, Newburyport, MA


September 20, 2013

Emotional openness is crucial

Today’s article focuses on a discovery important to anyone who wants to stay healthy and live long and well: If we deny and avoid our emotional pain, we run the risk of living small and becoming physically ill.

The basis of this discovery is the research showing that our mind and the body are not two separate things — they are an interdependent unit. What we think and feel shows up in our body, and what goes on in our body shows up in what we think and feel.

This fact has been known to the medical psychology and behavioral medicine communities for some time. But unfortunately, the relationship between our psychology and our health and well-being remains unknown to many.

Research has shown that people who cannot or will not allow themselves to experience and express their emotional pain tend to be at increased risk for anxiety and depression and for serious illnesses, such as heart disease, diabetes and some forms of cancer.

We have trouble feeling our pain and expressing it to others because most of us feel a loss of self-esteem in doing so. Many of us have bought into false notions about what it means to be a healthy, attractive and strong person. The fictional idealization of the “hero” looms large in our society. Its basic premise is that negative feelings and pain are a sign of weakness. And that keeping a “stiff upper lip” and “toughing it out” are signs of maturity, character and strength.

This is nonsense. Nature seems to be arguing that nothing could be further from the truth. The idealized hero fiction can be dangerous if we take it too seriously. Optimal levels of health and real strength and character demand that we be able to be where we actually are. It takes a lot of courage, as well as friendship and generosity toward ourselves, to be with the truth of what we are feeling.

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