A discussion of Dr Caroline Myss’ philosophy
Dr Caroline Myss, well-known and self-proclaimed “medical intuitive”, has a very informative theory about events experienced during one’s life and their relationship to the healing process. Although she is obviously a mystic and has beliefs (like priests who fly among the clouds to redirect military aircraft) that will be difficult for many rational practitioners to swallow, her discussion and experience about the important role of our biography in determining our biology is very persuasive and reasonable.
Dr Myss maintains that the traumatic and difficult events that all of us experience during our lifetimes, have physiological effects that express themselves as illnesses and various other maladies. The extent of the illness is directly related to the way we deal with the event. If we allow ourselves a reasonable time to deal with the pain, discomfort or other effects of the event and then put it behind us, it will have very little adverse consequences on our health. If, however, we expend a lot of energy in storing the experience, or reliving it or resenting what has happened to us, it has a certain toxic effect on our body tissues which result in a later illness or disease. In that sense we create our own disease and our biography becomes our biology.
Dr Myss is at pains to explain that it is our perception of the event that we store and not the event itself, which causes the damage. In most cases, traumatic events cause little physical or real damage as such. A malicious teacher can treat a child with unwarranted contempt and make life at school very difficult. The damage, however, is not physical and it is the later memories of the event that are retained as a permanent perception which can and often do cause physical manifestations of ill-health. The stored perception of the traumatic event serves as a drain on our healing energies and, as additional perceptions of new traumas are added, the strain on our health can become unbearable. We effectively make ourselves sick by hanging on to the toxic perceptions of past pain, humility or misfortune.
Healing can be unnattractive
The initial assumption of all practitioners is that people want to get healthy. Dr Myss questions this assumption. In her experience, she has found that most people find healing unattractive. She uses the example of therapy as a boat that takes a person across a river. The unfortunate thing is that most people do not want to get off on the other side. The reason for this is that the healed person would simultaneously have to give up the perceptions that cause the illness AND the emotional benefits and manipulative power provided by the same illness and perceptions.
Most normal people feel sorry for those who are ill. We try to comfort them and treat them with a certain amount of compassion. Without the illness, many of these same people would be relatively uninteresting and lonely. That is the reason why many doctors fail to find anything wrong with patients that visit them on a regular basis. The same patients often flit from doctor to doctor to discover imaginary ailments. Both real and imaginary diseases can be powerful emotional crutches that provide people with perceived powers that they could never achieve without their ailments. Hence their unwillingness to be healed.
Healing sometimes requires the abandonment of perceptions that have given us comfort for a long time. This can mean the abandonment of unhealthy relationships, unhealthy practices and unhealthy attachments to traumatic events. For most people, this is a really “unattractive” and scary experience.
“Woundology” as a tool towards power over others
Dr Myss uses the example of an incest victim who discusses her traumatic experience with virtual strangers within minutes after having met them, as an example of, what she calls, “woundology”. Woundology is the use of traumatic personal experiences as tools towards power, manipulation, sympathy or emotional blackmail.
Dr Myss maintains that the advent of the nuclear age had given rise to a different approach to intimacy and had resulted in a flood of manipulative relationships based on woundology. Before World War II, people in general did not discuss their personal problems and experiences very freely. After WWII, according to Dr Myss, the new openness resulted in an explosion in the language of “woundology”. It became “the official language of intimacy”. People built close relationships around it and often found their “soul mates” by sharing their wounds. Although the traumatic experiences and their associated perceptions often caused major illnesses, the relationships that resulted from them became enormous handicaps to the healing process.
Any traumatic event requires a certain amount of time to overcome the pain and/or effect of the experience. However, in the open societies in which we live, it is very easy to share our pain and innermost feelings with all and sundry. Their reaction, support and efforts to help us, can easily lead to a situation where we become dependent on the attention and its associated benefits. Before long, we enter the zone of “woundology” where we can extract almost anything from anybody by brandishing our traumatic experience. It becomes a weapon that can be produced whenever needed. The trade-off, unfortunately, is harboring a toxic perception which permeates our cells and which slowly infects us over time.
A close family friend of many years provides a good example of the “woundology” phenomenon. She and her husband were married for approximately 30 years and were very close. They were also very wealthy. During the latter part of his life, the husband became sick and required constant care, especially during the last two years of his life. His death was quite a traumatic experience to his wife. After the death of her husband, she started to complain about aches and pains. All her many friends tried their best to comfort her, visited her and carted her around to shows, restaurants and places she wanted to visit. After a few years, some of the friends, including myself, tired of her constant complaints and tried to avoid visiting her. She kept on phoning, asking for favors and, when she experienced some reluctance, reminded everybody about her constant pains and the last traumatic ten years of her life. It was a typical case of “woundology”. She now visits the doctor constantly, blames the sickness of her husband for her own medical problems and spends long periods in clinics and hospitals. She does not want to let go of the past and is also a good example of a person that finds healing unattractive.
Why some people don't heal
Good health results from the balanced interaction of our bodies, our mind and the environment. In practice, this requires that we live a healthy lifestyle, eat healthy food, live in a healthy environment and, very importantly, be at peace with ourselves. The last requirement, being at peace with oneself, is often the most difficult to achieve. Without it, healing may be impossible and practitioners will be well advised to start with the emotional condition of the sick person.
As Dr Myss explains, many of our ailments are caused by perceptions of old traumas that poison our cells. We may belong to survivor groups or support groups but these may often aggravate the problem by nurturing the “woundology” aspect of our ailments.
Healing, in the context of past traumatic experiences (our biography) requires us to let go of the experience that caused the trauma. It requires an awareness that the past event is not the problem but that our perception of it, may well be. It also requires a forgiveness of those who were either involved in or responsible for the traumatic event. The stored resentment that follows from blaming something or someone for our woes can place an effective barrier against healing. This is probably the most difficult aspect to overcome. It is easy to agree with Dr Myss that our eye-for-an-eye culture makes forgiveness nearly as traumatic as the original event.
Some people thus find it very difficult to heal because
- they experience a certain amount of personal power from their disease
- they find healing unattractive because of the emotional benefits that they would have to abandon in the event of being healed, and
- the requirement of forgiveness for real healing is something that they cannot face.
Myss, Caroline. Why People Don’t Heal. Published by Sounds True, Boulder, Colorado. 2001