Somatization occurs when psychological concerns are converted into physical symptoms. For example, a person who has just lost a loved one may somaticize their grief through severe fatigue. The prefix “soma” stems from the Greek word for body.
WHAT CAUSES SOMATIZATION?
There are many theories about why somatization occurs. These theories involve:
Biological Sensitivity: A person may have a heightened sensitivity to certain sensations, such as pain or nausea. They may be more likely to attribute these sensations to illness. A person may also misinterpret psychological symptoms, such as anxious sweating, to a physical cause.
Trauma/Stress: Research shows survivors of trauma are particularly susceptible to somatization. Trauma can lead to high levels of cortisol and other hormones. These chemicals can weaken one’s immune system and cause physical symptoms such as dizziness.
The Unconscious: Somatization could be a defense mechanism, protecting the person from emotional overwhelm. Some psychological symptoms may be so overwhelming that a person cannot face them consciously. A person’s distress may then find an outlet through the body, converting to a physical symptom.
Cultural Attitudes: Some people may live in a culture that stigmatizes emotional distress. A person may receive more attention and sympathy when they present physical symptoms than when they report psychological issues. A person’s mind and body may “learn” to somaticize distress in order to get help.
Somatization may be caused by multiple factors. It could also have no perceivable cause. Regardless of why the somatization occurs, the symptoms are real and do cause distress. People experiencing somatization can get treatment by finding a therapist.