When we’re in the midst of chronic pain the last thing you’re likely to want is someone encouraging you to dig deeper into your pain. In that moment, you just don’t care about the emotional meaning of pain.
If the flare is bad, you want it gone. That’s all.
But there is increasing reason to believe that chronic pain (and for that matter, most pain) has some emotional meaning.
Here are a few articles I’ve found recently on the topic.
This one from Psychology Today, on how unresolved emotions cause chronic pain.
This one from The Grosson Sinus and Health Institute explains how stress can affect sinus issues (which I was very interested in, because I’ve always found my breathing passages clear up immensely after some stretching and relaxing exercises).
Why bother with the emotional stuff – I just need pain killers?
While in the grip of a pain flare, pain meds can be a god-send, and I wouldn’t tell anyone they shouldn’t take them. Easing the pain can be the kindest and most loving way to respond to your body.
But when pain is chronic or frequent, taking time to consider there may be something emotional driving your pain can mean the difference between a life time of chronic drug taking, with all the attendant medical issues that can create, versus a life where you are reversing pain and living without it, and the drugs, most of the time.
Drugs may cure the symptom (the pain). But to deal with the cause, you need to get emotional.
[Note: this, in no way, negates the need for thorough medical attention, to ensure all physical problems either causing the pain, or as a result of it, are identified and addressed].
In the end, it may mean the difference between being pain-free or in pain, for the rest of your life.
How does pain result from an emotional cause?
Emotions are physical responses we have to events and thoughts.
Our bodies are designed to have these intricate responses that link thoughts, bodies and emotions.
For instance, we get nervous before giving a presentation because we’re scared what others might think of what we do (thought), we feel the fear (emotion) and we get a raised heart rate and knot in the stomach (physical).
When we are in love, we think about that person a lot (thoughts), we feel love, attraction or care (emotion) and we get a flutter in our gut and fullness in our chest (physical).
When we experience fear, we have a range of automatic physical response, such as muscle tension, heart rate increase, lowered digestion, heightened alertness and, most relevantly, impaired healing response. I talk more about fear and the body in this blog, this one and this one.
When we experience stress, we know the emotion responses that come with it – frustration/anger, short temperedness, negativity, exhaustion, overreactions, anxiety etc, and all it’s physical effects, like body tension, sleep disturbance, fidgeting, inability to concentrate, sickness or knots in the stomach, migraines and chronic pain flares.
What we’re really experiencing is fear. Stress is modern day fear.
When the body is constant stress/fear, it’s healing mechanisms are shut down. I talk about why here.
Chronic pain develops because our physical bodies are in a constant state of stress (this applies to conditions like fibromyalgia, arthritis, joint and muscle issues, chronic migraines and many chronic illnesses in the autoimmune family or that relate to digestion, and even things like cancer).
Acute pain can develop in times of acute stress, or acute emotional complexity (this applies to things like sudden onset back pain or joint pain, muscle spasm, sudden migraine or very serious things like stroke and heart attack).
And it may be even more nuanced
There are many resources suggesting that we experience pain and illness in parts of the body that relate specifically to the emotional issues we’re not dealing with effectively.
Much like the way we feel a heart ache in our heart area, so it is suggested:
- we experience hip issues when we’re afraid to move forward in life,
- knee issues when we’re afraid or avoiding taking the next step,
- issues with shoulders may relate to the burdens we’re “shouldering”,
- eye pain due to not wanting to see certain truths about something,
- throat issues when we are afraid to speak up
- and there are similar correlations to all parts of the body.
If you’re interested in knowing more about these kinds of emotional connections to your pain, I recommend:
Simple steps to connect to the emotional cause of your pain
In the previous blog What’s Your Pain Trying To Tell You? I outlined how to listen to what your pain is trying to tell you. The techniques I listed in that blog can start you on your way to better understanding why your body is hurting.
In another previous blog, Emotional Blind Spots and Physical Pain, I talked about how to discover if you may not be ready to let go of pain.
What both these blogs emphasise is that there is one central key to healing chronic pain, chronic illness, acute pain issues and general life dissatisfaction:
Your body is your best friend and it is guiding you toward healing.Your body is your best friend and it is guiding you toward healing.Click To Tweet
When we adopt this view of our body, a kindness can begin to emerge in which we see ourselves as being on the same team as our body, with it supporting us to have the best life we can imagine.
Without this kindness, we so often end up treating our body like the enemy – drugging away its attempts to help us, ignoring the pleas to take notice of something and forcing the body into an ever ferocious escalation of symptoms.
This is why people with chronic pain issues tend to have clusters of issues – the body just keeps trying to get our attention and the more we don’t give it attention, the more it needs to yell.
So how well are you listening to the emotions behind your pain?
If you’re struggling with chronic pain issues, chronic illnesses or unexplained physical issues, the simplest way to get the message of your pain/illness is to sit quietly, focus on the pain and let it start to speak. Give it a voice. All the better if you can “become” that body part and start speaking as it.
Let your affected body part answer these questions:
1. “I’m your [say the body part] and I am feeling…..”
2. “I’m your [say body part] and I’d really like to tell you ……”
3. “I’m your [say body part] and I’d like to tell you how I feel about you:…”
4. “I’m your [say body part] and what I really need to heal properly is…..”
These four simple questions, answered from the perspective of the body part, can yield incredibly insightful revelations.
Get a note book and write down what the body part said. And don’t forget to tell that body part you love it, and thank it for sharing. Reassure it that you’ve heard it and will take some steps to relieve it’s pain.
And then take those steps!
Need help with this? Why not schedule a free Starting Whole session and explore what your pain might need to heal?
I’d love to hear what your pain said to you when you asked these questions – let me know in the comments below!