Your crappy relationship and your uncomfortable digestion issues are more related than you think.
Where do you seek help when you are constipated?
Or when diarrhea keeps you nailed to the toilet?
Or when the acid in your belly prevents you from enjoying a hearty meal?
After you call your doctor (or in extreme cases, an ambulance), your next call should be to a source you may not have considered — your therapist.
You might be wondering, “But my stomach hurts like hell … and I haven’t pooped in weeks! What does a therapist know about poop?”
If they have studied integrative psychotherapy, the answer is, “Plenty!”
In integrative psychotherapy, no topic, including the reality of human waste (or lack thereof) is forbidden.
The body is constantly talking, and our role as therapists is to provide you with the guidance to listen to — and trust — your gut.
Neuroscientist Michael Gershon refers to the gut as “the second brain," and the intelligence of the unconscious.
While we often spend our time honoring the brain in our skull, the one in our bellies hosts its own nervous system, the enteric nervous system. It is the home to over 30 neurotransmitters and over 90% of our serotonin, the hormone that impacts our mood.
The butterflies in your stomach while awaiting his text messages are actually the result of these two systems working together — to either increase your joy or make you sick.
Your digestive system behaves in response to your relationship issues.
I've never seen a woman in my office who experienced the betrayal of her beloved’s affair and wasn't simultaneously suffering from a stomachache.
The person who tells me that they can’t find the space in their heart to forgive leads me to ask whether their constipation is actually a sign of holding on to a pattern, thought or belief.
When someone tells me that they can’t get the picture of an ex-lover’s abandonment out of their mind, I question the connection between their ruminating thoughts and the diarrhea that plagues them every morning.
It’s NOT your fault — but you are the solution.
Now that you know better, it’s time to do better.
Here are 3 steps that you can take to address your life’s crappy chapter:
1. Eat real food.
Relationship challenges are stressful. Stress impacts both our food choices and our digestion. And when things go sour in our relationships, we typically reach for the quick buzz of “junk” — fast food, white sugar, processed snacks, and a boatload of carbs.
All of these foods contribute to physical inflammation. Anything that inflames the physical body will also impact the emotional “body." If you feel like crap before you eat that bag of Doritos, you will definitely feel worse after.
Before you place anything in the sacred space of your lush lips, ask yourself, “Is this real food?” If so, what part of my body will it nourish? Do I know the source? Am I eating it for nourishment, or from a place fear or rage? Pause after each question, and check-in with your body. Believe that you have a wealth of innate wisdom there, that will always tell you whether it is pleased with your choices.
2. Talk to your gut.
I often engage my clients in a writing exercise in which they engage in a dialogue with their physical symptoms. I ask them to imagine their physical ailment is an actual person with thoughts, feelings, and a plan.
Try it for yourself:
- Take a few moments to yourself in a quiet room.
- If you like, play some soft music in the background.
- Imagine your symptom of physical discomfort has transformed into a human being — and talk to it.
- Begin with the question, “Why are you here?"
- Allow a dialogue to emerge.
- End with the question, “What do I have to do to experience some relief?”
The answers may surprise you. And they may invite you toward real change.
3. Embrace forgiveness.
There’s a reason why forgiveness is rooted in every spiritual tradition, including 12-step practices — it is the root of healing and connection.
Forgiveness has been scientifically proven to impact our physical, emotional, and spiritual health.
If you want to really heal that belly (and ultimately your heart), then you must release all resentments — including those directed against yourself.
Accept the fact that the practice of forgiveness must be as much a part of your daily self-care as brushing your teeth and showering — your health depends on it.
Are these steps simple? Absolutely!
Are these steps easy? Absolutely not!
Do they hurt?
Yes, but not as much as the enduring pain of chronic illness … or heartbreak.
Sabrina N'Diaye, PhD (pronounced “In-Jie”), is an integrative psychotherapist, founder of the Heart Nest Wellness Center in Baltimore, Maryland, and a faculty member of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine. Her approach to healing is a blend of wisdom, science, and ancient spiritual practices. She is currently writing her first book, The Laugh of Love, based on her maternal grandmother’s ability to transcend multiple traumas and chronic illness. She is a retreat facilitator, mentor, guide, and passionate about self-care as healthcare.