Remember being sick as a kid? If your experience was like mine, you got all of Mom’s attention. Her concern was obvious as she fluffed the pillows for comfort, checked your temperature, and gave you medicine to easy your symptoms. After tubing your cheek tenderly she left you to rest. She stayed near b. Even left you that bell to ring if you needed something. You drifted off to sleep knowing she was there for you.
If what you just read does not describe your experience, please accept my genuine compassion for the lack that was yours. I hope that as an adult you are replacing those lacks with adult Core experiences, self-care that you have learned, and a support network of safe and caring friends. I know it was hard for you to not have that growing up. I am sorry that you began life without what you deserved.
An Early Relational Identity
The way your mother took care of you in times of illness set a pattern over time. From that pattern you anticipated how Mom would respond to your physical discomfort. The feelings she stirred in you, whether positive or negative, were the basis for coding the memory of being ill as a child.
So it became automatic that if you felt sick, your Relational “sickness self” came forward. That identity had other features added to it over time. As a middle schooler, when Mom thought you were old enough to take care of yourself and didn’t respond as she had in the past, you threw a fit. Words of color from her was not enough. You wanted her full attention and hands-on care. But Mom knew that she did not need to reassure you as she had when you were a toddler. Her words should have been enough.
The years passed. Now you are a married adult. Mom is no longer there. Your spouse is. Woe to your spouse at those times when you get sick. Your Relational “sickness self” wants your spouse’s full attention. However, your spouse didn’t see you when you were ill as a child. What a surprise for him or her when your expectations don’t match your usual adult behavior. You can imagine a number of possible directions that will follow if the desired attention is not given.
Core self takes a back seat to the “sickness self.” How you and your spouse handles illness may not have come up in premarital counseling. Even with all the patience and love your spouse can muster, this Relational part of you can seem inconsolable. Think of how overwhelming this might be for your spouse and your relationship.
Breaking Free of the “Sickness Self”
Awareness of the “sickness self” by Core mindfulness is required to overcome the unrealistic expectation. Remember that the association to how you wanted to be cared for as a child is laid down in the memory system of your limbic (emotional) brain. All reason can go out the window and the past governs your behavior. Your “sickness self” feels totally justified to act as you do. Your Core being knows that in the present moment of illness that you are an adult, not a child. Yes, you can within reason realize that your spouse and others will want to reassure and comfort you. That need is valid and can be handled in an adult manner.
A Personal Example
Recently, I have been having trouble managing my type two diabetes. Sure, I could claim the Holidays tempted me with quite the spread of delicious foods, desserts, and sweets. My Core self knows that good self-care is important to stay in control of my bloods glucose levels to maintain my health, but…
Two Relational selves push my Core identity into the background and limit my executive functioning and to make healthy choices and are both implicated at times o illness.
The first one drives my precious wife to distraction. Knowing I am struggling, she lovingly comments on my food choices or reminds me to take my medicine. To me, it is experienced as if she waved a red cape in front of a charging bull. Loving suggestions are perceived by one of my Relational selves as criticism.
First is a Relational self that exists from childhood into my early adult years that heard criticism from people who really did not know me. That criticism put my Core being on the defensive feeling my autonomy was threatened.. The messages I heard were that I was being foolish, dumb, careless, etc. True, often in my attempt to learn, I took risks and made mistakes.
The adults in my world thought they could protect me from making mistakes. In reality they were protecting themselves lest my mistakes reflected poorly on them. Parents, teachers, extended family, and even some peers had invested their social welfare in me and how I acted. With them, I dare not talk back; I was being rebellious and disrespectful in their minds. Now when my wife wanting to be helpful, makes her suggestions, I bite her head off. Some of you know Terry and how joyful she is in her Core being. It is obvious even to me. But the power of that Relational self, who thinks it still has to protect my Core, can be so hurtful, even though unnecessary now.
The Intervention — It has taken accountability to friends in the present to call me to account for my treatment of her. Secondly, I stop and intentionally do deep breathing which is ore effective then counting to ten. Thirdly, I become mindful which has made me aware of automatic thoughts and feelings. As the automatic thoughts and feelings present, I recognize hem for what they are, I let them go of them like a helium balloon and let them go where balloons go. I also turn them over to Christ. This has begun to change my limbic reflex that wrongly spills out onto my lovely wife. The fourth thing I intentionally do is to express gratitude. These four intentional actions coming from my Core being has begun to replace that obnoxious behavior with loving responses.
The second Relational self that comes forward in times of illness and stress actually comes forward because of one’s physical state. These responses are the result of a significant par of the limbic brain called the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus serves an important role in the mind and body. What it does is to maintain homeostasis, keeping a constant physical state of balance or after a period of illness or stress, returning the body to a “normal” or healthy state.
The hypothalamus regulates activity of the pituitary, controlling body temperature, thirst, hunger, and other homeostatic systems, and also is involved in sleep and emotional activity. his regulatory function from the limbic brain is our Creator’s design to keep us healthy. The after effects of stress are handled to return the body back to the healthy baseline.
If the physical body is not in a healthy state, the emotions bring up the up memories associated to feeling out of control. That out-of-control feeling can trigger emotional memories of times in life when you felt that way in your relational life. In his we see the intricacies of how the brain works. The brain is an organ that is complex and involved in many aspects of life as we encounter it. David’s words in Psalm 139 (NASB) come into focus and bring me to the awe that David express there.
“For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother’s womb.
I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth…”
The Intervention for the Body’s Sake — Ain one of the most basic needs is calming. doing deep breathing for 5 to 10 minutes helps your body to relax. In so doing, the body’s immune system can work more effectively and homeostasis can be restore as the illness is dealt with according to the Creator’s design. Other forms of relaxation and meditation further help calm the limbic system to be more effective in restoration to health. Healing imagery is also a powerful intervention.
Scripture tells us of Jesus Christ, the Great Physician in many passages. These are some of them.
- Psalm 103:3 (NLT) He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases.
- Isaiah 53:5 (NIV) …by his wounds we are healed.
- 3 John 1:2 (ESV) Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul.
- 1 Peter 2:24 (ESV) He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.
- Psalm 107:19-21 they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction. Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man!
With that truth in mind, picture the Lord Jesus ministering to your mind, body, and soul. He touches your fevered forehead and I cools. His touch was often all that was needed for many to become whole.
His nature is light which surrounds you and soothes the hurting and sick parts of you. His word is a healing water that flows over and through you. This imagery is not doing something “new age-y.” His design was that intentional focus on healing images changes the limbic brain from defensive fighting of disease to a faith response that trusts Christ for restored health. James made it a priority of the church to pray for the health and welfare of fellow believers.
This has been too long. Think on these things. In faith, apply one or more of these ideas. hat was what it took for me to finally experience healthy control of my diabetes.