Last week I asked whether there might be physical consequences to life with a psychopath. Judging from the many and fascinating reader responses it seems that many people suspect that these relationships have indeed affected their health. Boldily pains, chronic anxiety, eating disorders, weight fluctuations, difficulties with sleep, headaches – all these and more either started or worsened at the time of the relationships. Some ailments straight away resolved themselves when the relationship ended, others linger.
Before I give a brief conceptualisation of a linkage between life events and physical health I must clarify terms. I am not talking here about hypochondria, imagining and and worrying about being ill. I am talking about psychosomatics, a term which has become confused for some to mean, ‘it’s all in your mind.’ Psychosomatic ailments are real ailments. A migraine headache, even if it has a psychological element, has real constriction of blood vessels, real pain, real vomiting, real response to medication – it is not imagined. As you’ll see below, to me it makes no sense to speak of something being only in the mind.
A personal example
Since childhood I suffered from migraine headaches. There is probably some genetic disposition at work – my mother and her sister were both migrainous. There were some physical things that seemed to make my migraines more likely – bright light, dehydration. However, there was also something psychological at work. How do I know? First, while I usually got three of four migraines a year, one year I was migrainous during each weekly session of a class I was teaching – too much of a coincidence. Second, although my migraines weren’t an actual topic during my therapy when I trained as a psychotherapist, somehow my migraines stopped then. Therapy is not all I was doing. I was seeing a chiropractor, doing Pilates, improving my diet, writing.
What happened? In short here’s what I’ve come to. For me migraines were in part the consequence of unexpressed anger. (During the course I was teaching I was angry about something but did nothing about it because one doesn’t get angry with one’s students, right?). Somehow the combination of psychotherapy and other activities untied that particular emotional/physical knot for me and since then it has not been necessary for me to have a migraine. Now if I feel a fluttering in my left temple I say to myself, “There’s something (emotional) going on”, and that redirection of attention seems to be enough.
I’m not suggesting anyone’s else’s journey will go the same way as mine did. In fact I know that’s most unlikely. Each person needs to work out their own – preferably multi-pronged – approach. NB Please do not take this a recommendation to eschew regular medical treatment; when I say ‘multipronged’ I mean tackle the matter from several angles including, of course, medical science.
What are some of the assumptions then, of MindBody healing?
- Body and mind are inextricably involved with each other, indeed they cannot be separated.
- Mind elements are important in developing, triggering and perpetuating disease.
- Mind elements also play a role in wellness and protection from disease.
- Sometimes there needs to be a pure focus on the body as the best approach to illness, while at other times a pure focus on the mind is more important.
- In many situations, however, a combined approach is likely to give the best outcome for the patient.
- It is important to attend to ‘mind’ in all patients, even in what is normally regarded as ‘physical’ illness. Attending to mind implies many elements including: respect for the patient’s ‘illness experience’; listening for the meaning of illness; understanding the individual’s model of illness; regard for the role of trauma; attention to family, relationship, societal, cultural, and spiritual forces promoting illness or healing; regard for the influence of sociological factors such as poverty, unemployment, and loss of identity; and the role of biomedicine in rendering mind aspects invisible.
Life with a psychopath provides great and ongoing inner tension and may also inhibit the ways that tension can be relieved. While it’s neither the whole story nor everyone’s story, it makes sense to me that there may be a lot more bottling up in a relationship with a psychopath than normal and what has been bottled up may well have consequences.
We are beings who, it seems, will make manifest what’s going on inside, whether we do it through action, emotions, expression, or bodily symptoms.
Next week I will describe one simple method that has been scientifically shown to improve some ‘physical’ ailments which have a psychological component. In the meantime, what have you found that helps?