IntrospectionBy Dr. John Gannage, MD
Dr. Jan Scholten, medical doctor and author of “Homeopathy and the Elements”, writes that the term psychosomatism is obsolete, not because the term is inaccurate or unfounded, but because all disease has a psychosomatic component, or represents an interaction between psyche (mind) and soma (body). Dr. David Hawkins, medical doctor and author of “Power vs. Force”, writes that the underlying cause of hypertension is anger, suppressed and expressed, and that a disease process is evidence that “something is amiss in the mind”. Dr. Daniel Goleman, psychologist and author of “Emotional Intelligence”, writes that perturbing emotions double the risk of disease – including asthma, arthritis, headaches and heart disease. Medical science has documented that a psychological trauma precedes in close temporal proximity the onset of autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. A burgeoning field in medical circles is psychoneuroimmunology, an attempt by reductionist science to gain perspective on the influence of mind over body.
And finally, it has become the opinion of many that the most important risk factor for death from heart attack is not high cholesterol, as patent medicine might have us believe, but difficult-to-measure, challenging-to-treat stress. Where does all this lead us? For those interested in overcoming chronic disease, or achieving optimal wellness, the suggestion is to not discount the power of introspection as a major part of a holistic, comprehensive approach.
Introspection can be defined as “observation or examination of one’s own mental and emotional state” (Webster’s College Dictionary). It is a prerequisite to managing emotions, or stress, since one cannot manage that which one hasn’t any knowledge of. Self-awareness, according to Goleman, leads one to have good psychological health and an awareness of boundaries, with a positive outlook on life. It means to recognize an emotion as it happens. It assumes authenticity. It is based in truth – the truth of oneself.
Handling feelings in an appropriate manner follows self-awareness as part of so-called stress management, which then allows for empathy towards the feelings of others, coined the ultimate “people skill” by Goleman. The end result is non-toxic relationships and social competence, with the entire process starting with introspection. Can this step-wise progression be important medically? When one considers that unchecked emotions, including anxiety and anger, chronically unmanaged can lead to high blood pressure and immune system dysfunction, then the cost of lack of introspection is obvious from this limited analysis. The additional cost of toxic relationships is less measurable directly, but becomes obvious to any clinician who takes the time to include a social history (beyond tobacco use) during patient assessment, or to any social worker providing care for victims of abuse.
A challenge occurs with guarded patients, the emotionally “tone-deaf”, who may deny stress as a factor in their lives at present or any other time, and the so-called “alexithymics” at the extreme of this spectrum. These people do not know what their feelings are, but they do have them. They tend to feel emotional distress as physical complaints, often seeking medical diagnosis and treatment in a frustratingly futile fashion. From the blood pressure perspective, these are some of the folks that, despite 3 different medications for hypertension, still can’t have their blood pressures measured in the normal range. They, as with all of us, would do well to go through the process of self-awareness of emotions – the triggers, their personal response patterns, their individual symptoms – and to manage the emotions constructively – with distraction, active exercise, relaxation strategies. Can the healing arts offer anything? My advice would be to complement care with homeopathy. To understand why, one needs to look at the philosophy of classical homeopathy.
Understanding first classical homeopathy treatment, the single remedy acts as a catalyst for improving self-awareness. It opens the avenues to introspection for the individual. The remedy, a substance in potent form, accelerates the process of authenticity – regarding one’s self, one’s situation, one’s relationships, one’s place within humankind, etcetera. According to Jeremy Sherr, renowned homeopath and teacher, classical homeopathy is all about the truth, and the correct remedy serves to potentiate an individual to a higher level of understanding, or consciousness – to experience greater truth. What follows is the natural state of things, including wellness. Or if you prefer, as it says in the Bible, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”
In another aspect of homeopathy, during the process of finding a remedy, it is the task of the homeopath to see the truth of the individual that the patient himself may not be in touch with. The interview is therapeutic for many, if one is insightful enough to see the pattern streaming through his or her life story, related to the persistent erroneous manner in which one relates himself to others and the world. Some call it the “core delusion” – it represents a false belief, and here again we see the reference to truth. The value of the process to the aforementioned alexithymics is based on the premise that the human organism is very much a holographic entity – existing on the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual planes simultaneously. (Indeed, homeopaths knew long ago “psychoneuroimmunology” to be a truism.) A classical homeopath will recognize that the core disturbance can express itself on any or all of these planes, as told through the patient interview. Even those patients without knowledge of emotions, or lacking insight, can inadvertently point the practitioner to the remedy with symptoms expressed on other planes, as the intelligent organism attempts to dispel the disturbance any way possible. Symptoms speak, and the thematic story they tell, when understood holistically, illustrates a remedy picture. For a superficial example, the core disturbance that causes anger in some may express itself in others, as we’ve mentioned previously, as high blood pressure (or chronic diarrhea or inflamed tissues). Rage may manifest simultaneously as a tendency to hemorrhage, as in “blood boiling”, or copious discharges. Anxiety may show up in dreams or specific heart rhythm disturbances. Taking the detailed characteristics of the symptoms can be very valuable, and after application of the correct remedy, the patient can gain insight into the previously unbeknownst territory of his or her own anger or anxiety.
Introspection can indeed be a powerful tool in the arsenal against chronic illness. In treatment-resistant diseases, where medications or herbs are not achieving success, taking a closer look at one’s emotions and response to stress is invaluable. Applying relaxation strategies should be part of any disease management protocol. Prevention can be premised upon, besides healthy eating, healthy self-awareness. Homeopathy can potentiate the process of deeper introspection. The hope is that “Know thyself”, as Socrates directed, can help lead to “Heal thyself”.
Dr. Gannage practices Integrative Medicine in Markham, Ontario