Healing the Heart: Emily’s Story
Research published by the American Medical Association indicates 90% of all disease is stress-related. The mind, body, emotions and spirit intricately affect each other. When we heal the emotional or spiritual root of dis-ease, pain and other physical symptoms can ease up, and sometimes they vanish completely. That is a really exciting part of my work! I’ll show you what I mean in the following story. You’ll understand how psychotherapy can accelerate healing, and is an adjunct to traditional medicine.
Emily suffered from constant chest pain that was so severe she had difficulty breathing. The pain persisted for weeks and was getting worse, even with prescribed medication. Her doctor suspected an emotional root to the pain, and referred Emily to me.
When I asked Emily to tell me about her life, she talked about the impact of the church on her childhood conditioning, and about the angst in her marriage. She was raised in a strict Catholic family and attended Catholic schools. Being a good girl had become her greatest concern because that’s how she received love from her family. She was sure something awful would happen if she did or said anything that opposed her mother, her father, God or her husband. She stuffed many of her thoughts and feelings.
Although Emily was good at suppressing her real self, she felt like she was dying inside. She wanted to cry and laugh, and to share what she really thought, but she was afraid she would be rejected by those she loved most. She asked, “How can I possibly show up as my real self? I’m afraid my husband won’t love me any more.”
Emily’s emotional and spiritual heart ached from this internal conflict. I suspected this was the root of her physical heart pain as well. When I shared this hypothesis with her, she began to consider that the pain in her chest was related to the way she suppressed her emotions. The only way she felt loved was by putting on the mask of the good girl, and that did not allow any authentic expression or any fulfilling connection with her husband. Thus began our journey to find productive ways for her to manage her conflicts.
In the beginning of our counseling, Emily could feel her emotions only a little bit. She was afraid of telling the whole truth and feeling the whole truth. When she resisted feeling her emotions, the chest pain grew stronger. As the counseling progressed, Emily gained the skills and courage to feel her emotions instead of hiding behind the mask of the good girl. She allowed herself to feel the longing to be her Authentic Self. She felt the pain of missing emotional intimacy with her husband. She realized that her lack of authentic communication prevented her from connecting with him in a deep way. I helped her face her fear that he might leave if he really knew her. She was sure God and her parents wouldn’t love her if she didn’t match the standards of the church. She confronted her childhood decision to not love herself just the way she was.
What gave Emily the courage to tell the truth and fully show up? She committed fully to her healing process. She shifted her perspective of a condemning God to a compassionate, unconditionally loving God. She opened to receive this deep love, and strengthened her faith in a way that worked for her. She chose to stop judging herself harshly, and as we built a trusting relationship, she received the unconditional love that flowed through me as well. With deep breathing processes and other psychotherapy methods, Emily’s emotional and physical body began to relax and unwind. Every time we did the emotional healing processes, her pain totally subsided.
After a while, Emily mustered the courage to invite her husband to our counseling sessions. Feeling stronger and safer now, she told him about the emotional and spiritual anguish that caused her physical pain. He wanted to learn about her journey. He examined his judgments of her, and realized that he judged himself harshly at times, too. He realized that he was afraid to feel his own emotions, just like Emily had been. He wanted to be fully present also, connect with his Authentic Self, and support Emily to heal. He wanted to know and love Emily more completely than ever before.
It only took a few more sessions for them to fly on their own. I taught them communication skills and conflict management skills so they could share intimacy on every single level: emotional, mental, spiritual and physical. With every meeting Emily felt safer to fully show up, especially now that her husband eagerly embraced the skills to cultivate a nurturing garden for her to grow, and for their marriage to flourish. Emily’s heart pain never returned.
(The client’s name was changed to protect her confidentiality.)
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Author: Benita A. Esposito, MA, Licensed Professional Counselor
Copyright. The Esposito Institute, Inc. 2011
When you have the courage to reveal who you are, wherever you are, that is true freedom. ~Benita A. Esposito, MA