The idea that our physical health is intimately connected with
our emotional wellbeing, and vice versa?
I’ve always had the sense this is true, but honestly never considered it too deeply.
Not long into COVID lockdown(!), I received an unexpected and unwelcome medical diagnosis that required urgentish surgery and a lymph-node biopsy.
There was every reason to remain positive. But still. Until I’d had the procedure, and the biopsy results back several weeks later, I wouldn’t know for sure I was in the clear.
Having reached my mid-50s in pretty good health, the news came as a shock.
The ‘Alternative’ Perspective
I’d previously dabbled in alternative health, so I reconnected with my homeopath for advice and support.
She asked if I’d experienced any notable stress in my life since we’d spoken two years previously.
Like most of us, I’d faced my share of stressors and I recounted those to her.
Dawn reflected back that while each situation appeared different on the surface, a common thread ran through them.
The thread: A behavioural pattern of prioritising other people’s needs over my own.
Her professional experience and knowledge of personality traits common among certain patient types, indicated that this pattern played a significant role in compromising my immune system.
Because when we suppress one system in our body, eg our emotions, it doesn’t happen in isolation – it has a knock-on effect to all other systems, including our immune system.
A compromised immune system cannot effectively do its job of fighting off the cells that create disease.
Wake Up Call
Dawn offered that my health issue was my body’s attempt to gain my attention – because apparently, I wasn’t listening to it.
This kind and usually very mild-mannered woman urged me to heed my body’s ‘warning’, and commit to changing this pattern and way of being.
I was taken aback by the forcefulness of her tone; it made me sit up and listen.
I also couldn’t deny the truth of her observations – the underlying thread now seemed glaringly obvious.
I’m a coach, and I consider myself pretty self-aware, so I was more than a little unsettled by this news.
I’ve done lots of ‘self’ work over the years, including setting the ultimate take-care-of-my-own-needs boundary more than a decade ago, when I left my 22 year marriage.
And there have been many more boundary-practicing ‘opportunities for growth’ since then.
It’s ongoing work, of course – but I in no way consider myself a pushover (just ask my kids!)
With all of my personal development work, how was it possible I still had such a deeply ingrained, largely unconscious, pattern?
Not only that – a pattern that was now manifesting as disease in my body?
The irony is that this topic has always been at the heart of my work as a coach.
I have long championed and challenged the conditioning we receive as women – that it is ‘normal’ to put ourselves last and prioritise everyone else’s needs over our own.
It is an important and significant part of my work with clients.
But our ‘blindspots’ are so-called for a reason – we can’t see them in ourselves!
When the Body Says No
Since my experience in April, I’ve learned, and continue to learn, more about the mind-body connection.
I’ve discovered the work of Dr. Gabor Mate, an esteemed physician and expert in the fields of trauma, addiction and the mind-body connection.
Dr. Mate has written several bestselling books including: When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress.
This is what he says:
“Emotional stress is a major cause of physical illness, from cancer to autoimmune conditions and many other chronic diseases. The brain and body systems that process emotions are intimately connected with the hormonal apparatus, the nervous system, and in particular the immune system.”
In a nutshell, when we can’t ~ or won’t, say No – our body will do it for us.
Dr. Mate’s extensive work, his research and his message align exactly with my homeopath’s perspective.
It makes complete sense to me now – we cannot separate the mind from the body – it’s simply not possible.
I now truly believe that my health, and my life, depends on me breaking this unhealthy pattern – permanently.
I’m committed to doing so.
This commitment is giving me the strength and courage to no longer tolerate behaviours that are detrimental to my own wellbeing, even when doing so goes against my natural tendencies.
Even when it means risking my relationships with people I love and care about, as I wrote about here.
Needless to say, I am even more committed to shouting this message from the rooftops in my coaching practice.
When we suppress our emotional needs, we suppress all of the systems in our bodies – including our immune system.
This can and does eventually lead to physical illness – it cannot be any other way.
I say this not to scare you – but to make you aware of the ultimate ‘cost’ of being the woman who always says Yes.
I’m not for one moment suggesting we stop being kind, caring, compassionate and supportive to our loved ones.
I AM saying we must not do so at cost to our own health and wellbeing.
Self-Compassion is Essential
There are solid, entirely understandable reasons why we suppress our own needs. Our human wiring and innate need for attachment and belonging plays a significant role.
This need was vital when we were infants and small children – we needed to stay attached to our caregivers for our survival.
The problem is, much of our adult behaviour stems from the need to preserve our attachments (relationships) at any cost.
We sacrifice our authenticity (who we truly are) over our need for belonging.
The message from Dr. Mate is simple:
You (and your needs) are more important than your attachments.
Are you ready to prioritise your authenticity?
It is not easy work to do.
But it’s essential – and entirely possible – if we are to thrive, physically and emotionally.
We’re in this together.