Healing Mind-Body Pain

Internal Family Systems (IFS) Therapy for Physical Symptoms

Manya Ronay
Change Your Mind Change Your Life
5 min readJul 19, 2023


Photo by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash

After struggling with POTS for many years, I finally achieved a functional state of being thanks to nutrition, acupuncture, brain retraining and therapy. But one day, after a long drive, I started having severe lower back pain. I was on the couch for a few days, and then I returned to normal. The pain came back many times in the next few years, once taking me out for a week.

I was convinced the lower back pain was structural. Besides, when I was in severe pain, my hip on one side looked much higher than the other side. “I am physically out of balance,” I thought. “How could it not be structural pain?” I went to chiropractors, PT and did lots of ab exercises. “If you strengthen your core, your back will feel better,” they said. Maybe it helped a little, but I still had debilitating episodes of pain. I was convinced I had a tumor. Something must be happening in my body.

But then I remembered the brain retraining I learned with POTS. We can feel pain or symptoms when there is no structural damage in our bodies. Physical or emotional stress can cause our brain to create pain as a warning sign. “Stop what you’re doing, something is wrong,” our brain says. Naturally, we may freak out about the pain and/or obsessively try to minimize it. This only confirms the brain’s DANGER signal and keeps us in a perpetual cycle of fear and pain.

“While many people with mind-body pain begin to feel that their brain has betrayed them by giving them such pain, in actuality, their brain is trying to protect them from what the brain perceives to be a dangerous situation in their body or their life,” writes Dr. Howard Schubiner in Psychology Today.

To break the fear-pain cycle, we have to tell ourselves that we are okay, we are safe, there is nothing wrong with us. We can gradually return to avoided activities to show our brain they are not dangerous. We can also address the emotions and stress that underlie the pain. I know it can feel scary, but I strongly recommend exploring the emotional realm for long-term relief from pain and symptoms.

I found that when I am out of balance physically, it usually means I am out of balance emotionally.

Now when my back hurts, I dialogue with the parts involved using Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy. IFS is a popular, evidence-based form of psychotherapy that teaches we are all made of different parts. We have parts holding emotional pain and other parts that work to protect us from feeling that pain.

Parts can use the body to get our attention or to fulfill needs—like saying “no” when we can’t set boundaries ourselves. Parts can also use the body to express or distract from repressed emotions. Sometimes, people subconsciously choose to be in physical pain because it is easier in a way than confronting emotional pain and stress.

When I get curious about the parts involved in my back pain, I find that they are often sad or scared about something — usually something outside of my conscious awareness. I will listen and comfort them, validating their pain and telling them we are safe. I also spend time with the parts that are afraid of the pain, feeling the anxiety in my body, and helping release it. This is an important element because fear fuels pain.

The best thing we can do when pain or symptoms arise is not be afraid of them.

Check out my IFS Somatic Tracking meditation to try this out first hand!

Journaling can also be a wonderful tool to help our parts feel heard. You can ask: “If this symptom had words, what would it say?” You can also ask the part: “What are you afraid would happen if you didn’t give me this pain/symptom?” Or you can just write and see what comes out.

Overall, I found that when I am out of balance physically, it usually means I am out of balance emotionally. If I explore the emotional cause and avoid obsessing over the pain or apparent misalignment of my hips, it usually gets better the next day. One night, I noticed myself worrying about a twinge in my back while sleeping on my side. “Oh no, I hope I’m not putting my hips out of alignment,” I thought. Then I realized the pain was on the opposite side as usual — because it’s not structural!

Sitting with our pain from a calm and compassionate place, we can view it as a messenger instead of an enemy. When we listen to the pain and heed its message, it often goes away in its own time. Mind-body healing can be very effective for POTS, chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), migraines, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), back pain, neck pain and more. Of course, structural problems must be ruled out first by your doctor.

You can look for evidence that your pain or symptoms are mind-body. For example, did they start around a stressful period in life? Do they change in severity depending on time or circumstances? (If you break your foot, it will consistently hurt when you step on it!) Does the pain move around your body or change symptoms? For example, I first had dizziness that turned into GI pain that turned into back pain. As Alan Gordon says, this is actually good news because it points to a mind-body cause that we can do something about.

If you’re interested in this approach to healing, I invite you to explore IFS (I’m a practitioner) or Pain Reprocessing Therapy (PRT). You can also check out the work of Dr. Howard Schubiner or Alan Gordon (Alan has a great podcast called Tell Me About Your Pain in addition to his book The Way Out). There are also many mind-body recovery programs such as Curable app and Lin Health.

To learn more about my chronic illness journey or to inquire about Internal Family Systems (IFS) sessions, I invite you to visit www.meetmanya.com.

To learn more about IFS and Pain Reprocessing Therapy (PRT), check out this article by IFS Founder Dick Schwartz and Dr. Howard Schubiner.



Manya Ronay
Change Your Mind Change Your Life

Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES®) and Internal Family Systems (IFS) practitioner specializing in eating and mind-body healing.