Psychogenic pain is when we feel pain that isn’t caused from a physical source (like a cut, bruise, virus, inflammation, etc). It’s essentially when our brain interprets that we’re in pain, but there’s no direct cause of it. At least, not a visible one.
Psychogenic pain, though, is often tied to trauma and emotional stressors. In my opinion, that’s just as valid of a pain source as a gash. In most cases, pain medicine doesn’t work for this condition—so it can be incredibly hard to live with. (And that’s not even considering all the stigma!)
I’ve personally struggled with a set of conditions that come with this type of pain. I’ve been judged by doctors, family, and strangers…while struggling with the personal impact of living in chronic pain.
I’ve also found methods of peace and healing.
This healing is what inspired this blog. It debunks some common myths about psychogenic pain and provide a few healing mindsets to adopt if you also live with this condition.
A Peek into the Science of Psychogenic Pain
“Psychogenic pain is physical pain that is caused, increased, or prolonged by mental, emotional, or behavioral factors. Headache, back pain, or stomach pain are some of the most common types of psychogenic pain.”Source
It’s a surprisingly common phenomenon—and can hit anyone. Us survivors of abuse tend to have chronic cases (like long term back pain, abdominal issues, or more), but most people have experienced at least one moment of this.
There’s no clearly understood cause for this pain, but most medical professionals consider it to be as real and impactful as chronic pain caused by a physical source (like a slipped disk).
Unfortunately, little research has been done on psychogenic pain patients, so the current statistics are lacking. The best understanding is that 14% of psychiatric outpatients live with it chronically. 25% have conversion symptoms, which includes psychogenic pain and other conversion disorders like non-epileptic seizures.
Myths About Psychogenic Pain
“Psychogenic pain is fake”
What determines pain to be real? Medical professionals have long known pain is a subjective experience. It’s something the brain interprets, and the brain can pick up on it from physical or emotional factors. Pain is an interpretation—meaning that if someone feels it, it’s real.
After all…is that stomach pain someone has before a big interview any less impactful than someone with a brief stomach bug? Both are felt fully by the brain. Both are reactions to stressors the body is experiencing. They just come from different sources.
“People with psychogenic pain are delusional”
People with delusions may have a higher prevalence of psychogenic pain (since mental illness is often a cause), but the pain itself is not a delusion. That’s a whole different mechanism happening in the brain! (Also, even if psychogenic pain was a delusion, it doesn’t deserve any stigma or invalidation!)
Anyone can experience this type of pain, and most of us have. Like a back ache after a really stressful day, pain in your chest thinking about a tough conversation, stomach issues when you’re about to give a speech. When psychogenic pain is chronic, it’s often caused from a larger underlying factor—most often trauma or mental illness.
In my belief (and it’s shared with some medical professionals), the body holds onto trauma. It communicates its own hurt through this type of pain, just like our eyes communicate sadness through tears.
Healing Mentalities to Adopt if You Live with Psychogenic Pain
“I have the power to heal this”
Psychogenic pain is often caused from mental and behavioral factors, which fortunately is in our power (most times) to change or positively affect. New coping skills, mindfulness, talk therapy, and other methods like this are often used to effectively treat psychogenic pain. It’s not always a simple journey, but it can be done.
“I thank my body for communicating with me”
If you consider trauma’s impact on the body, it’s easier to see how psychogenic pain is your body saying “I need healing too.” So, when it comes up, it’s often a sign there’s something unresolved or triggering—and that’s healthy inner communication. Shifting from a perspective of “My body hates me” to “My body is trying to communicate with me” can be truly healing.
“My pain is valid.”
It doesn’t matter what those around you say, your pain is valid—no matter the source. Remind yourself of this often. Personally, I’ve found validating my pain to be a method of healing and reducing it too. Once I heard what my body had to say and stopped rejecting it, my pain naturally reduced. The power of validation is amazing!
Building a Joyous Life even with Psychogenic Pain
Joy can seem far out of reach when you live with chronic pain, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s true that you may have this struggle for a long time—but there are plenty of other factors that can bring real and true joy into your life despite this.
The best place to start is with acceptance. When you accept that this is part of your reality, at least right now, you’ll feel better. Resisting your reality (“I’m in pain”) is exhausting and stressful, which doesn’t help the pain. You’ll find peace through acceptance, and that can make a huge difference. (Validation is a form of acceptance, btw!)
So, if you live with psychogenic pain…what is one mindset you’ll work on adopting today? What’s one thing you wish people understood about this condition?
If you don’t live with it, what’s one thing you now understand about the condition, or one thing you’ll do to support those of us living with it? Comment below! <3