Have you ever wondered why your sinusitis, cough, or post-nasal drip just won’t go away? Psychotherapist Sandy Seeber experienced multiple sinus and lung infections with limited response to several courses of antibiotics after her husband Ron died in 2012. She attended my 2013 Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) workshop for healthcare professionals that I previously described in my Tipping Point for Tapping: EFT Goes Mainstream blog which highlighted the expanding scientific evidence base for EFT.
In the workshop, I mentioned that some diseases may have symbolic meanings related to emotional trauma and that the Chinese five elements can give us insight into that process. In this system grief can negatively impact the health of the organs associated with the metal element including the lungs and sinuses, and Sandy recognized it might accurately reflect her situation. It was an important insight as she requested an EFT session with me prior to an upcoming scheduled sinus surgery.
She had the symptoms for the entire 9 months following Ron’s death and had also experienced visitations from him in dreams. During our first coaching session I pointed out that was a common form of after-death communication and her grief started to lift. We did two EFT sessions, and her sinuses cleared rapidly with additional assistance from acupuncture. She canceled the surgery, and several months later she was able to deal with the anniversary of Ron’s death without getting sick again.
My first personal experience with my own grief-related symptoms occurred after going to watch a movie in a cold, drafty theater. I felt like I was coming down with a cold afterward, but drank hot ginger tea while taking a hot bath to sweat it out and nipped it in the bud. However, the following evening, I developed annoying post-nasal drip. The associated nagging cough kept me up for the next two nights. My initial attempts at EFT were unsuccessful, as I couldn’t find the emotional root of the problem.
Finally, feeling sleep deprived and desperate in the middle of the third night I began to do EFT on my frustration with not knowing why I had this persistent symptom. I had a flashback to the movie Shall We Dance where Richard Gere is having a midlife crisis and his daughter can see right through his façade. I realized the daughter reminded me of my own daughters who I had been seeing less since my divorce a couple years earlier. I tapped on missing my girls, and the symptoms disappeared in a few minutes.
As a radiologist, I’ve read hundreds of chest and sinus radiographs, but it wasn’t until confronted with these examples that I began to consider the story behind what I was seeing on the images as described in my Symptoms: A Choice Between Suppression and a Search for Meaning blog. In exploring the medical literature for relevant references, I came across a remarkable paper by clinical immunologist/psychiatrist Brian Broom, Symbolic Diseases and ‘MindBody’ Co-Emergence. A Challenge for Psychoneuroimmunology.
In the paper and his book Somatic Illness and the Patient’s Other Story he shares the insight that many of his patients with serious immunological illnesses actually have symbolic diseases and cites decades of prior psychosomatic research in support of this understanding. In his practice he began doing brief psychotherapy with his patients who often experienced surprising healing and got off many of their medications. He trains healthcare professionals to think symbolically through his MindBody Network.
One of his patients complained of congestion, sneezing and “cold, wet eyes” which other specialists attributed to allergy. However, Dr. Broom found no evidence of allergy and discovered that the symptoms began after the patient left his wife 10 years earlier. He expressed sadness at losing her and continued longings for the relationship despite the fact that he actually had a new partner. Psychotherapy related to these issues resulted in complete resolution of the symptoms which essentially represented “crying, without crying.”
In my practice, this symbolic approach with the Chinese five elements often provides the key to healing for patients whose immune symptoms appear quite mysterious and are labeled idiopathic in conventional medicine. I encourage my academic colleagues who are allergists, ENT specialists and pulmonologists to ask their patients if they have suffered a recent loss and to consider doing more rigorous research in this area. In Sandy’s case the surgeon was baffled by the sudden clearing of her sinuses.
The chakras are another metaphorical system where repressed shadow emotions may manifest as physical illnesses with grief impacting the fourth chakra. Inflammatory and pain conditions are often associated with fear and anger in the first and second chakras, while shame may result in third chakra imbalances such as eating disorders. If you want to address these issues, I offer free 20 minute coaching consults at www.larryburk.com.