We know intuitively that emotional suffering can be experienced as physical pain. Nevertheless, it is difficult for a person to understand how emotional distress plays a role in the experience of physical pain, and if it does, what to do about it.
How we feel pain and emotions
The words “to feel” are used to describe both physical and emotional phenomena. Our nervous system feels physical sensations of temperature, pain and pressure, as well as the emotional sensations of pleasure, fear and grief.
However, what often happens is that we have a feeling in the body (physical sensation). And then, sometime later, the cognitive mind translates that into emotional sensations (emotional feelings).
Our Western minds will try to fastidiously separate the physical and the emotional. However leading edge neuroscientists are finding the concept of “psychosomatic unity” abides. This means that psychological and physiological processes form one unit. What we feel in our bodies affects our emotions and perceptions (our consciousness). So the objective experience of sensations (of pain) can not be accurately assessed without integrating information about the subjective experience (emotion associated with that pain).
Dealing with the emotions associated with pain
Therefore for us to feel well, we must deal with both the pain as well as the emotions associated with it. For example, a 35-year-old woman had low back pain. She had suffered a severe horseback riding accident at 19 while attending college. Her low back area was sensitive and jumpy, making it difficult to practice yoga; she would become upset and tearful when she tried to do yoga.
We looked at the emotional issues and blocked energy surrounding the accident. And then we attempted to connect the tension in her low back with her memories of the circumstances at the time of the accident.
Additional trauma involved in pain
During the accident she broke her back and nearly died. Importantly, an additionally traumatic and emotional part of the incident was that her parents never came to see her while she was recovering in the hospital.
During therapy she had worked through the emotions connected with the injury, and could then focus on the physical healing of her body. This emotional aspect had never been fully addressed. Thereafter, when her low back muscle and ligament injuries were worked on, her body could accept the treatment and her condition improved significantly.