Plenty of evidence indicates that our reaction to potentially stress-inducing events – our feelings about what’s happening, in other words – can affect our health. Ulcers, colds, infections, asthma and allergies are common indicators of a person under stress. (This is not to say that the illness is necessarily caused by stressors; it may be hastened or made worse by the person’s stressed reaction, though.) A longer-term outcome, brought about when the individual has no real capability to “fight back” against circumstances, is known as depression.
Through the action or inhibition of immune system players such as B-cells, T-cells, and natural killer cells, one’s state of feeling will influence immune function. High levels of stress hormones such as adrenaline and noradrenaline – and too much or too little of the steroid known as cortisol – will also affect immunity and one’s ability to ward off infection.
Furthermore, nerve cells throughout the body are lined with receptors to which only specific molecules (let’s call them “chemical messengers”) can attach themselves. These chemical messengers are constantly transmitting innumerable messages between the brain, the gut, and various organs, reflecting with 100% accuracy how one is feeling at any given moment.
The traffic, often enough, moves from various parts of the body to the brain. Example: the vast majority of the neurotransmitter serotonin (which people commonly associate with depression) is actually manufactured in the gut – and the gut itself has more nerve cells than the spine. These days, the gut is known as a “second brain,” with the stream of chemical messages moving to and fro along the brain-gut axis.
For all these reasons, the body can be characterized as a single sensing and feeling organ. The mind is not separate from the body; rather, mind and body are one. This unitary network we refer to as the bodymind. Seen this way, each of us is “psychosomatic.” We don’t mean that certain symptoms are all in one’s head. “Psychosomatic” literally refers to the whole of who we are: psyche (mental, emotional, psychological) and soma (molecular, bodily, material). And our health, influenced by feelings, is necessarily a barometer of our psychosomatic state.
Here are some words to the wise: “When we ignore what matters most to us, it will become the matter within us.” This observation, from therapist Paula Reeves, is perfectly in sync with our understanding of the bodymind.
“What matters most” is whatever in our lives we hold the most emotional investment – whether we consciously realize it or not. Feelings are a form of energy at the core of our selves; if we ignore those feelings or tell them to go away, they won’t simply leave without a trace. On the contrary, since they relate to what’s highly meaningful, they will hang around. They will bide their time. And they will find a way to become known. As Reeves puts it, they will become the “matter within” – and a potentially unhealthful matter at that.
A rash, a migraine, a bout of chronic pain or fatigue…these are all ways that “what matters” is made manifest. So, too, are conditions such as asthma, depression, hypertension, phantom pain, rheumatoid arthritis, and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The condition can be said to represent an unconscious assertion of a state of emotional affairs one would rather not consciously acknowledge. The illness betrays the dissonance.
If we look closely at these conditions, we will not only see the force of e-motion at work, we will see that boundary type can be linked with the given ailment. A thin boundary person, while prone to respond more quickly to all manner of stimuli, may still be surprised by the intensity of certain symptoms – especially if linked to feelings that are intense or threatening. A thick boundary person, who is constitutionally slow to acknowledge feelings to begin with, may be affected by symptoms that betoken the stagnation of feeling energy…out of sight, out of mind.
Knowing your boundary type, therefore, is key to the types of chronic illness to which you’re at risk.