Somatization

What is somatization, and how does it relate to pain?

Somatization is the process whereby emotional stress and/or adversity are converted into physical symptoms. Somatization occurs when a physical experience cannot be fully processed in the mind. It is important to appreciate that somatization may be a normal process in response to an unexpected situation where the person is overloaded with stress. A patient may develop somatic expression of mental distress if a social context to convey the narrative of unhappiness, loss, or other types of psychological suffering is absent. Empathy and compassion goes a long way to decrease somatic reactions. A concerned health care practitioner can alleviate a patient’s mental pain and thereby decrease somatization, which may include pain. Pain may develop in individuals who cannot bear emotions and feelings. They may then retreat to the physical expression of mental distress, short-circuiting their mental sorrow. This phenomenon has recently been termed “medically unexplained symptoms.” People who lack supportive relationships in their lives may develop somatization and pain. For these individuals, medical treatments are insufficient.

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