“The origin of chronic illness lies in the struggle with our emotions. More specifically, the conflict is between the controlled person we have created ourselves to be and the emotions inside us…”
|Lincoln Stoller, PhD, 2019. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International license (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)
The origin of chronic illness lies in the struggle with our emotions. More specifically, the conflict is between the controlled person we have created ourselves to be and the emotions inside us. From this arises a disconnection with ourselves, a failure to sustain the health of disconnected parts, and the dysfunction of the organs, systems, and complexes related to them.
From this disconnection arise such somatic issues as immune, skeleto-muscular, gastric, circulatory, neurological, cardio and pulmonary dysfunction. In parallel arise psychological issues of denial, depression, anxiety, anger, fear, violence, and mania. Left unresolved, all of these become chronic and develop to the rigid level of habit or, effectively, addiction: coping strategies aimed at resolving underlying discomfort not otherwise addressed. Healing lies not in further denying our repressed feelings but in embracing them.
“Generally, people find it difficult to conceptualize the idea of unconscious rage. Some find it abhorrent, while others simply can’t believe it can be there inside them without their knowledge. The idea that emotions — raw, heated, towering emotions — can exist outside of consciousness is hard to accept. Even when people intellectually acknowledge that these might exist, they find it hard to imagine them because they don’t feel them. We live in the world of the conscious, and most of us think it is our only world. We acknowledge only what we are aware of, what we feel consciously.” — John Sarno, MD
Seeds of Illness
We unconsciously create the seeds of illness in our struggle to attain complete control over our past, and orient ourselves to a socially fabricated future. Trends in illness move epidemically along social lines: heart disease, chronic fatigue, depression, cancer, and more recently autism, attention deficit, and drug addiction. The prevalence of these disorders varies with class, culture, and community. These are not entirely physical and not entirely mental. They are both; they are psychosomatic.
Illnesses are not entirely individual in their cause. They are not aspects of “the germ theory” of the breach of one person’s defenses. Not only does the weakening of our resistance fester inside of us, but our health is socially, genetically, and historically compromised. These diseases are not just dysfunctions of the individual; they reside at the interface of what we authentically feel and force ourselves to be. They are socio-somatic. Addressing them symptom by symptom, person by person, is ignorant at both the biological and social levels.
“I had removed one symptom only to have its place taken by another.” — Sigmund Freud
What I have said may seem unconventional — you won’t hear it from mainstream health practitioners — but it’s not speculative. The emotional foundations of health are affirmed by those who engage the combined psycho and somatic aspects of client health, personal relationships, and social movements.
Another layer makes this more understandable to me: there is a parallel between machines and humans in that both can be seen as having aspects of hardware and software. The body is the hardware; the body is a given. One cannot live without the body and, with small exceptions, one cannot replace it.
The mind is the software. The mind has some preassigned elements, namely those necessary to keep the body going, but much of what we consider to be “us” is re-programmable. One might say that our identity is “loaded in” after our bodies have booted up. And just as in software, not everything that’s loaded into us is benign, authentic, or welcome.
There are lots of parallels we could play with here, but I want to focus on just one. What “one” thing do you think is most important? For me, it is this: that our identities are a complete fabrication. There is no reality to who you think you are. It is entirely of your construction, and it is entirely unnecessary in its details. At the same time, it is both difficult and expensive to reprogram you. And for this reason, the method by which you are reprogrammed is largely that of illness.
Our minds organically develop as a kind of guidance system. We are self-correcting, but only to the extent that we are aware, and relative to the cost of making adjustments. And because the process of life is expensive, the costs to readjust our personalities are high. If you compare us to society, you could say we operate under the tyranny of our egos, and our egos dictate that most of us take short-term profits, and live short-term lives. And what happens when our body’s long-term requirements conflict with our mind’s short-term goals? We become vulnerable, and we get ill.
It has become increasingly clear to me that the resolution of physical disease lies in readjustments of the mind. This is not to say that a change of mind alone can fix disease, but rather that the failure to change one’s mind can be the main factor in sustaining disease. It’s not a question of cause; it’s not a question of whether the disease or the attitude came first. That question is not important, and may not even make sense.
The hardware, the software, and the environment all work together, operating on different scales of time, distance, energy, and reality. What may appear as a cause from one perspective appears as a correlation from another. Is physical stress caused by a bad relationship, or is it the other way around? Is your health determined by what you eat, the bacteria in your mouth, or the flora in your gut? For the purpose of regaining balance, it doesn’t matter. All are interdependent, and all must change. Different forces are required to instigate and sustain different kinds of change.
Western doctors don’t like to publicly admit it, but they are well aware that their success owes more to the patient than it does to them. This might seem to be empowering to the patient, but it is rarely seen that way. We are more interested in deflecting blame than accepting responsibility. Such is how the ego works: it exists to protect itself, and the less it’s responsible for, the better. That is one of the defining aspects of Western-style medicine: it deflects blame. In Western medicine the doctor and the disease are partners. Onto them we project our dysfunctional selves, both the good and the bad. We let them fix us, even though they really can’t. We insist they make it appear so: that the problem is external, and the fix requires no readjustment to ourselves.
This is why, when it comes to psychotherapy, the only people who change are those who decide to change. Western psychotherapy’s false claim to authority is why it fails to achieve lasting effect. All external efforts at change fail until a person decides to accept responsibility, regain authority, and change her or himself.
I bristle at analytical methods and prescriptions, which is what I find in most of psychology. The root of sustainable change is emotional, not analytical, and certainly not pharmaceutical. This is because the root of your identity is emotional. The analytical part of you, your self-obsessed ego, is the entirely fabricated, self-controlling aspect of your software.
I accept my identity as a hypnotherapist because hypnotherapists are undefined and unconstrained. Historically, I feel myself closer to a sage or a bush doctor, but those labels are misunderstood. Hypnotherapy, as I practice it, is almost entirely somato-emotional. It is not limited by what makes sense or can be sensed by anyone except my client.
When I develop rapport and elicit compliance, my work is tremendously effective. Without those two elements it is not at all effective. That success lies in the compatibility of my mental software with that of my client’s. I achieve this by presenting myself authentically and, in doing so, challenge my client to do the same. It is a challenge most prospects decline, and that is just as well.
We all have egos, we all talk and analyze, and all this a fiction. Or rather, you might say, it’s just advertising. It is the self we have erected, which we protect, and which is giving someone grief. The path to healing, if there is a path to healing, lies beyond the ego, talk, and analysis. For me, that means going beyond data, diagnosis, evidence, and model. It means going to, and finally embracing, the emotion. I believe that is the shortest, cheapest, and only-est path to change.
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