On Psychosomatic Disorders

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As I was praying for someone I know, it struck me that the woman, who has to endure a lot of physical pain, might have a psychosomatic disorder. I’m no physician; so that opinion is worth what it’s worth. My point here is not about her situation but about what the term means.

Many people assume that when we say a disease has a psychosomatic cause, it means the disease is imaginary. Not so. It means the disease has a psychological cause that has probably been suppressed into the subconscious, and the only way that the brain has found to manifest the pain was a physical one. 

Because someone no longer is conscious about a problem doesn’t mean the physical pain is unreal. Rather, the psychological trauma which could not, for some reason or other, be verbalized or even acknowledged by the individual, has taken on a physical form. That may happen in cases of incest or other forms of sexual abuse where the victim is not in a position to flee the abusive situation or confront the abuser. To cope with that situation they have to dismiss it out of their consciousness.

For example, Hazel’s dad began to molest her when she was five years old. Sometime later, she began to complain of abdominal pain, but tests found no reason for the pain, and the doctors suggested it might be psychosomatic. So her parents dismissed it as imaginary. Ignorant people reading or hearing about a woman who suffers from psychosomatic ailment may assume that she is looking for excuses not to fulfill her marital obligations in bed. But it is a simplistic conclusion to draw. 

The truth with most problems connected to the psyche is a lot more complex than that, and we should be compassionate with people when we suspect that their pain may have psychosomatic causes. Women’s aches are more likely to be dismissed as psychosomatic by doctors than men’s, and it may well be that their physicians cut short the testing before they found the reason to explain the suffering.

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