A Healing Hypothesis

I’m supposed to be doing homework, but it’s cold and snowy.  I am entirely unmotivated to study the alimentary canal.

A thought occurred to me when I was stuck in traffic a few days ago.  I’ll start with a question.

How many times have you fallen down or gotten hurt? If you really had to answer that question with accuracy, what would you say? I don’t know if I could answer it.  I’ve injured myself a lot.  I’ve eaten it too many times to recall with any accuracy.  Falling off my bike? I fell into a pile of gravel once, and that was a bloody disaster not to mention humiliating.  I almost fell onto exposed rebar once and barely escaped impaling myself.  I sound like I starred in MTV’s “Jackass”.  I’ve almost drowned more times than anyone should just because I overestimated my own swimming abilities in relation to ocean conditions.  I was bitten by a shark once.  It didn’t keep me from going back into the water.  I’ve been mildly electrocuted twice.  These are all ridiculous injuries.  My injuries probably sound tame compared to some people.  You know, the adrenaline junkies? Their tales of thrill seeking are epic.  Compound fractures and missing teeth.  As soon as they can stand upright, they’re clinging to another rock face like Spiderman.

Why do we get back up again after we get hurt and get after it with relative confidence? Why don’t we fall apart? I really thought about this.  Why do little kids fall, skin their knees, cry, and then get up and start running again?

Because they know that they will heal and be okay.  They don’t have faith that it will happen.  They know.  We have evidence that we will heal because our bodies are designed to do that.  We watch our wounds heal.  We feel the itch of the tissue regenerating.

Many of us think that it’s odd when parents coddle their children just for getting scratched up.

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Why? Because scratches heal! Broken bones heal.  We recover from surgeries.  We are tougher than we look and even feel.  So, most of us are not too afraid to take reasonable risks with our bodies in terms of getting in a pool, riding a bike, running fast, rollerblading, rock climbing, etc.

Why are we then afraid to take risks emotionally? This feels like a very legitimate question.  I’ve been pondering the question and wondering what a sound answer might be.  The answer I came up with is that we might believe that we won’t heal.  Or, we don’t know how to heal when we sustain an emotional injury.  Wouldn’t it be easier to take emotional risks if emotional healing occurred in the same way that physical healing did?

I pose the question this way because uncertainty acts as a primary source of anxiety for almost all of us.  We might be willing to try new things if we knew more about the outcome.  In terms of physical risks, we are far more likely to take risks because we know that our bodies heal.  But, our hearts and minds? Well, that’s different.

How familiar is this? “I don’t know if I want to get involved.  I could get hurt, and I just don’t know if I can go through that again…”

If I break my leg, I can go to the ER.  If I break my heart, where do I go? How exactly do you heal a broken heart? How do you heal from major trauma? How do you heal from chronic anxiety? There are too many opinions to give a discrete answer.

And there is another element at play here.  Culture.  If I break my wrist or lacerate my arm, is there anyone who will tell me that it’s not possible to have my injuries treated? Will someone point at me and say, “Good luck with that.  You’re going to suffer for the rest of your life with that broken wrist.”  No.  That’s ludicrous.  Going further, if I slipped on wet pavement after a thunderstorm and fractured my elbow, would anyone tell me, “All concrete sidewalks are bad.  Never trust a sidewalk.  You will always get hurt! From now on, only walk on grass lest you break your elbow again.”

No.  You will not hear that.

Will you hear Broken Elbow songs on the radio? Will you be bombarded with chorus after chorus about the depravity of concrete sidewalks and even roadways and the danger they pose to your vulnerable elbow? How the sidewalk beckoned you, promised it would support you as you walked and its blatant betrayal? How dare it collect water and mislead you permitting you to slip and break your elbow! Those rakish sidewalks! Manipulative elbow-breakers!

Uh…no.  You will not hear that.  But, how many songs do we hear and even love that are all about the broken-hearted? How many movies do we watch repeatedly that are devoted to the heart break experience? You haven’t truly lived until you’ve had your heart torn out, right? There is a collective belief that being heart broken is terrible and almost romantic.  And, for some, impossible to recover from.

I want to challenge this.  I want to start by putting an idea out there that we are capable of healing emotionally and mentally just as we are capable of healing physically.  It makes no sense that our bodies are designed to heal as efficiently and elegantly as they do, but our psycho-emotional selves would not.  I hypothesize this because the ability of our bodies to heal and maintain that ability is so heavily dependent upon the state of our psycho-emotional state.  In other words, if we are unhappy, anxious, scared, and in a state of emotional pain, our immune function is impaired.  When we are happy, at peace, and well, we don’t get sick; we heal better; we fight off cancer; and we thrive.

If this is potentially true, why are so many of us suffering psycho-emotionally?  An idea came to mind as I was turning these questions over in my mind.  I thought of my grandfather.  My grandfather grew up on a farm on an island that was rather remote.  During one winter, he and his brother were sledding, and, during the downhill race, my grandfather hit a tree and broke his tibia.  He sustained a compound fracture.  With no medical help nearby, my grandfather’s family did the best they could to attend to the fracture.  It never healed properly.  For the rest of his life, he suffered with circulation issues and pain in his leg and even ulcers as he aged.  All this because his injury wasn’t properly set and healed improperly.  Note here that his injury healed.  The body did what it does.  It healed.  It just healed improperly because the healing needed an outside intervention to direct the healing.

I suspect that our minds and spirits heal, but, like my grandfather’s leg, without outside intervention to direct a healing process, we heal improperly resulting in improper “blood flow” leaving room for infection and incessant pain.  Had this type of problem presented today, surgery would be done to re-break the tibia, reset it, and induce a proper healing.  Rehabilitation would be done during the healing process in order to direct the body’s healing process.  The body knows what to do.  Sometimes its energies need direction.

Applying this paradigm to our psycho-social selves, what would happen if we believed that we can and do heal? What would happen if we viewed our current psycho-emotional state as a healed state in which perhaps our injuries were not set properly? Our body has the ability to heal.  It healed.  At the time of the original injury it did not receive the appropriate care it needed to heal so that it would return to its pre-injury state?

Was my grandfather’s leg still broken? No.  Did he do the best he could at that time with the resources he had available to him? Yes.  Did anyone blame him for the scars in his leg? No.  If he had undergone a reparative surgery to correct the poorly healed injury, would that have been a shameful thing to do? No.  Would that have been beneficial? Yes.

Therapeutic interventions, nutritional changes, psychiatric supports, various types of exercise, pursuing healthy relationships, making important changes in your life to bring about healthy changes, using different healing modalities, etc. are all reparative changes to “reset” breaks that didn’t heal properly.  Changing our language around our own healing process goes a long way into changing how we view ourselves, and that goes a long way into eradicating shame and fear of uncertainty.

Once you begin to believe that you can and do heal, you may find yourself making changes that you’ve only dreamed of.  It is an idea I’m considering.  It’s got somethin’…

So, as always, keep going.

Further Reading:

The Emotional Immune System

 

 

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