest their symptoms are connected to an emotional issue.

How To Treat Psychosomatic Symptoms

Therapy is extremely beneficial if you are suffering from psychosomatic illness. It affects your whole being, including your physical self. Therapy helps you understand how thoughts, emotions and your physical being are interconnected with each other, and how each one can impact the other. As you go through the healing process in therapy, you’ll learn about your thoughts and perceptions, as well as how you deal with stress. Therapy will not only treat the psychosomatic symptoms, but it will help you get to the root cause of your suffering, allowing you to work through your problems. Having a safe place where you can talk to someone about your emotional stress or trauma can heal your physical ailments and completely change your outlook on life.

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