Has your child been complaining about headaches? Perhaps daily stomach aches are keeping him home from school. Maybe your teen has a recurring injury in his knee or wrist that is affecting his ability to perform athletically. And despite trips to the doctor, each of these things have gone unexplained. You are now left with the constant worry that your child is somehow physically broken and will have to endure these physical pains for the rest of his life — just like you have. What if your child’s physical pains could be explained by emotional or psychological trauma?
What is Emotional and Psychological Trauma
While we let you think on that for a second, let us explain what emotional and psychological trauma are with all due respect to a really complicated issue. Simply put, psychological trauma is a type of damage to the mind that happens as a result of a distressing event. Trauma comes about after experiencing an overwhelming amount of stress that goes beyond one’s ability to cope or understand fully the emotions involved with that experience.
Events such as these could be attributed to some of the following:
- Bullying at school
- Stress about getting good grades or performing at a high level in extracurricular activities
- Physical, sexual or emotional abuse
- Witnessing abuse of a parent, family member or friend
When psychological trauma occurs, and when a child is not equipped to understand or cope with that trauma, the emotions involved often get suppressed. And because our bodies need to have a release of those emotions that are often painful, if not released, the body sends a pain signal alerting us that something is wrong.
This is not new science. For decades researchers have studied the link between the mind and body. One 1998 ACE study explored “adverse childhood experiences,” surveying 17,000 middle-income adults who had health data dating back to early childhood. The study found that the more adversities someone experienced as a child, the more likely that person would suffer from serious physiological disorders as an adult. Many experienced chronic sickness and pain, and were more prone to drug use and risky behaviors in an effort to further suppress that pain.
While most research is isolated to adults, researchers are now looking at children who are suffering. A 2010 study found that the prevalence of chronic headaches in children and adolescents is 58.4 percent. Even as far back as the 1970’s, a world-renowned back surgeon, Dr. John E. Sarno noticed his patients weren’t getting better even with surgery, prompting his life’s work on the tie between emotional suppression and physical pain beginning in childhood.
What Can You Do?
1. Rule out the physical. Not all headaches or body aches are caused by psychological pain, and it is important to take your child to a physician who will test for serious conditions like broken bones or even a possible tumor.
If you notice your child is suffering from chronic, unexplained pain, here are some things you should do:
2. Talk to your child. Once you have ruled out the physical, have a talk with your child about things that are going on in school, home or in life in general. Ask questions for understanding and listen. Be a safe place for your child to go, and you will find that the ability to release these things in the open will be healing for you both.
3. Enlist the help of a mental health professional
As much as you would love to be the one to help your child through all of his or her issues, it is often helpful to have someone trained in childhood traumas help. A licensed child therapist can serve as a safe place for your child to sort through issues he is dealing with so he can move forward toward a pain-free life, both psychologically and physically.
Need help navigating these issues? We can help, feel free to contact us!