“Man, does that guy have a lot on his shoulders!” I am sitting at a sidewalk café with a friend. We’re having coffee, talking casually and looking at the people passing by. A well dressed man is walking across the street. He is not actually carrying anything, but it is obvious that something is burdening him. Did he lose money on the stock market? Has his wife left him for another man? We will never know, but his posture is telling us a story. If he would come up to us and tell us everything was fine, we would believe our eyes more than our ears and say “Come on, what is really going on…?”
As a therapist working with the mind-body connection I have ‘stories’ walking into my practise every day. Physical pains that speak of years of stressful living and where the body eventually will say “I have a message for you: This pain is to wake you up help you stop abusing yourself”. Stories of ‘heart-break’ and of having someone ‘being a pain in the neck’. People come ‘holding their breaths’ and feeling ’stabbed in the back’ or just simply being tired from ‘grinding their teeth’ all night about a problem at work.
Everyday language show us that there is an obvious connection between mind, the body and the emotions. Today science is more and more able to explain why repressed emotions can be the cause of physical complaints. People like the doctor John Sarno and neurologist Marten Klaver show the connection between physical pain and the denial of emotional pain. Mechanisms that we use to deny emotional pain include self-imposed expectations, self-criticism, blaming others, and victimhood.
Repressed anger can be a cause for psychosomatic pain. Anger is very stigmatised in our society, to the point where it gets labelled as a ‘negative emotion’ in books on popular psychology. When does anger get its due recognition as a source of strength? Anger expressed responsibly is a turn-on and can really clear up a situation. Instead we smile and pretend that everything is fine to the point that we even believe it ourselves. That dull pain in our lower backs is just bad luck…, or is it?
“As far as I am concerned, SOLK (Somatically Insufficiently explained Physical Complaints) can be explained by repressed, unconscious emotions. If you recognize anger or sadness and can express it physically there is no problem. But if that doesn’t happen, they can disrupt physical programs in the limbic system in the brain. That is the area where mind and body come together. The limbic system regulates pain, emotion, mood and impulse. If those functions are disturbed, this leads to chronic pain, irritability or anxiety and fatigue. ”Marten Klaver, neuroloog
Emotions are energy. Next time you get angry or happy, notice how that changes the energy level in your body.If you allow your emotions and express them appropriately they will dissipate and you will feel a sense of satisfaction at doing what is human and natural. Charge and dis-charge, the cycle of life is happening as it should.
If you don’t allow yourself to feel and express certain emotions, this energy has to go somewhere. You start tensing up and holding your breath. When done repeatedly, it becomes a habit and at some point our permanent state of being. Feeling tense becomes the new ‘normal’. Muscle and joint pain is often just your body telling you that you are holding on to too much for too long. Eventually burnout can ensue and even de-pression.
Today it is still normal to see a psychologist for your emotional difficulties and your chiropractor or physiotherapist for your physical pains. Integrating both is still rare, but changes are happening. Up to 10% of visits to the doctor are from patients with complaints for which there is no physical explanation. Instead of taking the normal road of popping a pain killer and just waiting it out, use the opportunity to listen to your body and discover your own healing abilities.
The sun was suddenly peeking through the window of my practise room as my client put his hand on his hip, looked at me with wide open eyes and said the words “Right now I can’t feel the pain anymore!” I could see on his face that he hardly could believe his own words. The client was an older man. An hour ago he had walked in with a limp and sat himself in the chair with a big sigh. He was clearly in
pain. After talking for an hour about how much he missed a diseased loved one from his life and shedding some long withheld tears, the cramp in his buttock had slowly started to dissipate. When he walked out of the room, there was again elan in his movements and a sparkle in his eyes. He thanked me for my help and I thanked him too. In my heart I was grateful to him for having been able to witness such an amazing recovery and for showing me in real time how vulnerable and yet how resourceful we are as human being beings.
We have the solutions to our own problems. Learn to listen to yourself and to trust a little. Then, be willing to do the work. The bodymind has a remarkable ability to heal both emotional and physical pain. You just have to give it the chance.