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"The Surprising Role of Unprocessed Emotions in Chronic Pain"

When I first went to an EFT seminar and heard my teacher Rohini say things like, "That constant pain in the knees could be blocked fear" and "your back pain could be connected with the sense of feeling unsupported in life," it didn't sink in right away. But, thankfully, my rational and skeptic brain did not reject it either ; rather, it was intrigued.

This understanding of the body-mind was completely new to me at that time, and in the mid-2000s, this concept was mostly limited to alternative therapy, healing, or energy work communities.

Yoga is the most ancient Mind-Body practice

Fast forward 15 years, now mainstream psychiatrists and neuroscientists like Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D, Peter Levine, Ph.D, Dan Siegel, M.D and many others are publishing scientific papers and books on the relationship between the body and mind, as well as the links between emotions and physical pain.

Before we go any further, let us first understand what is chronic pain.

It is defined as pain that lasts for an extended period of time, typically more than three months. It has a significant impact on a person's overall quality of life and can interfere with daily activities, sleep, mood, and overall well-being.

There can be many causes of chronic pain, such as injury, disease, and inflammation. Apart from this, studies have shown that emotional factors can also play a role in the manifestation of pain. Unprocessed emotions, in particular, can have a significant impact on physical pain and its persistence over time.

"In order to effectively treat chronic pain, it is essential to address both the physical and emotional components. Unresolved trauma and emotions can interfere with the healing process and must be addressed in order to achieve lasting relief." Peter Levine

According to Peter A. Levine, Ph.D, a trauma specialist and founder of the Somatic Experiencing method - There is a close connection between the body and mind and how they interact to create our overall sense of well-being. When we experience a traumatic event, our body reacts with a fight-or-flight response that can result in physical symptoms such as increased heart rate and muscle tension. If these physical symptoms are not properly processed and integrated, they can become locked in the body, leading to ongoing physical discomfort and pain.

What exactly are unprocessed emotions?

Feelings or experiences that have not been fully acknowledged or resolved are referred to as unprocessed emotions. These emotions can be triggered by a variety of factors, such as stress, trauma, or life transitions. For example, If a person is dealing with chronic lower back pain for last many months and when asked if there was any stressful event that occurred close to the time period when he started having that pain, he/she recalls that the pain started few weeks after the death of a beloved family member. In such cases, there is a possibility that back pain - emotional pain are connected. Hence, addressing both the physical and emotional aspects of the pain will be a good treatment strategy here.

The Bottom-Up processing

To effectively address such chronic pain, a bottom-up processing approach that addresses the underlying cause of the pain is needed. The approach focuses on bringing awareness to physical sensations in the body, which can aid in the release of tension and physical symptoms caused by unresolved emotions. This tension release can then lead to a reduction in pain.

Additionally, by focusing on physical sensations, people can start to understand the link between their emotions and physical health, which can help in resolving the underlying emotional stress that is causing the pain. This resolution of emotional stress can also result in pain reduction.

Furthermore, Bottom-up processing can also help to rewire the brain and create new neural pathways that support a healthy body-mind relationship. This can aid in the reduction of stress and anxiety, both of which are frequently associated with chronic pain caused by unprocessed emotions.

Some techniques and therapies based on bottoms up approach

  • Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT): "EFT operates on the premise that there are unresolved emotional issues that are either causing or contributing to any issue. It is a type of energy psychology that involves tapping on specific acupressure points while focusing on a specific emotion or physical symptom. By doing so, you can relieve physical tension and get rid of underlying emotional stress.

  • Yoga and mindfulness-based practises: Yoga is the most ancient mind-body practice. Yoga can help people relax and release physical and emotional tension through a variety of postures and breathing techniques, which encourages a sense of equilibrium and well-being.

  • Breath work: It can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms the body and reduces physical tension. This can help in the release of trapped emotions as well as physical pain in the body.

  • Somatics: It involves becoming more aware of bodily sensations, releasing tension, and resolving unresolved emotions in order to alleviate pain. This can be accomplished through therapy, movement, or mindfulness practises. Yoga is a somatics practise as well. EFT is based on somatic psychology as well.

  • EMDR: (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing): This therapy employs rapid eye movements to assist individuals in processing and resolving traumatic memories.

Finally, unprocessed emotions can have a significant and long-term impact on an individual's well-being. Aside from the approaches I mentioned above, there are many others that can help to alleviate or significantly reduce chronic pain. Some can be learned and practiced on our own, but to reap the full benefits, it is always best to begin with a qualified therapist who has experience working with clients suffering from chronic pain.


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