Taking control of chronic pain may well require taking responsibility for the emotional responses you have to the world you experience. When it comes to integrating the complexities of living within the physical system we inhabit, there can be a great deal to consider and navigate. Past, present and future thinking and feeling, seemingly, gets stored within the cells in our body.
In Part 1 of this blog post, I explored the concept of pain within the body and how it is inextricably linked to the emotional pain and false beliefs carried by an individual, sometimes over a lifetime. How the nervous system can become wired toward negative rather than positive sensation depends on our thoughts and emotional responses. Be it o perceptions of our environment, circumstances and to ourselves. These emotional patterns form physiological patterns, that can become chronic in thought and expereince without the awareness and introspective capabilities practiced by the individual; YOU.
In Part 2 we will look at:
- The physiological connection between our emotional state and pain.
- How different emotional experiences (guilt, fear, resentment) present in the body and where.
- In Part 3, we will look at some key ways that self awareness and introspective modalities like meditation can help manage and often eliminate the pain cycle.
Lets take a moment to consider what is actually going on in the brain when we experience strong emotions and all the areas that interrelate:
• The limbic system, the site of our instinctual emotional reactions.
• The hypothalamus, which connects with the endocrine system and the gut organs.
• The amygdala, where we process sensory information into memory and learning.
• The cortex, where we regulate emotion.
Every emotion we experience leaves a trace throughout these areas of the brain. Strong emotions can also be reignited by future experiences; be it in reality (through sensory experience) or in our minds (through memory experience).
“Pain Is Pain”!
We Process Emotional & Physical Pain The Same
The body and brain process both types of pain in absolutely the same way. Psychology Today reported “When people feel emotional pain, the same areas of the brain get activated as when people feel physical pain: in the anterior insula and the anterior cingulate cortex.” Researchers have found that people who endure trauma as children and still have lingering feelings of helplessness or despair have higher levels of inflammation in the body. Our early, unhealed wounds leave us more vulnerable to the many forms of pain.
Without awareness and having the courage to look a little deeper than surface at what could be going on when pain strikes, there is a real chronic danger that we will be hauling our entire personal history around with us in our cells and nervous system, for life. Pills can mask the pain briefly, but it will keep recurring until we ‘deal with it’.
Dr. Candace Pert, a neuropharmacologist who worked at the NIH and Georgetown University Medical Centre famously stated that “Your body is your subconscious mind. Our physical body can be changed by the emotions we experience.” . Dr Pert explains:
“A feeling sparked in our mind-or body-will translate as a peptide being released somewhere. [Organs, tissues, skin, muscle and endocrine glands], they all have peptide receptors on them and can access and store emotional information. This means the emotional memory is stored in many places in the body, not just or even primarily, in the brain. You can access emotional memory anywhere in the peptide/receptor network, in any number of ways. I think unexpressed emotions are literally lodged in the body. The real true emotions that need to be expressed are in the body, trying to move up and be expressed and thereby integrated, made whole, and healed.
Where Pain is Held In The Body & Its Possible Meaning
Common Sites for Deep-Seated Emotional Pain
The subscapularis lies beneath the scapula, filling the subscapular fossa and inserting into the lesser tubercle of the humerus and the front of the capsule of the shoulder-joint (coracoid process). It is thoroughly protected and is often identified as the ‘tickle site’ below the arm pits. Because the subscapularis is well-hidden beneath the scapula, it is the most likely place for neurotransmitters, toxins, and other metabolic waste to be stored in the shoulder area. For instance, chronic depression could result in deep-seated pain being stored in the subscapularis due to subtle postural imbalances from slumped shoulders, a defeated stance, or cowering.
This habitual behavioral pattern will create trigger points, and will usually eventually negatively impact the myofascial connections of the subscapularis, which can lead to problems with the rhomboids, trapezius, pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, and the coracoid process. If given enough time, the shoulders will become immobile thereby creating strain on the levator scapulae, which can further reduce range of motion in the neck. This chain reaction can also alter the curvature of the spine resulting in further pain and discomfort in the lower back, which can spread to the gluteals, and down the legs. Some patients suffering from deep tissue problems in their subscapularis have been misdiagnosed with fibromyalgia because of its similar far-reaching ill-effects that can eventually result in nerve damage and joint pain.
The psoas is the deepest abdominal muscle, originating on the spine near the solar plexus and inserting at the top of the femur. The purpose of the psoas has, until the late nineties, been somewhat of a mystery. Additionally, the common consensus remains that the psoas muscle is one that is out of reach and cannot be directly palpated or massaged. Because the psoas is a deep – and thoroughly protected – muscle, it is a perfect place for the body to store deeply-rooted emotions. There is nothing that can touch the psoas, with the exception of internal organs, so it is therefore the primary resting place for deeply rooted emotional trauma.
Much like any species, people are born with the ability to protect themselves. When faced with a fearful or dangerous situation, the strong psoas muscle is (1) the source of the ‘jolt’ we receive when we’re surprised, (2) the power behind the initial burst of speed when we need to get away, and (3) the primary muscle used when ‘playing dead’ until danger passes. It also causes the reflex of the spine when a person assumes the fotal position. Regardless of the strain placed on the psoas, emotional traumas can constrict the psoas to the point of causing chronic back, leg, hip, and knee pain and can even lead to joint deterioration, bursitis, and other ailments without the presence of any trauma.
The psoas muscle is most central to our fight/flight response. When we don’t respond, these stress hormones go unspent and become stored in the body. This can bring many health problems including insomnia, lowered immune system, anxiety, eating disorders, depression, and living in a constant state of fear or alert.
Chronic Recurring Pain & The Emotional Connection
Guilt can affect us in a variety of ways, because it is a judgement of self, based on your unique experiences. Forgiveness of your judgements or addressing the source of the emotion will help in healing this.
If it is in a personal relationship or in a professional context, a slight snub from a friend or a relationship break-up, rejection, can have a detrimental effect on anyone and make them question their self-worth. Understanding that rejection is a part of life and not a reflection of your personal worth is key to navigating this.
We all experience grief in various forms through our lives. The key is not to bury the emotion and to understand that the 5 stages of grief have time frames, experientially, that are unique to the individual.
Failure or Fear of failure
The pain felt with failure can often be similar to that of rejection, both have the ability to strike a blow to your self esteem and may be tinged with shame. The key with failure is to reframe the experience as a learning opportunity.
Where do you store your emotional pain?
In conclusion, lets not forget that we all have stresses and challenges to navigate, that is what life is about. Training pain has a very unique feel and experience compared to chronic pain. In my experience, both personal and with my clients the connection between the emotional experience and the physical cannot be ignored and I believe that to do so is to a small extent naive and in the extreme, arrogant. We are understanding more and more the positive effects that practices like meditation and yoga have on changing the nervous system and managing stress when engaged on a daily basis. As a preventative measure these self management modalities put responsibility for personal health and wellness squarely back with the individual and the over reliance on pharmacology may, hopefully, finally begin to diminish.
If you are a sufferer of chronic pain, reading through this blog, much of the information if not new, may well be confronting. I hope however that by looking at the emotional link to the pain experienced, insights and greater understanding may follow.
The key is to explore the possibility of being pain free via combined modalities to achieve overall wellbeing. In Part 3 we will look at how Talking Therapy and/or Meditation may be some of the modalities utilised to unlock the emotional triggers to the pain model.
The key is taking an honest and uncensored appraisal of your inner world and the possible physical markers as your road map to guide you through.