The How and Why of Chronic Body Pain

If you’ve been reading my blogs and watching my videos you’re probably still wondering how one ends up with chronic body pain. I don’t think I’ve written specifically about the science behind it, so this week I thought I’d dive in and give you a very basic understanding of the how and why chronic body pain occurs.

Chronic body pain, like Interstitial Cystitis, Fibromyalgia, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Chronic Fatigue, Migraines, general neck and back pain, just to name a few, is pain that we create in our own bodies without even knowing it. And the process begins with not feeling our emotions.

When you were younger, do you remember people saying these things to you:

“Stop being a cry baby”
“Toughen up”
“Just pretend it didn’t happen/just ignore it”

or another variation of those remarks? These comments teach us that there is something wrong with us if we feel a so-called “negative emotion”, and we end up pushing the emotion down so we appear strong and tough just like everyone wants us to be. We learn that expressing our emotions shows weakness, so every time we feel anger, hurt, or fear we stuff it down so we aren’t labelled a cry baby, or we appear as if “everything is ok” when in fact it is not. We get really good at doing this at a young age, so as we grow older we are able to continue to suppress our emotions without even knowing we are doing it.

Here is the catch. We actually have to tighten/clench a muscle in our body in order to avoid feeling an emotion. This muscle clenching takes our awareness off of the emotion because, instead, we are focused on muscle clenching. This is a defense mechanism to divert our attention away from feeling our emotions. Most people are not even aware that this is happening because they are so disconnected from their bodies. (I was included in that category, too!)

So if we are continually suppressing emotions that means we are constantly clenching a muscle in our body. Consistent clenching of a muscle will create chronic tension because we are restricting blood flow to that area. When we restrict blood flow to an area it gets less oxygen, which means it can’t function optimally as it isn’t getting all the nutrients it needs.

Everybody clenches different muscles when avoiding an emotion, which is why chronic pain can occur anywhere in the body. For example, people who tighten their pelvic floor muscles instead of feeling an emotion may end up with Interstitial Cystitis, and people who clench one or more muscles in their back may end up with chronic back pain. There are studies and theories that try to explain why people clench the muscles that they do, but nevertheless, SOME muscle in your body will clench/tighten every time you avoid an emotion. This is a survival habit to keep emotions at bay until it is a safe time to feel them. If you don’t take the time to feel them later on, you will have to keep re-clenching that muscle to keep stuffing it down, which can result in that muscle being clenched almost constantly, all day, every day, which means a huge reduction of blood flow and oxygen to that area. Of course the nerves in that area are going to end up frazzled and in pain! Just imagine, if you were to flex your biceps all day, how tired that muscle would get and how it couldn’t perform optimally anymore. Even lifting a light object would seem like a grueling task for that fatigued muscle!

If you are currently experiencing chronic body pain, I don’t want you to beat yourself up about how you could let this happen to yourself. How could you have known? We weren’t taught this in school. There was Math, Science, English, Gym, etc. but no Emotions 101 or Mind/Body Health class. Of course we are going to clench our muscles and not feel our emotions! We thought that was the easiest and safest thing to do up until now. We didn’t know that recognizing and feeling our emotions had so much to do with our health and the way our bodies would function!

When I found out that I was tightening my pelvic floor muscles almost constantly, I didn’t start scolding myself, I felt empowered by it, because now I knew exactly what was going on in my body when I was suppressing an emotion. I was now on to my own tricks! I invite you to embrace this the same way. Embrace this by getting curious about your body pain, whether it’s chronic or not in nature. Does that area feel tense? Is there any area in your body that feels tense? Could it be tense because there is something you are trying not to feel at this moment? Was there an emotion a week ago you think you may have avoided? Could you set an alarm on your phone every hour or so to remind you to check for tension in your body? If you feel tension, could you imagine and feel that tension melting away? Ask yourself lots of questions and try to investigate and get curious about what you are feeling without getting into the “story” about your pain (the “story” is something I will talk about in a few weeks).

Please Note: When you are consciously feeling tension and relaxing a tense area you will be allowing an emotion to release. It may take a while, but you will soon open the conduit for emotions to start flowing again if this is practiced regularly. I highly recommend working with a Mind-Body Coach or Therapist as you begin this journey, as it may feel overwhelming at first. Receiving support and guidance will increase your success in your healing journey.

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