In working with patients that have mixed emotional and physical issues, I have increasingly found a tendency in them to fall back on an ambiguous statement that does little to shed light on their inner emotional landscape. I see this as an obstacle statement, a statement that prevents forward progress by obfuscating with its ambiguity. They are more insidious in that they tend to be very well accepted statements about one’s state of being in the negative sense even though they convey little information. It is as though we all feel comfortable with someone saying to us that they are unwell, as long as we don’t really have to invest deeply in knowing how and why they feel unwell. This tendency to utilize an ambiguous statement becomes second nature, and people fall into the habit of avoiding a level of introspection that would provide clues to their dis-ease.
Common obstacle statements I encounter in my Chinese medicine practice are:
• I don’t know (why I don’t feel well)
• I’m tired
• I’m stressed
• I’m overwhelmed
Even common emotional complaints, such as depression and anxiety, can develop into obstacles because they are generic labels that actually manifest themselves uniquely in each person. These manifestations typically involve a complex combination of tension and/or pain along with systemic issues like respiratory, gynecological, digestive or dermatological problems.
Beneath these obstacle statements, I have found three key emotional roots that appear again and again:
I believe the reason for their prevalence is their taboo nature in our culture. Expression of these three key emotions can be repressed under countless circumstances and across a wide range of interpersonal interactions. Because of this repression, people rarely work through these emotions to experience the emotional growth they need to develop greater resiliency. Instead, people suffer in silence and the body begins to express the emotions for them in an increasingly pathological way.
At the heart of addressing these emotions, and unwinding the obstacle statement they hide behind, is the concept of permission: permission to let go, permission to move forward, permission to accept uncertainty. Once people realize that these complex conditions are actually a call for permission, the obstacle statement becomes a clear map for how to move forward. Subsequently, the repressed emotion begins to dissolve, and with it the body ceases to experience the painful burden of the tension it was manifesting.
Hence, while an obstacle statement may seem inconsequential because it is so ambiguous, their prevalence can be a key indicator of a repressed emotional state rooted in a lack of permission. Efforts to overcome it by force will be futile. It will only be by acknowledging the emotion and granting the permission that true healing can be established.