A Psychological Anti-dote to Inflammation

We are living in an era and a Western culture which does not view conflict as the creative force it is meant to be.  At many levels, people are currently doing their utmost to avoid conflict – and in doing so block the emergence of emotional and social maturity.  Heraclites said that ‘war is the father of all things’ and anybody who understands this statement knows that it represents one of the most basic pieces of wisdom – for it is only challenges that provide the opportunities for the strength and fitness of our nature to emerge.  It follows that to repress or suppress conflict is to attack the very dynamic that makes for the consciousness of our power beyond measure to be realised.  However, when conflict goes unexpressed and unresolved, it does not disappear, but is transferred to the physical level, resulting in infection. 

Infection is one of the most common and most basic aspects of the disease-process within the human body.  Most of the symptoms that present themselves in acute form are inflammations of one kind or another, from colds at one end of the continuum, glandular fever, lung infections, to cholera and smallpox at the other.  Rather than individuals working through their psychological conflicts they unconsciously use the substitute of inflammations to work at their conflicts at a physical level. 

It has to be the case that the wisdom of Heraclites is not present in the significant adults who lead the social systems they people – family, classroom, school, community – and that the expression of conflict poses serious risks to psycho-social well-being.  The transfer of conflict to the physical level of inflammatory illness means that at least the conflict is being symbolically represented and attention is brought to the need to deal with the ‘inflammations’.  The illness gets the person to do things to reduce ‘the fever; and to stop focusing on other matters.  The person is likely to be prescribed antibiotics by a medical practitioner that act as the temporary and substitute means of reducing the temperature of what has made the person affected ‘hot under the collar’ or ‘got him into such a fever’ or ‘livid with rage.’  However, the body is not the place for resolving our problems, even though this is the route followed by academic and practising medicine.  Most medical professionals are preoccupied with what happens to the body and believe that resolution lies at the physical level.  The paradox is that at this level there is nothing whatsoever to resolve; there is much to resolve at the psychological level.  What is needed is the safety and the modelling by significant adults of the expression of conflict in ways that are non-threatening, but, nonetheless, call a spade a spade.  Conflict is always about the person who is experiencing it; when inner conflict is projected, it blames either individuals or social systems and will not find resolution and is likely to descend into the body.  When conflict is introjected – the person blames self – no resolution is possible and a physical representation is likely to emerge.  When conflict is authentically expressed as being about self, the person expresses directly and clearly what his blocked needs are and his determination to find ways to meet those needs, without in any way jeopardising the wellbeing of others.

When people are prone to inflammations, they might do well to consider the following questions:

  • How do I typically view conflict?
  • Do I see conflict as a creative opportunity to deepen my maturity?
  • Am I currently failing to detect some inner or outer conflict?
  • Is there somebody out there that would be honest with me about conflict that I am either failing to see, seeing, but avoiding, or projecting or introjecting?

To determine the present nature of the conflict, do note the symbolism of the affected organ or part of the body and the language used to describe the experienced symptoms.  For example, if you have a chest infection, then the question might be ‘what is it that I need to get off my chest’ or if you have a bad head cold, ‘what unresolved conflict is giving me a pain in my head, a high temperature and leaving me cold?’  The language used may also help in your detective work – for instance, a chest infection may be described as ‘feeling all caught up and blocked in my chest area’ or the head cold may be described as ‘my head is so tender to touch’ or ‘it feels like it might burst with pain’ or ‘I feel like I’m burning up.’  It is absolutely fascinating how the language to describe inflammations so accurately describes what happens when there is psychological conflict.

Whilst the body as a projection-screen does represent a creative and substitute means for a working out at a physical level and a better recognition of the repressed conflict, the solution can only ever be realised by consciousness itself.  So it is that the process of physical illness powerfully represents the symbolic working out of a particular conflict but offers great opportunities for deeper resolutions at the psychological level.  It is in this way that every illness has the potential to bring us a further step towards maturity.

Dr. Tony Humphreys practices clinical psychology and writes practical books on psychology, including The Power of ‘Negative’ Thinking. Dr. Humphreys is the Director of Certificate in Interpersonal Communication at UCC. For further details contact Margaret at 021-4642394.