Redefining Mental Suffering

When most people think about mental illness, they look directly to the area of the brain.  While this may be intuitive, the problem is that the brain is only the tip of the iceberg of where the mental suffering is coming from.  Treating only the mind is analogous to only attending to the smoke without putting out the fire.  The brain alone is not where the core etiology of mental suffering is located.

The reality is that over one’s lifetime, the mind builds up so many subconscious defense mechanisms that it becomes difficult to go beyond the mind and into the being (body) of the person where the true healing begins.

Let’s take heartbreak for example.  Everyone has had their heart broken before and the sensations that one experiences throughout the area of the heart may be perceived as unpleasant.  In order to avoid this unfamiliar sensation again, the mind devises a thinking strategy that may go something like “I will remain strong and never experience this feeling again.”  While this may appear to work in the short term, in the long run, it ends up not working because although the person may be able to carry on with many additional relationships, the ability to feel begins to diminish.  The mind is now locked in a thinking pattern that instructs us to never feel that heartbreak again.

So how do we begin to heal the problem?  It is all too easy to attribute these problems to genetics or chemical imbalance or diet problems.  While it is true that modifying the chemicals in our brain will have a physiologic effect, the root of the problem is never addressed and that is the fear of feeling.  While the fear of feeling heartache may have been conscious the first time to occurs, it has now become complete subconscious.   The healing can only begin when the person begins to allow themselves to feel once again.  The benefits are two-fold.  The first is that by bringing awareness back to the region of the heart, the subconscious fear of feeling again begins to mitigate.  The second benefit is that it begins to break the lifetime buildup of cyclical thought processes that instruct us not to feel again.

Another example is holding on to thoughts of anger or guilt.  Our body cannot tell the difference between a real external threat versus an internal thought based threat unless we are conscious of the difference.  If a person goes to war and witnesses and experiences atrocities, it is true that there are real external threats present at the time of the war.  However, it is when the person returns home that the war is stored as thoughts in the mind and even in a quiet room,  the person remains in a state of a threat as if they were still in battle.  They have carried the war home in their mind. 

The body begins to react to these persistent thoughts also known as flashbacks, which keeps the body in a state of known as fight or flight.  The entire body is under a state of alert with heightened adrenaline and sympathetic overload.  This is both a hormonal and nervous system response to a true emergency.

Again, the only way to truly begin to heal is to not treat the mind with chemical pills, but rather to allow the person to begin to let go of these thoughts. This can be accomplished only after the person becomes conscious that holding onto and reacting to thoughts of anger will only bring about their own further suffering.  Each time a disturbing thought of war arises, again they may begin to bring attention to the area of their body that is reacting to this thought thereby removing the subconscious fear of feeling again and breaking the repetitive thinking process that the body is continuing to react to as if there was a real threat.

As one can see, mental suffering is not just of the mind.  For true healing to occur, the subconscious fears must be brought to light and the person must allow themselves to bring awareness to the body once again. 

“Feeling is healing”