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Posted: May 13, 2006

Spiritual Caregiving

7 Inner Steps to the Health You Truly Want -- Part 2: The Last 4 Steps

(Editor’s Note: Sometimes we encounter a hidden resistance to taking even small steps toward health. Use this "workshop" to help you start your journey to better health and well-being. Part 3 will follow in the next installment of Spiritual Caregiving. You can read Part 1 by clicking here. Part 1 covers the first 3 steps to health.)
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Just about everyone I've talked to wants to be healthier. Nearly everyone also knows a step they should take. Yet for many of us, taking that simple step proves remarkably difficult. Why?
 
One useful explanation I've found comes from the wonderful book A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis, M.D., Fari Amini, M.D., and Richard Lannon, M.D. These researchers explain that as infants and toddlers, we require nurturing and love to develop properly. Unfortunately, few if any of us receive this love unconditionally all the time from our parents or primary caregivers.
 
These perceived lapses of love hurt us deeply, and we react to the pain with fear. This pain/fear cycle is repeated many times, yet it is unacceptable to our caregivers for us to express this pain. Ultimately, we come to blame ourselves. At our core we take on the wound of feeling unworthy or abandoned, while developing strategies to win our parents' love and approval.
 
The good news is that these strategies allow us to survive childhood to become more or less successful adults. The bad news is that we become inauthentic as we cover our core pain and fear of being unworthy or abandoned.
 
This cover-up is our emotional predicament as humans, say the authors. Acknowledging these core fears, I have learned, can empower us to take steps toward health. I believe that working toward better health is learning to love and forgive ourselves at ever deeper levels.
 
In my day or weekend workshops, I ask people to take large risks, to dig deep and dream about what excellent health would mean for them. I then ask them to dig deeper to find out whether their ill health has its own psychological benefits. Is there a core issue to be acknowledged before progress can be made? Often, I find that people experience an “aha!” that lets them move forward.
 
I hope this 20-minute version of my workshop will prove helpful. As with a weekend workshop, my guess is that what you get from it will depend on what you're willing to risk.
 
20-Minute Workshop for Better Health
 
4 Is there a health activity or habit you would like to start?

____ Yes. (Great, proceed!)

____ No. (Please go back to question #1 and start over.)
 
How can you state this activity or habit in an easily attainable and specific manner?
 
I encourage you to move from a large, vague goal to a single action step you can take immediately. For instance, "I walk for at least 30 minutes four times a week," or "I have dessert only once or twice a week, and I eat a fresh salad and a piece of fruit daily," or "I take some quiet time every day to breathe deeply and relax my shoulders." It's okay to brainstorm several ideas, then choose one. A well-stated baby step is clear, simple and measurable, an empowering call to action.
 
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5 What's stopping you from taking that step? List all your reasons and excuses.
 
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6 What else is stopping you? What benefit, payoff, or secondary gain might you get from your lack of excellent health?

Consider Emma, a young woman who is overweight. She saw the benefits of losing weight and becoming healthier, but she was a confirmed chocoholic and sugar addict. She had many times tried and failed to give them up, until we had a long talk that can be paraphrased like this:
 
"So, Emma, what would be the risk of eating better and losing weight?" I asked.

"If I actually lost the weight, I might become too attractive."

"What's the risk of becoming too attractive?"

"Then men would keep bothering me."

"What's the risk of that?"

"I'm afraid I would be distracted from my goals."

"What's the risk of that?"

"Oh, my gosh, I'm afraid I would enjoy it, lose control, and start sleeping around."

"So, what's the risk of that?"

"I would lose all sense of self-worth and I'd feel like dying."
 
At this point Emma dropped her eyes and started rocking slightly, exhibiting what you might call a truth response -- an observable "Aha!" experience or flash of insight. It usually involves a subtle reaction, such as sighing, closing the eyes, rocking slightly, or even momentarily freezing.
Emma was coming face to face with a bottom-line risk, a core fear. She acknowledged that her extra weight protected her from promiscuity, lost self-esteem, and emotional death. She also knew that in not eating properly she risked shortening her life -- also, in effect, death.
 
She courageously chose to eat right and face her irrational fear of dying. As you might expect, not only did she live, but she started to eat better and lose weight.
 
What was Emma's secondary gain from keeping the weight on? She was using it to shield herself from men, as a sort of booby prize. It may not sound like a bargain, but it serves a psychological need.
 
What is the risk of obtaining the health you want? What might you have to face, give up, or change?
 
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Go deeper and keep asking yourself, "What would be the risk of that?" until you hit a "truth response."
 
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It may be helpful for you to illustrate this physically. With one hand outstretched, visualize holding the health you want and the baby step you have chosen. Then add your bottom line — fear of success or failure, responsibility, burnout, lack of self-worth, abandonment, death, etc. Now with your other hand, hold the answer to this question:
 
What would be the emotional risk of not achieving the health you want?
 
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Now weigh your two hands and feel your predicament.
 
7 Are you ready to face the risk, irrational though it may be, and move ahead with your activity?
 
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John Kalb, M.S., D.C., is a chiropractor and author of Steamed Greens for the Spirit (GreyWolf, 2004). He lives in Ashland, Oregon.


This article originally appeared in Spirituality & Health magazine, www.SpiritualityHealth.com. For subscriptions call 1-800-876-8202 or see www.SpiritualityHealth.com/subs. Editor Stephen Kiesling and his staff contribute weekly columns, features and articles published every Friday as "Spiritual Caregiving" at www.caregivershome.com. Contact staff directly via email at ASKspirituality@spiritualityhealth.com.

© 2006 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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