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Psychosomatic Pain

by Marcus Antebi

Psychosomatic Pain

Article at a Glance:

The mind, especially the mind of a child, has difficulty dealing with abrupt transitions. Resistance to emotional change can manifest in physical discomfort.

I remember when my daughter was six years old and I would come to pick her up from her mother’s house to take her home with me on weekends. Every once in a while she wouldn’t be interested in making the transition. This was mostly because she missed her mommy and wanted to spend time with her, and she also didn’t like the chaos involved in getting ready for the weekend. In addition to that, she was nervous because she didn’t want to feel lonely and afraid at her daddy’s house (my house). 

Sometimes when she got into my car she’d complain of a tummy ache. The resistance to the change that was happening created psychosomatically induced stomach pain. I could tell that this was the case because if the mood and the energy remained low between us then her stomach ache would get worse.

But if I paid attention to her and gave her comfort it would be a different story. If I engaged in childlike conversation with her, and reassured her that when we got to the house we’d play, draw things, walk, or skateboard, then she wouldn’t have stomach trouble.

Occasionally I’d bribe her with a new toy. And there was nothing wrong with my doing that. I did so in order to help my child's young vulnerable mind deal with difficult change. Circumstances were not normal. The child was struggling to understand why mommy and daddy had to be in separate homes and why she had to be uprooted to go from one home to the other. And it was also difficult for her to deal with the abruptness of the transitions as well. One minute she’d be at home, the next minute she’d be getting dressed, and immediately after that we’d be in the car driving away from her mommy’s house.

The mind, especially the mind of a child, has difficulty dealing with abrupt transitions. Less than subtle transitions to changes in all types of circumstances happen to a person frequently. When that’s the case, especially with a child, something needs to occur to ensure that person that they’ll be in continued comfort despite the changing circumstances. If discomfort will be part of the changing circumstances, then the person needs to accept and understand that the discomfort is necessary and that it will be something that they can handle.

It’s not always easy to help children process changing circumstances. A child’s mind is naïve. They’re not experienced in dealing with difficult emotions and understanding the harsh realities associated with adult life. You can and should love your children fervently and unconditionally and help them deal with difficult change in the process of doing that. But it will take time, maturity, and experience for children to be able to understand and deal with certain things. And your guidance and love will be of immeasurable help to them in the meantime.

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