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Anderson, F.S. (2017). It Was Not Safe to Feel Angry: Disrupted Early Attachment and the Development of Chronic Pain in Later Life. Att: New Dir. in Psychother. Relat. Psychoanal., 11(3):223-241.

(2017). Attachment: New Directions in Psychotherapy and Relational Psychoanalysis, 11(3):223-241

It Was Not Safe to Feel Angry: Disrupted Early Attachment and the Development of Chronic Pain in Later Life

Frances Sommer Anderson, Ph.D.

Using detailed clinical material from her treatment of three patients referred by physiatrist John E. Sarno, for psychological treatment of chronic pain, Dr Anderson illustrates a relationship between dissociated/repressed affect and the development of chronic musculoskeletal back pain. Sarno, conversant with the fundamentals of psychoanalysis, theorised that the somatic pain, which he termed tension myoneural syndrome (TMS), served as a distraction from emotions that were unbearable. That is, the pain served as a psychological defense or survival tactic. In treatment, the adverse impact of overwhelming physical and emotional experiences on attachment and emotion regulation are identified and discussed. Detailed clinical process, which includes the use of trauma treatment techniques, illuminate how psychological treatment can be used to help patients identify and tolerate feelings associated with early life stress, leading to relief from the somatic pain.

Anderson, informed by the psychosomatic theories of Krystal and McDougall and by contemporary attachment theorists, advances the position that the physician as diagnostician functions symbolically as the “parent” who links mind and body, thereby reducing the patient's fear of pain and creating a secure attachment bond. In this secure attachment relationship, the physician “authorises” the patient to experience emotions that were previously disavowed. In the relationship with an empathic relational psychoanalyst, the patient's pain resolves as s/he builds a capacity to identify and tolerate emotions and learns how to use emotions, particularly anger, to enhance relationships and improve their quality of life.

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