Autoimmune disease has an incredible way of taking center stage in life. While it can present great opportunities to reshape one’s approach to health, it also requires saying goodbye to certain foods, practices, and ways of being that don’t support healing. It’s easy to get stuck in the feeling of being cheated out of your old life! How much time in a given day do you spend wishing your health were different?
Do any of these examples sound close to your internal dialogue?
“I wish I…
…was more fit.
…had glowing, healthy skin and long, thick hair.
…felt more energetic, happy, hopeful and attractive.
…didn’t hurt all the time.
…was calm, organized, and motivated to meet my goals.
…was a better spouse, parent, friend.”
Many of my clients report running similar scripts in their heads day in and day out, often without even realizing it. What we focus on grows, and can create a self-perpetuating cycle. It doesn’t take long for an inner dialogue about what we wish was different to morph into feelings of self-hatred, disgust, shame, unworthiness, envy, and disappointment—especially against the backdrop of autoimmune symptoms and the lack of control that come along with them!
Self-aggression as a coping mechanism
Many of my clients are high achievers in life—they’re not afraid of a challenge. Whether running a board meeting or planning an expedition to summit a high peak, they’re planners and problem solvers. Usually, they find success in their pursuits. And when things go awry… they can be some of their own harshest critics. They blame themselves for their health (and, thus, their lives) feeling out of control due to unresolved symptoms. Oftentimes, their relationship with themselves becomes aggressive and critical: it can feel like a solution to adopt militant habits, harsh self talk, and restriction in the extreme to try and get the body to behave. It’s easy to fall into the trap that being hard on ourselves will create change.
By the time my clients get to me, they are so ready for things to be different. They tell me that frankly, they don’t have time to live like this anymore. They are ready to fiercely fight through, beat, and conquer their autoimmune disease with all the aggression you can imagine, because the lack of stability is just too much to handle anymore. It is common for people to welcome accountability with requests like, “please kick my ass and don’t let me get away with my sly ways!” We have this idea that being harsh, aggressive, and violent is how we inspire change. When we fail beating ourselves up hard enough, we think going elsewhere and finding a drill sergeant will get the job done.
Sound familiar? Here’s the hard truth, though: self-aggression never gets us where we want to be.
Looking for external solutions
Along with self-aggression, I find that many of us look for external solutions when we want things in our lives to change. We look for the resource we need—whether it be a pill, or a book, or a health coach/boot camp/drill sergeant—to reduce symptoms and get us back on our way with minimal disruption. It feels scarier and harder to look inside and ask ourselves what in our emotional landscape is contributing to the symptoms we’re experiencing.
That said, all my clients have found that tuning up their relationships with themselves has helped their healing, regardless of if they are coming to me with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, Stills Disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis, or Celiac disease (and the list continues). Yep—every. Single. One.
And the secret sauce to a relationship tune-up with self? Ah-man, I know you don’t want to hear this… Self-love. Self-acceptance. Self-trust.
We create a healthy relationship with ourselves when we slow down, hear the messages from our body, honor where we are and get honest with ourselves about what we need. Most of us have no practice with this and don’t trust it at the surface level. There’s a notion out there that if we are kind to ourselves, then we won’t follow through on our plans for improvement. But I find that when we soften to ourselves and lean into love we can unlock profound change that lasts.
The false solution of “powering through”
One client I am currently working with has been learning the power of self-love in healing in big ways. She has an autoimmune condition that affects her joints and energy.
Whereas my personal self-aggression comes in the form of blaring insults, her self-aggression is much sneakier because on the surface it looks like confidence. Here’s an example of her internal dialogue: “This disease has nothing on me—I won’t be slowed down! No one is going to look at me and see a sick woman. I’ll power through this low energy and pain. I’m not going to let anyone think I’m weak or feel sorry for me because of my condition.”
While she may have appeared capable and confident on the outside, the results of this practice were serious. Over the years, all the “powering through” and proving her toughness to the world led to a severed relationship with herself, her emotions, and her body. She was afraid of what she’d learn if she fully acknowledged her symptoms and illness, so she doubled down on avoidance and denial. She completely checked out of her relationship with herself.
Loving who you are at every stage of healing
When this client focused all her energy on ignoring, avoiding, and fighting her disease because she needed it to be different, she robbed herself of the messages her body was trying to send her. By shifting her focus to an improved relationship with herself, she can let go of the fear, worry, and grief that led her down the path of self-aggression in the first place. She spent years thinking she needed her symptoms to just go away—trying to find the magic pill or treatment that would make them disappear. This approach made her feel more drained and sick. The shift to self love, acceptance, and trust has helped her to hear the valuable messages her body is sending her.
Some of her new practices have included:
- Creating space to slow down
- Paying attention to and feeling her emotions
- Practicing vulnerability
- Making intentional diet and lifestyle choices based on the messages from her body
- Developing increased self-awareness
- Spending time journaling in the morning to consciously create her day (soul-centered self care!)
- Being mindful of her nervous system as it relates to stress and peace
- Choosing ways of being that support her values and core essence
Through these practices, she has created a kind, connected, and trusting relationship with herself. The results are profound: her body is symptom free! And it’s no coincidence that she’s also found a significant other with whom she connects deeply, now that she is finally in a healthy relationship with herself. She’s also delighted that she’s left behind the energy crashes she used to experience throughout the week. She’d say that she isn’t necessarily doing less, but by checking in with herself about what’s most important to her, every choice she makes is an empowered one that preserves rather than depletes her energy. She is consistently sleeping better and her most persistent symptom, a sore throat, is completely gone.
It’s natural to worry that if we love, trust, and surrender, then we won’t hold ourselves to higher standards of self-care and follow through, but this very shift is what allows our choices to come from a place that supports successful change and positive results.
Great news: it gets easier, and shifts can happen quickly!
One of the biggest myths I hear in support of self-aggression is that my clients “don’t have time to do the internal work and need to feel better NOW.” They perceive that to reframe their relationship with themselves will be the less efficient path forward and a waste of time. But when we loosen the death grip of self-aggression and relax the constant search for external solutions, we get to experience powerful shifts in our healing. I know it’s trite to say that you really do have the most important skills and information for healing within yourself, but it’s true! Your body is giving you data all the time about what makes it feel good, and you get to lean into that awareness and gratitude for the information.
The client I described above has reported that she feels like she has momentum now. Every choice she makes in a day she tries to ask herself: “Is this choice coming from a place of connection with what’s best for me?” Now that she has that practice well established, she is not only feeling less stress and the resulting inflammation (one of the biggest roadblocks to healing, boom!) but she is feeling more empowered every day. The same principle applies as with self-aggression, in fact—what we focus on grows.
I’ve seen clients make powerful changes by improving their internal dialogue in as little time as a few days and weeks. So what’s that again about not wanting to wait for change?
How can you show up for yourself?
Don’t get me wrong. Changes can be achieved without consciously focusing on self-love. But I’m not convinced that they’re lasting changes, and they certainly cause plenty of stress along the way! So, my question for you is this: if you were to shift to a place of self love, how would your behaviors change? If there is a big difference between the two, that’s an indication of where you get to go!