Yes, Your Aches & Pains “Mean Something”

Many people are moving through this life with physical symptoms that are uncomfortable: A “bad knee”, or a “bum shoulder”; That persistent neck pain or the reoccurring lower backache; Pressure in one temple or tightness in the jaw; A knot in the gut or an “angry phlegm-wad” in the throat; Strange foot pain or a hip that regularly gives out…

Like bothersome little companions, these aches and pains seem to trail us everywhere.

Then, it’s the strangest thing, sometimes that pain just “goes away for a while”. Perhaps after a long night of sleep. Maybe it disappears when you’re working on something you care about. A student recently noted that she had recurring pain in her knee, but when she took small actions to address an unresolved issue from her past, the pain disappeared. It was like the knee was literally pulling her to “take a step” and when she didn’t, the pain persisted.

I have often gotten laryngitis and completely lost my voice when I have an important conversation with a man I’m involved with. I’m pretty sure this symptom tracks back, quite literally, to generations of “silence” of women in my family (and perhaps even the world). Because the laryngitis arrives out of the blue. It’s probably some ancient survival tactic, an old biological awareness that speaking my truth too directly could be dangerous.

(I have used the above image from an episode of The Soporanos I was in, because through playing the role of the innocent-yet-flawed Tracee at 19-years-old, I know I was playacting some of these unresolved issues – in an attempt explore and understand them better.)

Since just finishing my first year of Somatic Experiencing training, my world has been blown wide open with regard to working with aches and pains. I now have an inroad to communicate with the symptoms in my, and other peoples’ bodies. Somatic Experiencing is a form of trauma resolution that focuses “somatically”. This is to say, the work is based on listening to and tracking the body’s symptoms and sensations.

Every time you have experienced a threatening situation, whether physically or psychologically, there has been a somatic response: Your body has chosen a set of actions (or chosen to freeze) to survive that threat. Once the threat has passed, you are wired to complete the survival response through discharging behaviors (think of a duck flapping its wings as it leaves a duck-fight, or a gazelle prancing gleefully across a meadow after it has outrun a lion).

But oftentimes your survival instincts are thwarted by the situation. For instance, if you are getting a surgery and your body registers the situation as threat, but is immobilized by anesthesia. This could cause a dueling urge to get the hell out of there, paired with the inability to move. Or if you got hit by your big brother when you were little, there might be an incomplete urge to put your arm up and brace against him. Or if you’ve been pinned down and unable to get away, your legs might register an unresolved urge to run.

Logically you know these threats are long gone, but the body still holds the story in energetic imprints. Until those locked energies are heard and expressed, they will likely symptomize into aches, pains or other uncomfortable symptoms continually requesting your attention. Continually seeking resolution.

I will write more on what to do with your aches and pains soon. But for now I want you to consider simply listening. Don’t go straight to the pill, don’t think your doctor has all the answers, don’t try to stretch it out or massage it out (yet).

Just listen. There is a story that wants to be told. If it is too overwhelming to think of listening, seek someone who understands the somatic imprints of trauma and work together to listen. Your aches and pains are messengers that can point you in the direction of freedom, if you let them.

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