Let’s come back to the Three Essential Elements of Healing: Self-awareness, Mindfulness, and Connection with Others. We could boil these down further into really two essential elements:
1) Connecting with yourself.
2) Connecting with others.
Up until now my blog posts have focused exclusively on how to connect more deeply with yourself. Now I’m going to shift gears and focus on connecting with others.
Human beings are social creatures by nature. We need others, and they need us. We are interdependent, that is, both independent and dependent. Sometimes we need to lean further in, and sometimes we are able lean further out, allowing others to lean into us.
Having a functional medical problem means that you need to lean in more towards the people who love and support you. In fact, it’s critical that you have people who can and are available to offer you love, support, and help with your care and healing process. Making sure that you have such people needs to be a high priority. Making sure that you can feel sufficiently safe, calm, and at ease with those people in your life is of great importance. That is why at times when you or they don’t feel sufficiently safe, calm, and at ease, you and they must attend to your relationships. Your health (and theirs) and healing depend on this, whether you all realize it or not.
This is how Stephen W. Porges, researcher and developer of the Polyvagal Theory (of the nervous system) puts it: “When we’re with significant others, the responsibility of that relationship is to keep our autonomic nervous system out of states of defense.”
Having satisfying relationships is at the core of what makes our lives meaningful and fulfilling. We may not think about it consciously very often, but we know this to be true deep down. And we come face to face with this in times of pain, illness, and especially terminal illness. People faced with terminal illnesses who are given finite periods of time to live tend to be most regretful not about what they didn’t accomplish but about not enough time spent with those they have loved. The relationships we have with the people who matter most to use are some of the most precious resources we have.
Yes, good relationships are resources. They fill us up with good stuff that nourishes us down to our souls. When you spend time with someone you care about who cares about you, someone with whom you feel comfortable being yourself, your nervous system settles, meaning that your body shifts from a state of greater stress or activation to a state of greater ease. This is what your body most needs right now to heal. Fill up on time with your loved ones. Don’t isolate yourself because of your functional medical problem. That will only worsen your situation.
Like being in nature, having an orgasm, or listening to certain music, being with people to whom we feel deeply connected has a powerful calming, soothing, and also uplifting effect on our minds, bodies, and hearts. If you really pay attention to what that kind of connection feels like, you would probably agree that it feels like a cocktail of love, joy, and peace. Unlike most cocktails, these are delicious AND nutritious.
Relationships are essential to our being, to our functioning, and to our lives. And they can be very challenging. Even good relationships have their problems and challenges. Part of healing from a functional medical problem is being willing to look at and see clearly how we are doing our relationships well and not so well. Being able to identify the what, who, what, when, which, and how of those relationships that allow us to feel love, joy, and peace most easily informs us about to generate more of that in other relationships those feelings don’t emerge as readily, easily, or fully. It is equally important to be willing to look at and see clearly the problems and challenges in your relationships with your significant others. Any problems or challenges that can be identified may be able to be addressed and repaired, leading to perhaps profound transformational change for you personally and interpersonally.
In my experience healing from a functional medical problem involves healing something relational as well as engaging in self-care and other forms of treatments. There is almost always some component of the physiological symptoms that requires relational resolution or change. It might involve working to have an unmet emotional need finally be met, or to overcome a fear, to talk about something you have never talked about with anyone or with the person who most needs to hear it, or to have a kinder, gentler relationship with your own self/body. These are just a few examples of what I mean.
I’m not saying that resolving one of these issues is the smoking gun that will relieve you of your entire functional medical problem. I’m saying that any relational pattern or unresolved relational issue that is generating some significant degree of stress could relate directly to your physiological problems. And it’s entirely possible that your body is experiencing significant stress as a result of some relational pattern or issue without your conscious awareness. As you cultivate self-awareness and mindfulness you become more capable of bringing awareness and mindfulness into your relationships, making it possible for you to be more conscious of those relationships that are generating significant stress. Making your relationships a focus of your time, attention, and energy as part of your healing process is as productive as finding the right diet or physician.
Just as I was gearing up to write this blog post, an article came through my Facebook feed. The blurb caught my attention. It said that researchers have discovered that happiness is not based on fame or money, contrary to what some people believe, but on something else. Guess what that something else is: good relationships. Stay tuned because in my next blog post, I’m going to present the highlights from this awesome piece of research.
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