Suppressed Emotions, IBS and Joint Pain
Suppressed emotions of rage and loss made 36 year-old Jamie’s Sunday Barbecue a washout. Stomach cramps and diarrhea meant he couldn’t relax and be with family celebrating their parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. He thought he may have eaten too much ice-cream and fried chicken the night before, and tried to deal with it by taking anti-diarrhea tablets. But it continued for the next few days, weakening and dehydrating him so much that he had to take a few days off work.
Within two weeks Jamie was bleeding from is back passage and was terrified that he may have cancer. He didn’t tell anyone for a long time, suppressing his emotions of fear just like he had suppressed emotions of anger at his father who had suddenly died, leaving him with overwhelming conflicts. His deepest wish was for his father to own and apologize for all the abuse he had inflicted on Jamie as a child. Now he had to deal with that lost wish and his strange feeling of loss for a brute of a father! Jamie was literally being eaten alive with rancor, bleeding from his rectum as a result.
Fearful that he would drown in his intense and destructive feelings if he let them out and faced them, Jamie suppressed emotions that led to inflammation in his gut, showing up as stomach cramps, cycling from constipation to diarrhea with rectal bleeding. In his long term individual therapy Jamie denied his feelings, pretending that he was coping well and enjoying family life. He dismissed suggestions to write a journal, and/or do art works to express his feelings. But there came a point when his suppressed emotions spilled out and embarrassed him. He started to have panic attacks and couldn’t keep it together. He couldn’t function at work and couldn’t deal with the needs of his young family, let alone be an effective partner and husband.
Suppressed emotions made Jamie feel strong and superior to his disgusting father who spewed out his nasty feelings that Jamie had to tolerate. He ended up with IBS symptoms and anxiety based panic attacks.
Forty-two year old Michela was beside herself with frustration that she just couldn’t get over the breakup of her marriage 10 years ago. She complained of not being able to sleep because there was a heavy weight her chest, effecting her breathing. Joint pain flared up and prevented her from attending her dance group that she loved. She had suffered with constipation for most of her life, and it had come back with a vengeance – matching her suppressed emotions. She steadfastly refused to let out her feelings of hate, vengeance and envy of the woman her husband chose which precipitated the divorce. Michela suppressed emotions of anger towards her children for keeping in touch with their father and spending time with him and his new partner. Even in her therapy Michela often said “I don’t want to talk about it!”
Suppressed Emotions when trying to be “good girl” resulted in IBS
Michela would rather suffer the frustration of being of not moving on in her life than express her deep pain and sense of injustice which would set her free. She didn’t want to show that part of her because she wanted to retain the image of the “good” person in her ex-husband’s eyes – hoping that he would see the error of his ways, repent and come back. She was willing to suffer terrible IBS with constipation rather than be human, get her feelings out and be liberated. In fact it made her nauseous thinking about being real about her feelings. Suppressed emotions bloated Michela physically. She literally stored her overwhelming unpleasant emotions in her gut. No wonder she couldn’t get away from or let go of the marriage she once enjoyed. Each time she thought of what she had lost the rage exploded into a hot air balloon, trapped in her abdomen – putting a great weight on her, ensuring that she was immobilized.
Suppressed emotions and the brain-gut connection
Emotional stress is usually chronic and we are programmed as infants to deal with it in ways that fit our family style and care givers tolerance (Medscape, 2015 – The Gut Brain Connection.) The gut is our first and most efficient digester of incoming experience, through touch, taste, and other sensations which then provide a framework for how we experience the world. That’s why IBS, a gastrointestinal disorder affects 7 – 16 percent of the U.S. population.
For Jamie and Michela the world was not accepting of their discomfort and panic. It was not acknowledged or understood. So their gut had to do the job of making it okay. But, at a cost – for Michela is was through constipation so she could keep stuff in, stay strong and not be needy. Her raw emotions were suppressed. But her joints became inflamed and bothered her for the rest of her life, as did bloating and constipation. For Jamie it was inflammation in his gut from the raw abuse he suffered very early on, leading to destruction of the lining in his gut, diarrhea and rectal bleeding. That’s what they brought with them to adult life as they continued to cope with suppressed emotions.
Psychotherapy is enormously helpful for suppressed emotions that lead to IBS, gastro bleeding, and joint pain flare ups. Processing the unacknowledged traumas from infancy while receiving the nurturing that psychotherapy offers, releases the body from the pain of having to carry the burden of the open wounds that continue to fester. In fact the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology 2017, reported on a study which analyzed the results of 41 clinical trials from a number of different countries containing more than 2,200 patients. The findings were that the beneficial effects of psychological therapy also appear to last at least six to 12 months after the therapy has concluded.
copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D. 2017
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