Understanding, healing, and recovering from your functional medical problem sometimes requires relational healing.

It is within the context of relationships that:

  • Our nervous systems learn how to self-regulate.
  • We come to know who we are as unique individuals.
  • We get our needs for community, connection, belonging, love, and touch met.
  • We are faced with some our greatest pain and distress.
  • We live our lives.
  • We develop functional medical problems.
  • We can heal and recover.


Your nervous system is exposed to other people’s nervous systems all the time. During our own interactions with people and in proximity to other people’s interactions, we consciously and unconsciously pick up on all kinds of information, to which our autonomic nervous system and attachment system are constantly reacting. We are often focused on what we and others are saying, but our relationships are laden with non-verbal communications—through facial expression, gestures, posture, tone of voice, volume, and eye contact—that our nervous systems are reading even if we are not consciously registering them.

When our bodies sense that we are in the presence of someone with whom we are safe or can let down our guard, we feel greater ease. When incoming information is perceived as threatening, your body reacts with some degree of stress, according to the level of threat.


Relationships can bring great joy, pleasure, connectedness, playfulness, emotional support, affection, fulfillment, and learning. Spending time with those we enjoy is healing, not to mention helpfully distracting from unpleasant symptoms.

While relationships have the potential to enrich our lives, relationships—with employees, co-workers, bosses, friends, romantic partners, and others—can also generate pain and stress. If there is something unconscious, unresolved conflict, or unprocessed emotions in any of our current or past relationships, it can generate mild or strong emotional distress that translates into stress we also experience on a physical level. Over time such chronic stress on the nervous system can lead to physiological problems. Your body may be ailing in part or entirely because it has been exposed to something in the context of a relationship that feels threatening, perhaps highly threatening to your nervous system.


Human beings are social creatures by nature. We need others, and they need us. Whether consciously or unconsciously, we are constantly working to strike that right balance for ourselves between being independent and being dependent on others. 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. It’s very important that you have people who can and are available to offer you love, support, and help with your care and healing process. It’s equally important that you know how to lean in and ask for specific help. Part of getting your needs met is expressing your needs in a way that others can respond empathically, which often requires revealing some degree of vulnerability. This may not be easy yet is at times necessary. Educating people about your specific functional medical problem, for example, may be a way to help them to understand what you’re going through so that they realize that you need more support.

“Even without your conscious awareness, certain relationships, despite having ended, may still be affecting your nervous system today.”

Try not to take other people’s reactions to your symptoms personally. People who genuinely care about you are going to want to be there for you, and they are probably going to have some difficulty being there for you. That is because people are generally not adept at having conversations about difficult topics like chronic illness; are uncomfortable talking about digestive problems or other taboo topics; feel painful emotions like sadness, hurt, helplessness, powerlessness, and fear when they are exposed to someone, especially someone they care about, who is suffering; and do not know what to say or do in response to hearing about your experience of living with a functional medical problem. Therapy can support you and your loved ones to help you all to navigate through these and other relational issues that arise.


Understanding, healing, and recovering from your functional medical problem sometimes requires relational healing. Even without your conscious awareness, certain relationships, despite having ended, may still be affecting your nervous system today. Part of your healing process is discovering if this is happening and to what extent your nervous system is being affected.

If there is a relational component to your functional medical problem, that doesn’t mean the relationship has to end. It does mean, however, that there is an identifiable issue in your life worth addressing, giving you a clear direction to go in your healing process. Therapy is the perfect venue for addressing a relational issue.