14th Jan 2016 | Article
The Language Of Symptoms
Symptoms are signposts. They are messages from the unconscious – an invitation to listen to what the unconscious is trying to communicate. A bit like dreams, they are an ingenious way of getting our attention – if we listen, the rewards can be great, if we don’t they will “up” the volume until we do!
Symptoms take many forms – from aches, anxiety and arguments to addictions – from self-doubt, dissatisfaction and depression to dis-ease – from impatience, impotence and insomnia to illness.
But what are they trying to communicate? This will be as individual as your fingerprints and the patterning within you. Yet at the same time, they may express something universal, human, “archetypal” – just as we are all born, have parents, exist in a human body and go through feelings and experiences. But the configuration will be unique to you.
Sometimes the body becomes the safe storage space for feelings and aspects of ourselves that had to go into hiding at some point in our lives. For example, if something traumatic happens, it may simply be too much to process at the time, to the experience is shut away. Or, if the environment was simply not open, not understanding, not accepting – perhaps critical, dismissive or neglectful – if the emotional climate was too much or not enough – natural needs, feelings, even characteristics are kept frozen in the unconscious, often deep in the body, waiting until the chance comes to let them be safely seen, so they can thaw and flow.
Sometimes they first come to light when something in the present reminds us of what happened. A pattern repeats, the feelings start resonating and sending out signals – mental, emotional or physical – asking to be recognized – so they can be worked through and resolved, so that life can flow again.
So, we can see that over-riding symptoms or trying to get rid of them is not what they are asking of us, even if that were possible. Feelings of shame can keep symptoms in place, but there is no shame, no blame in safely bringing to light what has been hidden. Rather, it is honourable and intelligent to see the opportunity in the problem.
If we learn to pay attention to symptoms, to explore and really hear and understand them, something profound starts to happen. This can take time, it is a process and it can be complicated. It often helps to do it with another – for example, in therapy. But if we begin, one step at a time, life can transform.
ROSANNE HOOPER, BA(Hons), UKCP reg., Dip AIP. Rosanne is an experienced integrative and humanistic psychotherapist who works with clients on a long or short term basis. She has been in practice for over fifteen years.