Want a Stronger Immune System? Start with Self Love

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self-kindness
Photo by Bart LaRue on Unsplash

By Mayumi Elk Eagle, AMFT, APCC

Do you know what to do when you feel uncomfortable or even despaired? If you struggle with indecision, it may come from your childhood.

The U.S. is an individualistic society where children “are encouraged to compete with each other to feel pride in their individual achievements” (Newman and Newman, 2009, p. 69) overtly and covertly. In contrast, there are collectivist societies, where children “are praised for behaviors that evidence responsibility for others” (Newman and Newman, 2009, p. 69).

Does this mean that children in individualistic societies like in the U.S. are not affected by other people? The answer is no. As your brain develops, it is shaped by interactions with your caregivers and other people around you. “Self and community are fundamentally interrelated” and “(T)he ‘me’ discovers meaning and happiness by joining and belonging to a ‘we’” (Siegel and Brayson, 2011, p. 122).

However, when your home was not a place where you felt happiness and love, your home became “a source of fear and emotional dysregulation” (Cozolino, p.231). If your caregivers didn’t validate your emotions and you didn’t feel understood even before you started speaking your language, as an adult, you likely depend on someone or something to soothe you when you face difficulties (Maté, 2010). These parenting styles and behaviors may be passed on from one generation to the next generation (Maté, 2010).

It’s never too late to unlearn what was passed onto you. Despite how you grew up and wherever you grew up, you can learn how to be kind to yourself. You can start learning how to regulate your emotions by interacting with your therapist. “We are hard-wired to be collaborative. When we are integrated interpersonally, we become integrated internally” (Siegel, 2012, p.34-6).

The good news for doing this is that “(A)cross the life span, relationships are an important source of vitality and they promote health in mind and body (Siegel, 2012, p.34-5). Also, “(E)mpathetic relationships help the immune system function well” (Siegel, 2012, p.34-5). Learning how to have a healthy relationship with yourself and other people promotes your overall health. It is not a quick solution, but the reward is enormous.


References

Cozolino, L. (2006). The neuroscience of Human Relationships. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company.

Maté, G. (2010). In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. Berkley, CA: North Atlantic Books.

Newman, B. M. & Newman, P. R. (2009). Development Through Life. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

Siegel, D. J. (2012). Pocket Guide to Interpersonal neurobiology. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company

Siegel, D. J. & Bryson, T. P. (2011). The Whole-Brain Child. New York, NY: Bantam Books.

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