Personal Healing of Personal History
When we over-medicate and refuse to look at the immediate past history and interpersonal relationships, we miss wonderful opportunities for healing of mind, body, emotions, spirit, and relationships. The critical importance of correct diagnosis must not be overlooked.
“Where am I? What am I doing here? What is this place? I don’t remember anything. My mind is a blank. Everything looks so cloudy, misty, like its snowing. But I’m indoors! What’s going on? My mouth is so dry. My tongue sticks to my mouth. I can’t talk plain. The words won’t come out. Who is that, they look so weird, like a zombie. Why can’t I walk straight? I’m so dizzy and weak.”
Thought and physical processes can be vastly altered by medication. The “patient’s focus” changes dramatically as the patient is urged to accept a diagnosis of mental illness, rather than assistance in resolving conflicts.
Religious concerns are a valid part of patient history, and when evident, the client must be offered spiritual counseling. In fact, as family, friends, and fellow believers, we may not realize our own contribution to the person’s distress, as we ourselves, in our concern and confusion, “chalk up” the experience to mental illness and distance ourselves from it all.
Hildegard Peplau tells of the many times that patients became well overnight prior to the advent of today’s medication. The combination of “one to one” staffing, providing food and fluids, and the nurse’s use of specific techniques to help the patient identify the source of anxiety and new possibilities was effective. The patient’s condition was so much improved, that the senior physician staff frequently reprimanded the junior physicians for admitting the patient in the first place.
We must not substitute medication for listening, food, fluids, rest, and whole health counseling in the treatment of what appears to be mental illness. When these measures are inadequate, however, the judicious use of medication can be a great benefit in helping the person get the food, fluids, rest, and counseling that are needed in regaining emotional and physical health.
Others as Factors in Illness and Health
The way others treat us when we are in stressful situations, right here and now in the present time, affects our abilities to cope right here and now in the present time. Especially important are the ways that people who mean a lot to us (significant others) react to us. When we are in distress, do they look at us and listen carefully when we speak? Do they give verbal indications that they understand what we are trying to say?
“Steady, Sweetheart, I’m in this with you. I can’t get to a 3 o’clock appointment, but I can meet you at the principal’s office at 4:30 that day. Call her to see if she can see us then.”
If we aren’t getting this kind of supportive listening, we can ask for it. We can say,
“It really helps me if you look at me when I’m talking to you.” Or, “I need to know if you understand what I mean, tell me what you understand so far.”
When we try to get someone’s attention or help, and they seem not to notice or hear us, how do we feel? Angry and blaming? Oh, maybe not. We’re told that isn’t nice. So, maybe we’ll be civil, but cold, and not risk feeling hurt again. But, it becomes uncomfortable, being “cold” so much of the time.
“Well! After all, they ought to know!”
Really? Do they automatically know what we need and want? Without us telling them? Or, could they have been so absorbed in their own projects that they really didn’t hear? Or would they have lost an hour’s worth of data if they had stopped at that moment? It helps to question our assumptions about what others ought to know or do.
On the other hand, when we seek help or attention from others, and the other person looks up, smiles broadly, says,
“Hi, I’ll be with you as soon as I can,”
we feel differently than we do when they seem to ignore us. We feel good if they are quick and orderly in finishing the task, rather than dallying around and goofing off while we are waiting. I have helped people with the latter behavior by reporting it to the owner or supervisor. If you want to be nicer, and are not too irritated, you can say quietly,
“Did you know that you appear to be dallying around, instead of tending to your job? I’m sure your boss will notice soon if you do not change the way you act.”
The way others react to their own stress affects the way we respond to them, too. When we realize that people do have other stressors that affect their behavior, we will not be so quick to assume that they are just “difficult people” or that they “have it in for me.” We can be less irritated with them and kinder to them.
Personal Family History
E. Mark Cummings and Patrick Davies, in their “Children and Marital Conflict,” describe the impact of marital conflict on children. They indicate that it is important for the children to see constructive ways of resolving conflict between their parents.
“I was furious! I knew if I would ‘light into him’ it would do no good. But I really wanted him to give my point of view a hearing. After dinner, I said, ‘I believe that you are trying to be fair.’ Well, I thought he was probably trying. I was trying to keep an even voice. I said, ‘I need to tell you that this means a great deal to me. I think it is just a small matter to you. I didn’t have a chance to talk to you about it before you made your decision. I want us to talk about it. I want you to take time to re-consider before you take action.’ And he really listened. I think that is the first time he ever really heard what I have to say about something! We did get it worked out… Now can you believe this?! Last time I visited my daughter and her husband?…She was saying the same things to him!
Family of origin patterns and events affect all our other relationships. Of course, such obvious features as race, color, height, and beauty are also part of our personal history.
Traumatic experiences, regardless of your age at the time of the experience, require immediate attention. Often, the trauma will affect you and the way you function in your relationships in later years. And again, the experience will need attention in order for healing to be completed. Minimizing, or ignoring, the experience in the beginning is like putting a band-aid on a deep, puncture wound. It will fester and eventually break open, poisoning internal emotions and/or external relationships.
As therapists and counselors we must be willing to listen to client’s personal history and, when appropriate, share our own story.
In pursuing his research on “Stages of Faith,” Dr. James Fowler used a “journey of faith” method; he listened to the teller’s story. My husband and I met Dr. Fowler in Atlanta several years ago to express our appreciation for his work. He asked each of us to tell our story in the hour we had together and, in turn, told us his story. To be listened to, in itself, is therapeutic. And where our stories connected, we connected as sojourners “together.””
“Society” and Self
Much of our American society is largely rootless, or has root rot. Our “What’s in it for me?/What’s the bottom line?” attitude of selfish, short-term goals has spread from the economic branch of our society to most of the other branches, and has infected the main trunk as well, “the main trunk” being the family system of our society.
Whether speaking of the branches of the Savings and Loan industry, or of the hostile effects of the welfare system on the family system, we see much that needs to be improved.
Society’s root rot includes the wide-spread personal and corporate habit of “using” people, including the use and misuse of family members, in the climb up the ladder of success.
Another of the our problems with “society” is that our vision is blurred in the same ways that the values of our society are distorted. Unfortunately, some studies show that groups lower on the status ladder of society, generally receive poorer service from the professions. Society’s bias requires our constant vigilance to reduce and prevent discrimination in giving and receiving services.
Television has become the major transmitter of society values, but instead of transmitting the higher values, it has tended to reflect the more sensational lack of values. “Homeward Bound,” a 1994 television special, traced this phenomena by examining the family through the eyes of the motion camera from the 1930’s through the 1980’s. As the deterioration of values was documented, this conclusion was made: “When we let the children down, we let the family down. And when we let the family down, we let society down.”
A notable omission in the documentary was the Walt Disney Films. They made a concerted effort, not only to be entertaining for the entire family, but to enrich our lives with uplifting values in many of their films.
To to cope with personal history in a traumatic society we need strong spiritual “underpinnings” and philosophy of life. They are the roots to our tree of life. We’ll look further into spirituality in the next blog.