When we feel physical pain, we react to it, knowing that there are ways to manage the pain for immediate relief. We clean the wounds, bandage the cuts, take painkillers.
We see our doctor when we are concerned about inexplicable physical ailments and we do not hesitate to make an appointment for this annual examination. The same cannot be said for the psychological pain we feel, although it has the potential to have serious consequences on our lives.
We’ll heal from a broken arm in a while, but bullying can have a lasting effect, including depression and anxiety. The relationship between pain and emotion is inherently complex, both based on pathways that promote primitive protective behaviors. Whether our pain is physical or mental, it is equally valid and deserves recognition and treatment.
“The medical model that governs our healthcare system is based on the idea that something or someone is broken or sick and needs to be fixed and fixed,” says Caroline Martin, a licensed counseling psychologist. “A psychological perspective can offer a humanistic lens, which recognizes that emotion is valid, that the person is not broken, but rather that their emotion is seen in the context of an event, a series of events or experiences within his social system.”
Although our emotions can be painful and overwhelming, they are not inherently bad. Our ability to deal with these big emotions lies in our resilience. Our mental pain acts as a signal that something is happening to us, but like physical pain, we don’t need to hold on to it.
“When people talk about resilience,” Martin says, “they’re referring to our ability to tolerate, navigate, and not get stuck in these difficult emotions. Resilience isn’t about avoiding, ignoring, or using artificial positivity.
“Our ability to ride the inevitable waves of joy, fear, distress, sadness, etc., is informed by a number of things, including our prior success in dealing with other, perhaps more minor, events. , which brought sadness, stress, anger, etc. These moments of mastery can give us confidence in our ability to come out of difficult emotions in the face of another traumatic event.That is why it is important to encourage a strengths-based rather than a deficits-based approach to nurturing and well-being, which can contribute to a strong negative bias and over-pathologization of very normal responses to difficult life events It is important that we pay attention to our successes, as they are a critical factor in our future success.”
Martin refers to the work of Peter Levine, clinical psychologist and trauma expert, who describes the “empathic witness” as an important factor contributing to our ability to tolerate and overcome difficulties.
“He’s someone who can deeply understand how you experienced an event or series of events,” she says. “This person doesn’t need to be a therapist, but this act of being able to accept what you are feeling at this time can be therapeutic and critical for future life experiences. It is often about a parent or guardian, family member, coach, teacher, mentor or friend and it could be different people at different times in our This “empathetic witness” allows us to accept ourselves and our responses to the event or situation without shame.”
Our experiences of events are not uniform, in fact, our experiences of the same event can be very different
Our minds and bodies are intrinsically connected, greatly influencing each other, which means that stress and pain are often locked in a repeating cycle. Trauma and unresolved emotional issues can cause stress that contributes to this cycle.
“Unfortunately, some of us have gone through difficult events and experienced them as traumatic,” says Martin. “The word ‘trauma’ comes from the Greek word which literally means ‘wound’. Our experiences of events are not uniform, in fact our experiences of the same event can be very different. This can be due to our gender, race, abilities, past life experiences, and access to supports, among other contributing factors. Indeed, the presence of supports and the ease of access to these supports will influence the effect of this event on the individual.
“There are basically three elements to determining whether an event is traumatic or not: the event or series of events, the individual experience of the event and finally the effect on the person. When the individual, who has suffered this injury, has neither the previous life experience nor the presence of an empathic witness, the individual may feel unsafe and activate their stress response system. Without support, they may find themselves “stuck” in this space. »
Trauma triggers the nervous system into an overreactive state as it aims to protect. It intuitively activates when our security is compromised. However, like a failing alarm, it can get stuck in a stressful state.
“Some will recognize this as a fight-or-flight response,” says Martin, “and we now know that there are two additional responses to stress: freeze and fawn. Each of these responses is very useful. However, if we have to call them too often, for long periods of time, our systems can deploy them rather indiscriminately, and we can leave them running in the background, much like leaving tabs open on your computer or apps open on your phone.
“We could do it because we feel [rightly or wrongly] that we may need to get to them quickly but, like these tabs and apps, they strain our systems.
The constant activation of our stress response system compromises our immune system, the way our body guards against other ailments
When our body judges sudden or severe stress, it can activate our stress response. Our heart rate increases, our lungs expand when we breathe rapidly, and our blood pressure and blood sugar rise when the liver releases glucose for energy. As a result of this intense activity, our immune system is suppressed.
“It’s great when we’re in danger,” says Martin, “but not great over an extended period of time. This constant activation of our stress response system compromises our immune system, our body’s way of guarding against other ailments. Because of this, we may experience recurring illnesses and pains. It is therefore understandable that when people have experienced trauma, there will be both psychological and physiological responses.
A person with a history of trauma can experience a wide range of symptoms that can be linked to chronic pain and can have a significant effect on pain levels. Martin says that about 30% of people who have experienced trauma are also diagnosed with chronic pain.
“When our stress response is activated, even in this low-energy mode,” says Martin, “we maintain tension in our body. Some of us will hold it in our stomach, some will hold it in our joints, some in their shoulders, neck or head. Pain in our muscles, bones, organs, wherever we hold tension for a long time or too frequently, will in itself become painful.
“If our experiences of trauma are dismissed, ignored, relabeled and minimized, our bodies will remind us again and again that there is unresolved work, work that will require an empathic witness. Therapy by a trauma-informed practitioner is important and recommended. Working with a psychologically minded GP is a great asset in identifying a course of action that protects against re-traumatization and works towards healing.