From Soul To Heal

Dr.Niamh Clune
Published on: April 2012
"Men are disturbed not by things, but the views which they take of them."
- Epictetus.

Loss of volition in childhood is a stressor that colours the way in which we emotionally learn to in-terpret intervening events.

Inwardly, intervening events are interpreted and filtered through emotional memory. A moment that contains rejection is the only thing that those inward, hurt dwellers of psyche latch onto, amidst all the other moments, containing so many other things. In a moment containing an element of abandonment, a fragmented inner self isolates and accentuates it, until once again abandonment plays the starring role. Likewise, the inner abuser latches onto a moment of outer abuse. Suddenly secure in its role, satisfied that it can feel justified in its act, it is given a script of its own. Love that momentarily entered our lives is hijacked by past specters. Although love is what is needed most, this adult child's outward behaviour pushes it away.
from soul to heal,psychology
These repressed things generate inner stress because they repress other aspects of self. They keep self-fragmented and unable to cope. Because of denial, they live unrecognised, worming away under-mind; generating emotional response; overwhelming inner reality; interacting with external reality; preventing us from participating in moments of beauty.

These are the inner stressors. Such psychological stress will have its impact on our pathology...

The term stress is a relatively new invention. In 1676, Hook's Law described a phenomenon where the presence of a "load", or physical "stress" was capable of causing a physical "strain" upon a given material. In 1962, an Austrian endocrinologist, Hans Selye, identified a consistent pattern of mind body reactions. He called this pattern the "non-specific response of the body to any demand," and borrowed the term "stress" from the physical sciences.

Having thus decided on the new term for the body's non-specific response to any demand, which Selye later referred to as "the rate of wear and tear on the body," it was necessary to create a term that described the demand, or stimulus itself. Thus the term "stressor" was invented.

A stressor describes a stimulus, which causes, or is highly associated with stress.

The concept that stress affects physical health is a relatively new idea. Much research has been conducted since the 1940's. In those early days, stress related diseases were termed "psychosomatic." These diseases were characterized by ob-servable organic tissue damage, which was caused by excessive stress. In 1968, the American Psychiatric Association officially described stress-related diseases as "psychophysiological." At the same time, neurotic disorders, which impaired sensory or motor functions but involved no actual organic tissue damage, were termed "conversion disorders" or "hysterical disorders." These are, however, two very different categories, yet they are still being confused with each other.

The term psychosomatic has always born a stigma in that it has been associated with hysteria. Psychosomatic is; therefore, often interpreted as an imagined disease. But psychosomatic disorders are real. They involve actual tissue damage and can be life threatening in some cases.

In 1980, the American Psychiatric Association revised its diagnostic definitions. Stress-related diseases were no longer called psychophysiological, but now came under the diagnostic heading of "psychological factors affecting physical disease." This greatly affected the way in which stress relat-ed diseases were regarded. Neurotic-like conversion disorders were given a broader heading and referred to as "somatoform disorders."

Hans Selye revolutionized our knowledge of the cause of disease. He realized how hormones being secreted by the various glands affected the body. During stress arousal, hormone levels are raised. This has implications for current or future health. High levels of stress hormones provide biological memories that predict the risk of disease.

Research has affirmed that disease has its roots in biological and chemical reactions. The adrenal cortex enlarges during extreme and prolonged stress, whereas other phenomenon known to be under pituitary control, diminish. This has led stress pathologists to recognise a "shift" in pituitary activity. Excessive stress coupled with unsuccessful coping strategies will often result in target organ disease and, or, dysfunction.
Target organs refer to parts of the body, which may become the somatic targets of the stress response. The Weak Organ Theory states that all of us are born with, or soon develop a weak or highly vulnerable part of the body. This is the metaphorical Achilles' heel of the body and is often genetically inherited.

Stress pathologists know that cancers are genet-ically passed on in families, as is alcoholism and arthritis, to mention but a few diseases. Psycholog-ical weaknesses and tendencies also run in families. These are the Achilles' heel of the Psyche.
When we become aroused by stress, the weak organ is attacked and bears most of the strain. The more distressed we become, the greater the strain on the weak organ, until it breaks down into a diseased state. Stress pathologists; therefore, consider that the origin, development and resultant effects of disease are due to organ overload, due to what they term, "repeated activation."

Target organ systems that can be affected by excessive stress include the neurological system, the cardiovascular system, the gastrointestinal system, the neuromuscular system, the immune system, and the respiratory system.

The neural axis, the neuroendrocrine axis, and the endocrine axis are always activated during normal physiological functioning. However, when over-stimulated, they sustain their activity at excessively high levels. This leads to stress-related disease.
The neural axis consists of the nerves of the sympathetic nervous system, (collectively called the autonomic nervous system), and the neuromuscular nervous system (the nerves to the muscles).

