How psychological conflicts and insufficiently processed experience can show up at a body level as physical symptoms
By Aniela Pojar, Counsellor
BA Comm., BA Counselling
Postgrad. Dip. Expressive Therapies
Somatization is a medical term and it means expressing psychological conflicts/ distress through bodily symptoms.
In its more extreme form, it is a psychological disorder diagnosed as SSD (Somatic Symptom Disorder). The Medical Encyclopaedia gives us the following description of the disorder: “Somatic symptom disorder is a long-term (chronic) condition in which a person has physical symptoms that involve more than one part of the body, but no physical cause can be found. The pain and other symptoms people with this disorder feel are real, and are not created or faked on purpose.”(See http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000955.htm)
We all, at one point or another though our lives somatise in different amounts and in varying degrees of (physical) symptom acuity.
Somatization is obviously an unconscious process: at a conscious level we don’t go seeking illness, nor do we enjoy it. We “get sick” as we say, the “sickness” (symptom) “gets” us and in that, I believe it gets our attention.
There is plenty of professional literature and research available to us now telling us and showing how our bodies store emotional/ psychic material (see for example Babette Rothschild’s book “The body remembers”).
It is my belief that anything which is not sufficiently experienced (felt) has the potential to become a physical symptom. The much talked about “Unconscious” is not a storage space strictly confined to our brains, nor is it an abstract concept. The body is the unconscious. Sometimes it’s too difficult to process (sense, feel and understand) an experience fully, maybe because of its intensity, a not a developed enough ability to do so or simply because we don’t know how to or we are encouraged not to. Our body stores this unprocessed “information” and will attempt to deal with it at a later stage. This is in some way a form of self-preservation: we need to be able to carry on. The problem of course is that we have very few if no opportunities later on throughout our lives to unpack this in a safe and healing way.
The innate wisdom of our bodies (Body-Self) later draw out this “material” and it does so in the form of something that is physical in an attempt to make it conscious. In becoming conscious of it and what it is about we can integrate it into our sense of being (who we are).
When a physical symptom arises, there is something tangible right here: a pain, a discomfort which we can no longer ignore. We have no choice but to attend to it but then again, I think it is a part of us that makes this decision with not a masochistic intent but one that urges us to grow and claim hidden parts of ourselves.
Counselling / therapy is a safe space where I create for people opportunities to become conscious of themselves and their experience (past and present). We have a deep need to experience ourselves in authentic ways.
I will take more time in a future article to detail my views on therapy and how I work (my particular approach).
As a final note, I will say that obviously factors such as genetics, chemical exposure / ingestion, environmental or larger system based factors (ie. socio economic) also come into play at the onset of a disease. No-Body lives in isolation and is therefore continuously influenced by these factors.
Until next time,