I have often noticed how stress wears my patients down, and causes multiple somatic symptoms. If the mind is unhappy and/or stressed, it will always make the body hurt. If you are fortunate, the discomfort induced by stress is always the same: IBS, headache, low back pain, etc., so that you can use the physical symptom as a signal to you that you are under stress, and try to abort a full-blown attack of pain by minimizing or avoiding the stress. I am most concerned that the brain will get so used to pain that the pain circuit becomes self-perpetuating, as it can in post-herpetic neuralgia. It is more difficult to reduce or eliminate the stress when the stress is due to a dysfunctional relationship. I look for situations that can produce stress in my patients' minds by asking a few simple questions at their first exam and at annual physicals: what do you do that you most dislike doing? when was your last vacation? do you look forward to coming home at the end of the day? do you look forward to going to work?
I have found that a frequent cause of stress is due to living with a person with a character disorder, whose view of the world is impervious to logic, manners, or sensitivity. Often the patient is unaware of how permanent the dysfunctional situation is. The most severe case of this is in the borderline personality. I recall that psychiatry attendings would comment that they would never allow first year residents to treat borderlines, because they invariably sabotage their treatment, which can trigger unresolved anger in the therapist.
As I was preparing this blog, I received an e-mail which described what it was like to live with a borderline personality. I think the writer described the household situation extremely well. I am therefore posting the link here, in the hopes that you all will click on it:
The title of the article is "Walking on Eggshells", and this phrase is a perfect analogy to what life is like when you live with a person with a borderline personality disorder. (I personally think that these borderlines have a tremendous amount of unrecognized anger, but that is for another blog.)