The neuroendrocrine axis consists of the sympathetic neural chain and its innervation of the adrenal medullae. Stimulation of this axis results in the release of the hormones epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine (noradrenalin) from the two adrenal medullae. This axis is responsible for the so-called "fight or flight" response studies by Walter Cannon in the early 1930's.

Finally, the endocrine axis consists of the anterior pituitary gland and its mechanisms such as the adrenal cortices, which release hormones such as cortisol and aldosterone. Similarly, oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone can all be altered during stress.

Thus, to emphasize the effects of stress on our pathology, whether or not stressors are consciously or unconsciously perceived, they alter neuro-physiological activity, endocrine and immunological balance, blood supply and pressure, respiration rate and pattern, and digestive processes.

Stress pathologists also state that certain personality types have a greater likelihood of contracting diseases such as Cancer, Diabetes, Heart Disease, Multiple Sclerosis and Ulcers to name but a few.

Two main types of stressors have been identified: biogenic or psychosocial. Biogenic stressors are stimulants, which cause stress via their biochemical actions on the body. These are caffeine, nicotine, amphetamines, alcohol etc. Despite addiction or preference for these substances, these can cause stress arousal and contribute to anxiety and stress-related symptoms.

Contrary to popular thinking, however, psychosocial stressors, unlike the biogenic variety, do not directly cause stress. Rather, they create the conditions for which stress responses might be activated. Stress pathologists describe how it is not the events in themselves that are stressful. Many events can be potentially stressful, but only those that are interpreted or appraised as being chal-lenging, or threatening in some way will ultimately become psychosocial stressors.

In other words, we are disturbed, not by the thing-in-itself, but by the way in which we interpret it. Many stress pathologists agree that it is not partic-ularly what happens to you that matters, but how you respond.

Sometimes we have control over how we respond. Sometimes we do not, as response is autogenic, originating from within the body itself.

There are many causes of stress. Psychosocial events occur around us every waking moment. These events will not lead to excessive stress unless one or more of them is appraised or interpret-ed as being meaningful or potentially challenging, threatening or otherwise aversive. The propensity to appraise or interpret events; therefore, is a function of an individual's previous emotional learning history, and personality traits.

When emotionally aroused, the brain employs a "transducer" : any device available to the brain which converts one form of energy into another. Thus psychological emotional appraisals are converted into symptoms that affect our physical health. This transducer is called the "limbic-hypothalmic" complex.

Most recently, Everly and Benson (1989) came up with the "Disorders of Arousal" theory. They state that if an individual suffers excessive stress (excessively chronic or excessively high in magnitude) the stress arousal centres in the brain become hypersensitive. This hypersensitivity then leads to a condition where the stress response is too easily activated. In other words, more of the same type of stress triggers an instant emotional response. Re-sponse has become autogenic. Target organs then undergo further strain. Ultimately, they breakdown or become dysfunctional.

Cardiologists Kraus and Raab (1961) developed the Hypokinetic Disease theory. They argued that stress is a normal preparatory mechanism that prepares us for physical exertion. However, stress that does not lead to physical expression is more likely to become pathogenic.<
Kenneth Pelletier, however, adopts a more holistic view of stress, taking all the above factors into consideration, but further asserting the importance of volition in coping with stressful situations. Volition is the act of exercising the personal will. It is the faculty, or capability of conscious choice. If we cannot act to change a stressful situation, because choice is taken from us, we lose volition. In the loss of volition, we sometimes even lose the will to live. The loss of volition due to prolonged unabated stress from which the individual has no respite is; therefore, considered primarily responsible for stress-related disorders.

The loss of volition, of feeling effective, useful, or having meaning for others can be one of the most insidious causes or effects of excessive stress. The loss of volition can either cause stress; or it can happen as a result of stress depending on whether the stress comes from within, or without.

When physical or psychological disorders begin to afflict us, we feel helpless and hopeless. We cannot see choices that would enable rectification. In our unconscious, we may suspect that the physical disorder is associated with our psychological or emotional state. But we are unable to initiate change. Stress weakens not only our psychological resistance, but our immunological response also. We are trapped in a vicious circle. Regaining a sense of volition is essential if we are to overcome feeling incapacitated.

The concept of individual volition is essential to holistic medicine. Genetic endowment, physical factors, unconscious responses and environmental conditions can account for much of human behaviour. However, regaining volition plays a major part in healing. Evidence shows that fifty to eighty percent of all disease is caused by stress. Stress pathologists now acknowledge that we ignore, or misinterpret psychological clues, at our peril.

Many stress pathologists now consider that the mind plays an important part in the aetiology of disease. The adaptive process in nervous and psychic disease is now part of common knowledge. Such expressions as "the work gives me a headache" or "drives me crazy" have their basis in experience. Initially, however, stress pathology owes the instigation of this idea to Freud who recognised that somatic symptoms were, indeed, symbolically meaningful
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