The curse of being a natural empath and caregiver

We often forget that the body and mind are interconnected.
Caretakers have a much higher likelihood to suffer from cancer and autoimmune diseases such as diabetes, IBS or multiple sclerosis. Simply treating the physical symptoms won’t do: repressed resentment and a yearning for a different life end up attacking our own body. This holds true for professional caregivers as well as empaths who are unable to say no and feel responsible for the happiness of others.

“When we have been prevented from learning how to say no, our bodies may end up saying it for us.” Gabor Mate

Your emotional health and response to stress impacts your physical health far more than you think. As family doctors with personal relationships are rarer, the field of psychoneuroimmunology explores just this link. This doesn’t mean that these hard to pin-down diseases are imaginary, they do have real physical explanations.
But the cause, or more like the solution, lies in our psyche.

“The first step is to recognize that you are being stressed. The most damaging stress is the hidden kind.
Recognizing your ignored needs, you have to honour them.” Mate

The three factors leading to stress are uncertainty, lack of information and loss of control (British Columbia). There is a difference between acute and chronic stress though: chronically high cortisol and adrenalin levels can destroy tissue and damage the heart.
The emotion leading to disease is (real or perceived) helplessness; the feeling of being buried alive with no way out. I found somatic experiencing to be helpful for this.
In order to self-regulate this feeling, we need to train emotional competence which requires:

  • the ability to feel and be aware of our emotions
  • the capacity to express and assert our needs and boundaries
  • to distinguish between present and past emotions from unmet childhood needs
  • the awareness of real needs that need satisfying instead of repression for the sake of others

Most of this information comes from Gabor Mate’s When The Body Says No.
Here are his 7 A’s of Healing to counteract these illnesses and grow emotional competence:

  1. Acceptance (not resignation!) of how things are and compassion for our negative thinking
  2. Awareness of our emotional reality and our signs of stress
  3. Anger (no more repressing “negative” feelings, they are healing!)
  4. Autonomy with perceived control and respected boundaries
  5. Attachment to the world and allowing ourselves to seek vulnerable connection
  6. Assertion of our true selves
  7. Affirmation of our creative self and the universe at large

We do not need to give up our tendency to help others, but we do have to start helping ourselves. I have found this book a godsend to understand my body and needs at a time when both were completely foreign to me, and I hope this summary helps you too.

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