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For some time I've been talking about the way we can use physical pains, issues or conditions to identify things that need to be healed within us on an emotional level. I've been using an imaginary example to explain a series of exercises you can try for yourself, but over the last week a real life situation came up for me - it's quite a simple one which you might relate to, and it illustrates how easily the process can be used in everyday life.
After suffering with Perennial Rhinitis since childhood, a while ago I was amazed to find I no longer needed to take antihistamines every day. Even when the local fields were filled with sweet yellow rapeseed - usually the worst time for my allergies - I was breathing clearly and didn't need medication. But last week my eyes and nose suddenly started to itch like crazy. I could have just put it down to 'hayfever' and treated the symptoms, but I decided to use the methods I've been talking about to investigate what else might be going on. After decades of studying spiritual and self-help texts, I know that what's going on in the outer conditions of my life is a direct reflection of what's going on inside, and that dealing with the root cause of an issue is the way to ease my suffering, so it was the logical thing to do.
As much as I'd love to always feel calm, and to not get triggered by silly things, I'm human and I realise it's an essential part of the experience. If you're familiar with the process I use, you'll know that the first step is to identify how you feel about the physical condition or symptom. In this case it was easy - itchy eyes and nose make me feel incredibly irritated and overwhelmed. When these symptoms appeared last week I didn't have to look far for other areas in my life where I felt the same way.
On the morning the symptoms became quite severe, the kids had been squabbling and shouting at one another before I got out of the shower. Between yelling at one another, they were both asking me to referee their disagreement. I had already been feeling anxious because my sister was in hospital. A smashed glass in her kitchen had severed her artery requiring stitches and an overnight stay. Then, as the kids were arguing, my daughter also knocked a glass off the counter, sending it crashing to the ground in pieces. I rushed downstairs to clean it up and to stop the kids arguing (still not dressed) and then my mother started texting me. On top of this, the dog was barking to be let into the kitchen to see what all the fuss was about. My nose started running and I wanted to scratch my eyes out. I felt irritated and completely overwhelmed. I can laugh about it now, but I'm sure many of you will relate to this and it didn't feel very funny at the time!
In her messages, mum was asking me to sort something out for her, as I have done many times before. I don't normally mind helping her, but at that precise moment with everything else going on and lots of my own things still to do, I didn't feel very helpful. My poor husband picked a bad time to ask my opinion on a decision he had to make. I was abrupt. He didn't deserve my curt response and he gave a snarky comment in return. Enough was enough. I had to figure out what was really going on, and why I was being so reactive. Author and Spiritual Teacher Gabby Bernstein says that "true healing occurs when I give myself permission to feel whatever feelings live below the triggers."
Feeling below the triggers, I realised this wasn't an isolated incident. The truth is that I have felt the same way many times before. I have always been someone who sorts things out for others. I make decisions, and find solutions. In fact, my "pre-kids" career was all about problem solving and decision making, and I can recall numerous times over the years when people joked about my mother and I having reversed roles, because I frequently solve her problems. I have done it for lots of others - often when I didn't have the energy or time to do it. As a child and as a parent, I think this is a common theme for many of us and it can show up in lots of different ways on an emotional and physical level.
Behind the irritation I recognised the need to step back and set more effective boundaries. If I wanted to feel unburdened and free of irritation, I'd need to change my 'way of being' around the issues of 'fixing' things for others. I also saw that by doing things for them, I've prevented the people I love from being empowered to deal with things, or to trust their own abilities. This is true for my kids and some of the adults in my life.
I spoke to my mother. I helped her with the part she genuinely needed help with, then I encouraged her to sort the rest out herself. I explained I had a lot on and didn't take ownership of her problem. I decided I didn't need to worry about my sister - she would be fine and I'd send (distance) healing to her later. I assured my husband that he makes good decisions and he didn't need my approval for this one. And I tried not to intervene with the children too much - they'll typically be laughing and having fun together before I'm over the irritation of dealing with their arguments.
Over the next day or so I started saying no to other things. I let people do things for themselves, with a few suggestions here and there so they didn't feel abandoned. I started to feel much better in myself and the physical symptoms eased too. I made time for a relaxing treatment from one friend and a cup of tea with another. I walked the dog in a peaceful place with my phone set to silent. I can still feel a tiny bit of inflammation in my nose and eyes, but it's nothing like it was, despite the 'pollen count' being just as high. In fact, if I wasn't really thinking about it I probably wouldn't notice it at all.
I know that changing the way I relate with my family will be an ongoing thing - you can't change habits built up over years in a single day, especially when they relate to others. While preparing this post, my mother sent a message asking me to do something she could do herself. I had to reiterate the reasons I don't want to take that on and to assure her that she can do it. I see that it's going to take time for the expectations of others to be reset and even when you have explained the whys and hows, people don't always want to hear you.
The breakthrough in all this is that I see how my energy has been drained by not setting clear boundaries and taking on too much of other people's "stuff" both energetically (a very common problem for empathic people) and in my actions. Rather than just taking antihistamine and continuing to feel irritated, this was a valuable exercise in understanding my own feelings, and doing something to bring a greater sense of peace to myself and empowerment to others - even if there's an adjustment period.
If you have been following recent posts, you will see that this situation has all the elements of a 'breakthrough' and that it can lead to real and lasting change. Have you tried the exercises yet? If not, you might be surprised at what you uncover!