In recent years, clinical research has revealed a high correlation between uncleared developmental and adult traumas and the onset of physical and emotional illnesses, evidence of a mind body connection. For example, people who experienced early childhood mind and body traumas were far more likely to have serious illnesses in early adulthood than those who did not suffer from such traumas.
Stress is associated with most of our illnesses, indicative of this mind body connection. Although a 2012 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 60 to 80 percent of illnesses reported to primary care doctors may have a stress component, stress is more likely a factor in at least 80 to 90 percent of such cases. Emotional and physical health issues to which stress has been linked sweeps across the body and mind spectrum, such as stomach issues; muscle aches and pains; joint and back problems; increased blood pressure; increased heart rate; higher cholesterol; increased risk of heart attack; mood problems such as anger, irritability, depression, panic, and anxiety; headaches; low energy; lower bone density; loss of libido; and especially reduced immune response, which makes all illnesses, including cancer, more likely.
The Mental Roots of Stress
Stress is actually a network of traumas; negative beliefs, thoughts, and emotions; interpretative perceptions; and even “downloads” of family patterns of how to deal with stress. Stress-induced illnesses don’t just happen out of the blue, and prescription drugs do not eliminate them—they only dull the physical and mental symptoms and often create other illnesses, nicely called “side effects.” If we truly wish for happiness and a healthy mind and body, then we should look towards the holistic healing offered by mind body medicine, which deals directly with this mind body connection surrounding the causes of stress, far more than just popping a pill.
What stresses one person may be easy for another because stress has more to do with how we react to an event than the event itself. We all give our own meaning to people, objects, and events around us, and that meaning is colored by our past experiences and interpretations. For example, Bill grew up in a house where he had to do everything perfectly or his mother would become very upset. “What’s wrong with you that you did that?” was her characteristic response. Then his father would yell at Bill for upsetting his mother. Bill’s conclusion, like so many children, was, “I am no good. I am not loveable. I can’t do anything right. Something is wrong with me!” Thomas, on the other hand, grew up with similar parents, but he didn’t see himself as a “problem” child. Instead, he thought his parents were “crazy.” As a result of his mind body connection, he stayed out in the neighborhood as long as he could, playing with other children. He hurried through dinner and rushed to his bedroom to do his homework. He made a point not to be around his parents any more than he had to.
Is it any wonder that Bill got sick several times a year because of terrible stress, which was stored in his body and mind, whereas Thomas rarely got sick because he wasn’t stressed? For reasons we do not know, Thomas was able to see things very differently and felt some control instead of taking his parents’ behaviors and attitudes personally. Bill, however, felt powerless to protect himself, so he became traumatized. The pattern of sickness for Bill and health for Thomas continued well into their adult lives and highlights this mind body connection.
Taking Control of Your Health: The Emotional Connection
The bottom line to this mind body connection is whether we perceive ourselves as powerless in a situation or as having the power to deal with the situation effectively. When we see ourselves as “at the effect of,” we are most stressed or traumatized. And that can go right into our bodies and minds and reduce our immune function; therefore, healthy mind, healthy body.
Even minor emotional stressors—if we interpret them negatively or feel powerless against them—can set off smaller psychosomatic mind and body symptoms such as colds, viruses, back pains, and allergies. Prolonged or accumulated emotional stresses often lead to more serious physical health ailments. A Johns Hopkins study reviewed data on 95,000 American children and found that nearly half experienced trauma, including physical or emotional abuse or neglect, deprivation, substance-abuse problems, or exposure to violence. Children who had two or more of such emotional experiences were twice as likely to have chronic health problems, indicative of a mind body connection.
While the good news is that mind body medicine can clear the effects of traumas—we do not have to live with them and let them make us sick—many people are puzzled about why in our relatively affluent society we still struggle to feel happy and physically well in our body and mind; especially when we are aware that a healthy mind leads to a healthy body. This has led us to ask several important questions:
+ Why don’t we often follow medical advice? (According to the American Heart Association, only 10 percent of us will maintain a heart-healthy lifestyle even though we know the measures. Also, only 5 percent of us who study meditation for stress reduction continue to practice it regularly for more than a few months.)
+ Why do visualizations, affirmations, diets, and exercise regimens often fail—even when a person is intent on making them succeed?
+ Why do physical symptoms or emotional mind and body problems seem intractable, even after years of talk therapy?
The answers to these questions lie in the hidden beliefs, unresolved traumas, and family downloads that influence our mind body connections. I think of this issue as a metaphor: first you pluck the weeds, then you plant the flowers. Just as flowers will not thrive in a garden full of weeds, so it is in our mind and body. If holistic healing tools such as visualizations, mind body medicine, or alternative treatments are to work fully and deeply, we need to pluck the weeds of traumas, stresses, negative thoughts and beliefs, and negative parental downloads that act as huge barriers to physical health and holistic healing.
Are You Being Affected by Parental and Ancestral Baggage?
What do I mean by “downloads”? All children imitate the behaviors of people around them. A dramatic example is cited in most mid-20th-century psychology textbooks. A baby, abandoned in the woods in Mexico, was raised by a wolf that had just given birth to pups. Ten years later, the girl was discovered running on all fours with a pack of wolves and making wolf sounds. Wolf-child stories like this one, though rare, illustrate what we all do: download the positives and negatives from our parents who did the same thing from their parents. This is why we cannot blame them—or ourselves—for holding thoughts or beliefs that may influence our mind body connection though not serve us. Fortunately, there are mind body medicine tools we can use to clear downloads we do not wish to keep, just as we clear unwanted programs in our computers.
As to the plethora of “weeds” we need to “pluck” in order to create and sustain the physical and emotional health that’s possible for us—a healthy body, healthy mind— I’d like to share a brief story about how widespread the unconscious “weeds” are in our culture.