Psychosomatic

Looking back over many years at periods when I’ve been ill or suffered pain, I can see that they were often related to times of physical or mental ‘stress’. The latter were basically of the mind and emotions. Of course mind and body are totally interlinked so this is not surprising. In fact, it seems likely that many ‘illnesses’ are actually psychosomatic, so have causes that lie deep in the psyche – mental and emotional. What proportion I do not know, but it seems likely to be a significant proportion.

divided_mindSo why do we not hear more from the medical profession about psychosomatic pain and illness? The book The Divided Mind by Dr. John E. Sarno gives convincing answers.

Dr Sarno has had a long and distinguished career in the US as a groundbreaking medical pioneer, addressing the entire spectrum of psychosomatic (mind-body) disorders.

The Divided Mind traces the history of psychosomatic medicine, and describes the psychology responsible for the broad range of psychosomatic illness. He suggests that the failure of medicine’s practitioners to recognize and appropriately treat mindbody disorders has produced public health and economic problems of major proportions in the western world. The book includes chapters by a number of other medical practitioners whose long experience has confirmed his approach.

One of the most important aspects of psychosomatic phenomena is that knowledge and awareness of the process itself can lead to healing. Many people have become pain-free through reading Dr. Sarno’s books and following his advice.

At the heart of his theory is that repressed anger in the unconscious (Freud’s ‘id’) lies behind much illness. Having recently spent time with a 2-year-old struggling to come to terms with the demands of learning language and of conforming to the will of the giant human beings around him, it seems entirely plausible that strong anger is repressed around this stage, and probably earlier.

The emotions so repressed can be so extreme that the mind-body will go to any lengths to avoid expressing them, and it often chooses to express physical symptoms instead. These may range from muscle weakness, through recurrent or chronic body pain (bad back, old injury etc.) to major illnesses (diabetes, cancers,…).

What Dr Sarno does not recommend in most cases is psychotherapy to uncover those unconscious emotions, likely to be a long and highly traumatic process. It seems that awareness that this mechanism may be in play is enough to lead to symptom alleviation and possible cure in many cases. But of course you have to be of a mindset that allows for this possibility.

This seems a good message to me. If you have ongoing chronic conditions be aware that this mechanism may be in play. This gives enormous room for optimism, whereas a diagnosis of a chronic condition can give enormous room for a debilitating pessimism.

One way to help yourself can be to release the hold of the past on things near to your conscious awareness — those long-held resentments, grievances and grudges. Forgiveness and gratitude are great tools here.

Of course, not all illness is psychosomatic. There are genuine medical problems that need medical solutions, and modern drugs can help with many conditions, including psychosomatic.

Just be aware of the possibility and the power of the mind component of the mind-body. The body is not a machine.

And reading this book, or one of Dr Sarno’s other books, may well be of great benefit to you.

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