The body as a mirror of the soul

Surely you have already experienced that heart aches with heartbreak or when you are afraid of examinations your stomach mumbles. The vernacular has many sayings here: "I have a problem" in my stomach "," sorrow "breaks my heart","anger" pushes up my gall ". What we say so loosely is an expression of a close connection between body ("Soma") and soul ("psyche"): both influence each other mutually.

Thus, the psyche suffers when the body suffers from hunger, thirst and illness. Conversely, the body suffers when the psyche is poor, when we are afraid, under stress or feel overwhelmed. The reason for this is that there is a lively exchange of blood, messenger substances and electrical signals between the brain and the rest of the body. A medical specialty, psychosomatic medicine, deals with this connection and is dedicated to those illnesses and complaints that manifest themselves physically and are caused partly or completely psychologically.

Important in advance: Not all unclear physical ailments are inevitably psychological. Often, the expert diagnosis of complicated clinical pictures requires some time and different examination procedures, so that one should not rashly assume psychosomatic events if the cause of the illness cannot be found.

Nevertheless, it is estimated that about ten percent of people in Germany suffer from psychological complaints. It is not easy to detect such "somatoform disorders" because they could not be more different. Patients sometimes complain about heart and circulatory complaints: they have a feeling of pressure or chest bites, they can no longer breathe properly, the heart stumbles or races. Others have problems with their stomach or intestines: they are constantly ill, their stomach blows up or hurts. You have heartburn, diarrhea or constipation. Sometimes it is pain of unknown origin - in the back, arms and legs, muscles or head. Or people are chronically exhausted and exhausted, they lack any energy. Somatoform disorders also include dizziness, sweating, dysfunction of the bladder and sexual disorders. Typical for all these ailments is that no physical cause or explanation can be found.

People who suffer in this way often have had a long odyssey through medical practices, but the suffering remains undiminished. In addition, there is the fear that it may be a serious, possibly rare disease that has been overlooked so far. When the doctor advises them to seek the help of a psychiatrist or psychotherapist, patients often do not feel taken seriously. The doctor's advice would really need to be reconsidered. There are many areas in which we suffer mentally without being aware of it. Emotional conflicts, excessive demands, fears of guilt and loss or problems with fellow human beings are some of them. They would lead to great internal tension and would require practical consequences if one were aware of them. Physical illnesses serve our psyche here as defense mechanisms, in order not to let painful truths come into consciousness.

Why do somatoform diseases develop? Psychotherapy assumes that they have a psychological benefit for the person concerned. For example, someone who tortures himself in his deepest heart to have caused harm to another person may find it unconsciously right to suffer physically: this way the guilt can be allegedly carried off. Psychotherapy helps to find out the psychological cause of the symptoms and to find a solution. For example, an apology to the person to whom you have wronged can bring relief and make the physical symptoms superfluous. Another example: Someone feels neglected by their partner and suffers psychologically from it. Physical discomfort can then be an unconscious means of attracting attention. Even if the partner is still disinterested, the person concerned gains the attention of the physicians and can thus compensate for the lack of interest in the relationship.

It should be clearly emphasised that these processes take place unconsciously. There is usually a very desperate soul behind it when painful physical symptoms and illnesses develop to avoid psychological conflicts. Somatoform diseases tend to become independent and worsen. The sooner you approach them, the better they are to be treated. Therefore, if you have been suffering from symptoms with apparently unknown causes for more than six months and have not been treated by your own doctor or a specialist, you should seek psychotherapeutic help. These can be found by psychologists or doctors with additional psychotherapeutic training. Psychotherapy can help you to better understand yourself and your living conditions and to develop alternative solutions. Additional relaxation measures help to relieve you of internal pressure. The time-limited use of certain medications, so-called psychotropic drugs, is also often considered. But the most important thing is that you understand: A somatoform disorder is not a sign of personal weakness, but a call to help your soul - and there are people who can help you cope with it.

Copyright: Landeszentrale fuer Gesundheitsfoerderung in Rheinland-Pfalz (LZG) Germany

Text: Dr. Beatrice Wagner, Editor: Birgit Kahl-Ruether