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Stress and Illness: A Bioenergetic View
Part Three

[presented by Dr. Rae Baum, Ph.D.]


(Source: Alexander Lowen, M.D.,Stress and Illness: A Bioenergetic View. Copyright 1980 Monograph, with permission of the author.)

     In most cases of CHD the closing down of a coronary artery is due to spasm which is often superimposed upon arteriosclerotic or hardened arteries.  Only recently have doctors become aware of the important role that spasm plays in heart attacks.  Arterial spasm is a function of the adrenergic or sympathetic nervous system which is activated by cold, stress or strong emotion.  Reich identified the sympathetic nervous system with anxiety while its opposite number, the parasympathetic system, is identified with pleasure.  The latter system dilates arteries.  The picture is fairly clear.  Coronary spasm results from an anxiety attack in the heart.  The anxiety or pain arises from a deep-seated sense of being trapped.   Finally we must recognize that spasm is the muscle's response to shock.
     The above ideas grew out of my observation of several men whom I knew well who had heart attacks.  Two of the cases were instructive.  These were men whose first marriages ended in divorce and who remarried shortly afterward.  The new relationship developed, however, after the divorce.  The first marriage had been unsatisfactory and they had gotten out.  But the second proved equally unsatisfactory and both men felt trapped.  One of them made an effort to change his life, to realize more pleasure and fulfillment but just as this effort might have come to some fruition, he had a heart attack and gave it up.  Not one of these men was prepared to face the fact of being trapped or to deal openly and directly with his feelings.
     The best protection against heart attacks is love.  The heart that loves is free and joyful.  But for the love to be fully effective as a prevention it has to be expressed physically.  The most intense physical expression of love is the sexual orgasm.  In the full orgasm the heart is released from its cage since the boundaries of the self are eliminated.  The ecstasy of the orgasm is tied to this great sense of freedom.  After a good orgasm one feels his heart to be light and joyful.  All the tension surrounding it seems to have disappeared.  One feels rejuvenated, one's heart is young again. Such an orgasm is only possible if one is free to love fully.
     Arthritis is another illness that can only be understood as a reaction to stress.  This statement is based on the facts that no germ has been implicated as the etiological agent and that cortisone, an anti-stress medication, is effective in treating the symptoms.  Cortisone acts by suppressing the inflammatory process in the joints which Selye sees as a maladaptation, an over-reaction of the body to "comparatively innocuous injuries."  (Selye, Hans, The Stress of Life, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1956, p.165.)
     Over-reaction by the body to "comparatively innocuous injuries" is seen in allergies.  Anyone who has suffered from hay fever knows how violently the body can react to a minor irritant which pollen is.  But pollen is only the precipitating cause whose action is similar to the match that lights the fuse.  The explosive substance is the predisposing cause.   In the case of hay fever this is the hypersensitivity of the tissues which is due to the continuing stress they are under.  That stress is caused by the suppression of crying which occurred because of shock.  A parent's angry tones ordering a child to stop crying can come as a shock to the organism.  This shock will lead to a conflict between the need to cry and the fear of crying.  If this conflict is active at the time pollen is in the air, the tissues will become sensitized to it.  But to understand the hay fever reaction we must see it as an attempt to discharge the underlying tension and not as a simple response to the irritant.  As long as the conflict is alive pollen will be able to set off the hay fever reaction.  Antihistamines prevent the hay fever reaction by drying out the mucous membranes and so de-activating the conflict by deadening the tissues.
     People overreact constantly to any situation which recalls a previous trauma or conflict.  This is constantly seen in bioenergetic therapy.  The best example is the person's reaction to any pressure on the tense muscles surrounding the genital organs.  Many patients jump almost out of their skins when this is done.  They react with shock out of fear of being injured there.  This fear is their castration anxiety which they developed in the Oedipal period when they felt that they were threatened with castration for competing sexually with the parent of the same sex.  That early experience came as a real shock to the organism and caused the withdrawal of sexual feeling or energy from the pelvis.  (See my new book, The Fear of Life, for a full discussion of castration anxiety.)  Some energy returns after the shock subsides but it is tentative and rigorously controlled.  Any unexpected move that I make with my fingers while working in that area often produces a shock-like reaction in the patient.  Obviously it recalls the earlier experience and evokes the same response.  Similarly a child who has been bitten by a dog can become hysterical at the approach of a strange dog.
     The weakness in Selye's understanding of arthritis is that he fails to appreciate the power of emotional factors in producing distress and disease.  The experiments of Harold G. Wolfe and his associates at New York Hospital have clearly demonstrated that simply discussing emotionally painful subjects with patients produces an exacerbation of their difficulties.  The following is an example: "Where persons both normotensive and hypertensive were subjected to interviews arousing personal conflicts with conscious or unconscious anxiety and resentment there occurred in association with the elevated arterial pressure shortening of the clotting time and sedimentation rate and an increase in blood viscosity."  (Wolfe, Harold G., Stress and Disease, Charles C. Thomas, Springfield, Ill., 1953, p.86.)  This kind of response to stress was found in most other sensitive organ systems.  Thus, in a patient with an exposed colon, an increased vascularity, motility and fragility of the mucosa was noted when a discussion about his sister-in-law activated feelings of hostility, resentment and guilt.
     These two examples from Wolfe's study show the immediate distressful effect of emotional conflict.  But the question that few investigators can answer clearly is: Why does one person react to stress with arthritis while another develops ulcerative colitis?  They are agreed that organ vulnerability is determined by early life experiences which create patterns of behavior in dealing with stress.  What, then, is the pattern of behavior that predisposes an individual to arthritis?  Let us examine the arthritic problem bioenergetically.   To continue...

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