“But when one does not complain, and when one wants to master oneself with a tyrant’s grip — one’s faculties rise in revolt — and one pays for outward calm with an almost unbearable inner struggle.” Letter from Charlotte Brontë to Professor Constantin Heger, 1845.
Common Physical Expressions of Emotion
In everyday life, bodily expressions of emotion are common and accepted. If we are sad, we might cry; if we are embarrassed or ashamed, we might blush; if we are afraid, our heart might beat faster or our palms become clammy. We might also have noticed that conditions such as psoriasis, eczema or asthma are triggered or worsened by stress and anxiety. Often, it feels like we have little or no control over these physical responses to emotional disturbance. But what about more severe symptoms such as chronic pain or fatigue, paralysis and seizures? In some circumstances, could these more extreme and potentially life-changing conditions come about as a direct result of emotional distress? And if so, what can be done about it?
What Causes Psychosomatic Pain or Illness?
Emotion that is expressed through the body (rather than via words) has always been a subject that interests me. Charlotte Brontë refers to the ‘inner struggle’ of keeping strong feelings in check and how much energy this involves. It is little wonder that unspoken strong feelings sometimes find alternative outlets for expression. If no organic cause can be found for illness or pain, it could mean that the physical symptoms are psychosomatic or, in other words, are linked in some way to mental distress. I say could since it is also possible that an organic cause has been missed or lies outside current medical testing parameters.
Physical symptoms of anxiety or trauma might come about if:
- emotion is not verbally expressed
- emotion is verbally expressed but is not adequately received by others.
We may choose to hide our feelings from ourselves or others if we have decided that such feelings are unacceptable in some way. Perhaps we perceive that our behaviour goes against what is expected of us by our families or by society in general and our fear of abandonment outweighs our need to be true to ourselves. Or, we may choose to express our emotions but significant others respond by dismissing them as unimportant or try to shame us for feeling the way we do.
How Counselling or Psychotherapy Can Help
My aim is to provide a safe and supportive environment where you would be free to express your feelings without fear of judgement or rejection. Mostly, this would involve holding the right kind of conversations that allow you to reflect, explore and discover new possibilities for living your life. Sadly, mental health problems continue to attract stigma in our society (a physical diagnosis can be so much easier to accept than a mental one) and as such I view the confidentiality* of counselling or psychotherapy sessions as a priority for your peace of mind, trust and security.
For help with stress, trauma, depression, anxiety, panic attacks and medically unexplained pain or illness in Brighton please contact me for more information and to arrange an initial consultation.
Copyright, Caroline Clarke – counselling in Brighton and Hove.
* Like all therapists, in exceptional circumstances I may have to break confidentiality, for instance if I have serious concerns about your welfare or the welfare of someone you tell me about e.g. a child. I make such limitations clear at an initial consultation and in my contract.
Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman at FreeDigitalPhotos.net