There’s an interesting article in Psychology today The Connections Between Emotional Stress, Trauma and Physical Pain. Nothing really ground breaking that we don’t already know, but an interesting issue just the same.
In the Western world, especially in Western medicine, we don’t focus much on the relationship between mind, body, and spirit, but in truth people are comprised of 3 parts all working together. If one gets out of whack the other two soon follow.
Worse, culturally we do some really demeaning and dismissive things, like suggesting that people’s pain is all in their head, or that whatever is afflicting them doesn’t really count because it’s psychosomatic, or stress related, or rooted in emotional trauma. We combine that dismissive attitude with this black and white, Science-only, kind of thinking. If you have a spear in your side we can fix that and solve the problem. If you have mysterious pain in your shoulder, you just have a “bad” shoulder. Everything else from there on out just becomes a mental disorder, as if “mental” somehow means disconnected from the rest of the body. If we can’t quickly figure out what is causing your problem, how about some anti depressants to make you feel better about it?
So many things within our culture are just viewed as a disease, rather than as a sign of good health, rather than evidence of your mind, body, and spirit behaving exactly as it was designed to do. Aging for example, is often treated as a disease, as if the very process of aging is an illness that must be treated. We tend to pack our elderly down with dozens of prescriptions, some which have side effects which than require more medication. Some of these meds are not a bad idea, but the thinking behind “better living through chemistry” is somewhat flawed.
There is more to us than just the physical. We’ve gotten a whole lot better at almost recognizing this truth and science has begun to look into it, but we have a long way to go.
This article speaks of post traumatic stress, emotional trauma, and then declares, “Chronic pain is defined as prolonged physical pain that lasts for longer than the natural healing process should allow.” I am such a nitpicker, but what is this “should” they speak of? Longer than the natural healing process should allow? What are we basing that judgement on? How do we know what the natural healing process should and should not allow?
Within people there are these things I call body memories, muscle memories. We can scrape our knee when we are 9 years old, attach that experience to some emotional issue, spend years protecting that knee, focusing on that knee, trying to get the pain out of that knee, and we can actually create inflammation, muscle strain, genuine evidence of physical distress that is visible to doctors. We don’t like to discuss these things because the first thought is usually shame and blame. It’s all my fault, it’s all in my head, it’s all me, I made myself sick. The very fact that those emotional triggers pop up so quickly, so defensively, suggests there is often an emotional and spiritual relationship going on with our own “bad” body part that has now betrayed us and revealed our deep, dark secrets.
Don’t get me wrong here, you get hit by a bus or something, there’s going to be genuine scar tissue, muscle distress, potential future chronic pain. Or not. There are many variables at play, but we do know that how one feels about that accident, the condition of their mind and spirit, their circumstances and attitude, play a huge role in how well they will heal.
I’ve had some experiences with this myself. I used to have terrible problems with my neck and shoulders, could not lift my arms, did many rounds of pain meds and chiropractors, of massage and surgical possibilities. It was a physical therapist who told me, “you know, there really is a mind, body and spirit connection, have you considered asking for healing?” He wasn’t a Christian at all, but God bless him, because no, it had never occurred to me to just ask for healing. As simple as that. But of course it wasn’t simple at all, it was emotionally painful, there was a lot of physical and emotional trauma lurking in my neck and shoulders, there were memories that needed to be brought to the surface and issues that had to be dealt with. Sure enough however, what was once jammed muscles and visible swelling and chronic pain just went away, and rather quickly too. Today I have no problems and no pain.
I am not alone, I know many others who have been healed of chronic problems, who have bloomed into good health by treating themselves holistically, as if they were a being comprised of 3 parts. In simplistic terms, I did not love my neck and shoulders and they did not love me back.
That mind body, spirit thing is powerful stuff. There are people who have been hit by a bus, broken every bone in their body, and yet somehow they have managed to recover, to go on and to thrive. There are still others who are now chronically in pain, disabled due to what was once depression and than became chronic back pain and endless fatigue. These people are not faking it, but there is often a lot of unrecognized mind and spirit injury going on that we don’t seem able to address very well in the Western world. We tend to act as if an injury to the spirit and mind is a sign of weakness, but it isn’t, we all have them, and rather then perceiving it as a disease or defect, I wish we would come to better understand that this is a part of our wonderful and fearful design.
I use to have an elderly woman who would say, “is your knee talking to you? What’s it’s trying to say?” Wise woman, except she kept all her meds in a candy dish on her coffee table and just popped one when she felt like “having a treat.” Ai yi yi, she gave me a few gray hairs, but God bless her, she lived to a ripe old age and died peacefully in her sleep.