Words are important. And the words a therapist, doctor, or healer use with their clients or patients are especially important.
It seems obvious but most of us are sometimes sloppy, don’t think about how our words may be perceived, and we may even be – knowingly or unknowingly – intellectually dishonest.
This came up for me when I asked a top level energy healer about my chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and specifically a crash following over-exertion (PEM).
His reply was “the tiredness has emotional causes”.
I am very open to work on any emotional issues that may maintain the CFS and prevent healing. After all, the body is a seamless whole, CFS is a complex and chronic condition without a single known cause or remedy, and working on any part of my system and environment can support my body in healing. Emotional issues are already on top of my list of things to address, along with strengthening my energy system, diet, and aiming to live in a warmer and dryer climate.
And yet, his reply seems a bit careless.
First, CFS isn’t just or even primarily about “tiredness”. The symptoms are typically a combination of fatigue, brain fog, digestive problems, sleep problems, post-exertion worsening (PEM), temperature dysregulation, and much more. To reduce it to “tiredness” makes it sound like it’s just a worse or more lasting form of regular tiredness which is far from reality.
Second, CFS has several known non-emotional factors. For instance, it often follows an infection like mononucleosis (as in my case). The Epstein-Barr virus seems to play a role. The tendency to crash following exertion (PEM) is a core symptom and isn’t related to emotions in any obvious way. Diet is an important factor in stabilizing the condition and perhaps the healing. Nutrients the same. And climate often plays a big role for people with CFS. (I get worse in cold and wet climates and sometimes remarkably much better in warm and dry climates.)
Emotional issues definitely plays a role in well-being and in reducing stress (which can support the body in stabilizing and perhaps even healing itself). It may even be one of several factors in the onset and maintenance of the illness – although we don’t know enough about that yet.
But to say that “the tiredness has emotional causes” reveals a lack of understanding of CFS and a lack of humility when faces with a complex and relatively poorly understood illness.
Also, there is a difference between factors that cause, maintain, and support healing from an illness. Sometimes, these are different from each other. And especially when it comes to chronic, complex, and poorly understood conditions, some or all of the healing factors may be different from the initial causes and even the maintaining factors.
It may be the healer had a sense or intuition that it can help me to address some emotional issues and that’s my sense too. If he had that sense and still expressed it as “the tiredness has emotional causes”, then it seems he made a big, unnecessary, and potentially misleading assumption.
If I took what he said seriously and literally, as some would, it would close the door to other approaches. Including approaches that may be equally or more important in supporting my system in its healing process.
For several reasons, it would have been much better for him to say “it may help your system to work on emotional issues – try it and see what happens”. It would be closer to his reality. It would be more intellectually honest. It wouldn’t conflate causes, maintaining factors, and healing factors. And it would support the client – in this case me – to follow his pointer while also staying more open to other possibilities.
In summary: I see there is a grain of truth in what he said and working on emotional issues is already on top of my priorities. (I have been working on it for a while.) And yet, I see his response as careless, potentially misleading, and even intellectually dishonest.
In the worst case, it can close the door on addressing other factors that can support the healing as much or more.
Setting all of this aside, which emotional issues are on my to-do list? I am especially interested in working on any possible issues that may have stressed my system at the onset of the illness when I was fifteen, any fears of staying sick, and even any fears of being healthy and fully involved in the world again.
- The difference between causes of illness and what helps it turn around
- importance of words in communication (!) – seems obvious but most of us are sometimes sloppy, don’t think about how it may be perceived, and even intellectually dishonest
- example from my own life
- “the tiredness has emotional causes” – about the CFS and specifically a PEM situation (crash)
- am very open to work on any emotional issues that may maintain the CFS and prevent healing – after all, the body is a seamless whole
- complex illness, some known non-emotional factors
- conflate cause with what may support health
- may close the door to other angles
- prefer to keep a more open mind, take a more multi-angle approach
As mentioned above, working on emotional issues is one of many factors that can help stabilize the illness and even support healing. At the very least, it can reduce chronic or acute stress which can free up resources for the system to stabilize or begin to heal itself.
I have written about this before, and it seems pretty obvious, but the topic does still come up in my life. In my case, I have tried a large number of approaches to support my system in healing from chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).
Right now, my focus is on strengthening my energy system and also working on any emotional issues that may impact my health or may help my health turn around. After all, we know that our system is a seamless whole so it makes sense to work on whatever I am able to, and energizing and resolving emotional issues is helpful no matter what.
There is a big difference to say that my health situation is mostly or all caused (or maintained) by emotional issues. We don’t know, although we do know that there are clear biological factors involved in CFS. Even if my health should turn around after working on emotional issues, that doesn’t mean that emotional issues caused or maintained the illness. (Although it may be one of several contributing factors.)
I am working with a healer that keeps insisting, very strongly, that it’s all caused by emotional issues. That the “tiredness has emotional causes” even if a big part of the diagnosis process is to separate those with genuine CFS from those who have tiredness from emotional causes. (CFS is mostly characterized by post-exertion fatigue, not conventional tiredness or emotionally related tiredness.)
What about the mononucleosis (Epstein-Barr) that initially triggered the CFS, and what about the pneumonia that worsened it dramatically? What about the food intolerances? What about the chronically activated flight/fight/freeze system that researchers seem to think has a biological cause? What about the very specific symptoms and the timeline that fits – point for point – what many others with CFS describe? (And doesn’t fit emotional tiredness.)
How can you know it’s all emotional? How can you know for certain? Especially when it comes to something as complex as our health? Yes, my priority is to work on emotional issues that may impact my health anyway. And it may even be the key to turn my health around for all I know. I’ll keep working on it and see what happens.
But from there to say it’s all emotional seems to be an overstatement and jumping to conclusions. It seems intellectually dishonest. It seems to close doors that it makes more sense to keep open. I prefer to keep a lighter touch and to keep the different possibilities open.