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What is Somatization?

By R. Kayne
Updated Feb 04, 2024
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Somatization is the process by which mental and emotional stresses become physical in the form of psychosomatic illnesses. Some experts believe that, as stresses play on the body, the weakest or most prone system becomes the likely target for this. Others believe the area affected by somatization has a direct relationship to the nature of the negative thought patterns through mind/body relationships not yet fully understood.

While psychosomatic illnesses can come and go depending on a person’s ability to handle stress, somatization often becomes a built-in pattern that results in chronic aches and pains or lingering diseases without biological cause. The mind/body relationship transfers highly negative or unhealthy thinking patterns into physical illness. When this occurs, there is no other medical explanation for the illness.

Hypochondriacs, or those who perpetually believe they suffer from diseases far worse than their symptoms or prognosis indicates, display mindsets conducive to chronic somatization. Virtually all phobias are caused by "physically ingesting" extreme stresses based around a specific activity or object. Ulcers, backaches, irritable bowel syndrome, panic attacks and tension headaches are some other examples of illnesses the body can produce through somatization of emotional and mental stresses. An unfortunate result of having a history of benign psychosomatic illnesses is that a medical professional might begin to assume after a while that new aches, pains, and complaints are the result of this process. He or she might fail to order the tests necessary to rule out other causes.

Somatization can be controlled by the patient learning to handle mental and emotional stresses more skillfully. This ideally involves cognitive behavioral therapy through self-analysis of one form or another. If it only occurs occasionally, symptoms of psychosomatic illness will subside on their own as stress levels fall back to normal.

Though not completely understood, somatization presents a clear argument that the mind and body share a close, intertwined relationship. While psychosomatic illnesses have their roots in mental and emotional stresses, they are real illnesses that require treatment. In cases of chronic somatization, both medical treatment and successful psychological treatment are necessary for lasting results.

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Discussion Comments
By anon141437 — On Jan 10, 2011

I've had a list of serious medical symptoms over the past six months since July, which sounds exactly like somatization/hypochondria. It started before I was to go on holiday (a very stressful thing) and during a time while I was really stressed out with something at school.

I've always had a fear of the 'out of the blue' possibility of appendicitis (even the word scares me), so before I went on holiday I had bad pains in the side of my stomach, and this worsened while I was on holiday. My family ridiculed me for not enjoying such an expensive holiday to Disneyland Paris.

Just after I got back, I relaxed a little and the symptoms eased. But two days after it went away, I started to have symptoms of another illness that came out of nowhere and something else I've always been scared of: heart attack. I had palpitations and a rapid heartbeat. This lasted for about five months, with it sometimes going away and then coming back when I least expected it.

I started a massive exercise drive, thinking I needed to lower my blood pressure. It lasted chronically right up until Christmas 2010, with it getting slightly worse just before it, with me worrying about ruining Christmas and falling ill on xmas day. But I had flu just before xmas, bringing headaches and all the usual things.

This led me on to my present 'illness.' I had fever, and because I've always been scared of a fever not going away, it didn't and right on xmas eve, i thought i was going to faint. But on xmas day, it eased a little because i was relaxed. It did ease for about two days after xmas because i was relaxed. But after those two days, it came back. I was hot again and I began to feel dizziness. This was sort of partial through that time, not that bad, but the night before I went back to school i thought i was going to faint.

I felt sick and this lasted through the first three days back with a headache. When the weekend came, the symptoms eased, practically disappeared. I was relaxed and not stressed. When I went back after the weekend, today, it felt all right in the morning, but i started to have a headache when I became stressed due to a lesson with a horrible teacher that i get scared of.

This is where I am now. All my symptoms over the last six months have been things I've always worried about. i get scared at any mention of health, i worry when i see an ambulance, any mention of heart attack, brain tumor, testicular cancer, appendicitis, high blood pressure and hospitals make me scared, sometimes any mention of these words can even make me feel symptoms. I really do believe I'm a hypochondriac/somatization.

By anon125040 — On Nov 08, 2010

I've had an hollow empty feeling in my stomach for some time now. it feels like i am always hungry when i know I'm not. It comes and goes a lot. i usually get it once every month or two. it can last from a day to five days.

i also get bad headaches and back ache. I have a lot of problems at home and am in the middle of doing my gcse right now. this causes me a lot of stress and i can't deal with it very well at all. i find these pains come when I'm stressed, angry or sad. could i have somatization?

By anon79415 — On Apr 22, 2010

My husband has this disorder and its a very hard thing to deal with. it's tearing my family apart.

By anon39218 — On Jul 31, 2009

I have been reading about a course involving "guided somatization" to explore and understand parts of the body through touch, movement and voice. What comment would anyone have on this?

By anon20198 — On Oct 27, 2008

Well! Concerning Somatisation and others Depressions reasons, and medication or psychological treatment I have strong blame. Because most treatments given by estimation. I believe that there is some unknown disease behind Somatisation and depression too. Comment from Netherlands

By anon16102 — On Jul 29, 2008

Regarding the second paragraph of this article. I object to the wording of this phrase: "without biological cause." Since when are psychiatric disorders considered non-biological? The Cartesian dualism invoked in the "body/mind relationship" is disturbing and only obscures our understanding of somatization. Although we are accustomed to perceiving the body as separate from the mind, they are really one, and it should be no surprise that actions of the brain *do* affect the rest of the biological system that is our body. -Katherine

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