Psychosomatic Illness

Posted on July 4th, 2012

Somatic means ‘of the body’ or relating to the body. Somatic illness is a body illness rather than the mind illness. Somatic medicine involves the cells of the body and is based on physical and biological aspects of the problem. The somatic approach is the traditional approach of the western medicine and it usually deals with the symptoms of the problem.

Psychosomatic means that a physical condition is caused or greatly influenced by psychological factors. From a psychosomatic perspective, illness is a form of communication between the conscious and the unconscious mind through the body. Illness is a form of adaption to your (internal or external) environment. It is a signal that tells you that you are doing something wrong in your life or that you are not doing something right in your life.

Very few people interpret their illness as a form of communication or symptom of deeper problems. The most common solution is to get rid of the pain rather than resolve the problem. When your car runs low on oil, you see a signal on your dashboard telling you that you need to change oil. If you simply get rid of the warning light, how long will you be able to drive without breaking your car?

Three main causes of illness1:

Trauma - often serious and body-altering physical injury. For example, removal of a limb or a broken rib.

Toxicity - chemical disturbance which causes the nervous system to send “bad” signals to the cells and the tissue. The sources of intoxication can include GMO, various food additives, pollution, radiation, beauty products, drugs and other sources.

Thoughts - accurate perception encourages success and misperception threatens survival. It is important to remember that cells, tissue and organs of the body do not question the information that is sent to them from the nervous system. Thus, we respond to life-affirming perceptions or self-destructive misperceptions every day. Our perception influences our fate. Our thoughts have the power to change our body chemistry. Some thoughts cause stress and some thoughts cause relaxation and self-rehabilitation.

Causes of Illness

Examples of psychosomatic illness

Signal to change

Illness is a period of time when you need to unplug, reset and rethink your life or part of your life. What is it that you are doing or not doing that led you to this condition? Illness is a signal from your unconscious mind trying to tell you that you need to stop doing something or start doing something differently. If you get rid of the symptoms with pain killers, you may run the risk of having a serious health problem. Getting rid of a psychosomatic illness with pills is like fixing hardware that runs bad software. It is only a matter of time until it breaks again. Remember, if you keep on doing what you do, you’ll keep on getting what you get.

One women had frequent headache which did not go away after several courses of pain killers. However, after dealing with the headache from a different perspective, the headache was soon transformed into an insight about her anger about past events and how they might be related to a current communication problem with her daughter. After working on resolving the issues with her daughter, the headache began to go away.

Illness is a way to avoid something unpleasant

Illness can be an unconscious mechanism of defense. There are many situations that people would rather avoid than deal with.

When children get sick they get an opportunity to stay at home and not deal with school work. After a number of experiences, a child’s brain associates getting sick with staying at home. Sometimes children try to fake their illness so that they can stay at home instead of going to school. This unconscious mechanism of avoidance is learned and carried on to adulthood. Some people get sick because they don’t want to deal with their boss or situation at work 2.

Love, attention and warmth

When people get sick, they get attention and love from family members or friends. In the busy world that we live in, people often do not get enough attention from their loved ones. The unconscious mind can use illness as a way to get the much needed attention. As soon as the person gets sick, family and friends become more attentive and caring.

Although it is very comforting, it cannot last for a long time because eventually people adapt to the situation and get back to their busy life. To regain attention, the sick gets sicker. For some people, this can turn into an ongoing process which makes the problem worse over time in exchange for attention from the loved ones.

This form of psychosomatic illness can sometimes be seen with seniors who often do not get enough attention from their family members. Children can also use illness to attack attention of the parents. For example, a little girl who had a strong connection with her father would often get sick every time he had to go on a business trip. As soon as he would come back and spend time with her, she quickly got well.

Purpose crisis

There is a point in time when people begin to ask themselves - What is the purpose of my life?. Unable to answer this question, some people turn their illness into their purpose in life. Everything begins to revolve around it. They attend seminars, seek gurus, test various supplements and eventually turn their illness into their lifestyle. For examples, a single man in his forties repeatedly visited doctors and other specialist in search of curing his headache. Even though the doctors told him that there was nothing physically wrong with him, he continued to describe the same problem over and over again. He did not realize that his problem was caused by an existential void (directionlessness, paralyzing hopelessness and a pervading sense of emptiness) in his life 3.

How to deal with a psychosomatic illness

If you ever suspect that you may have a psychosomatic illness, ask yourself these questions:

  • What is the meaning of my illness?
  • What is the problem trying to communicate?
  • What can be changed ?
  • What is the secondary gain from my illness?

Think outside the box and examine your illness holistically. Ask questions and try to understand the meaning of the problem so that it can be avoided in the future. A person cannot wake up in the morning and become ill for no reason. There is always something that a person did or did not do that caused the problem.

Psychosomatic Illness

  1. Lipton, B. H., & Bhaerman, S. (2009). Spontaneous evolution: our positive future (and a way to get there from here) (3rd ed.). Carlsbad, Calif.: Hay House. 

  2. Rossi, E. L., & Nimmons, D. (1991). The 20-minute break: reduce stress, maximize performance, and improve health and emotional well-being using the new science of ultradian rhythms. Los Angeles: J.P. Tarcher 

  3. Frankl, V. E. (2006). Man’s search for meaning. Boston: Beacon Press. 

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