Welcome to another edition of the Doctor’s Note where we talk about what’s on our minds when it comes to your health.
Most physicians I know (including myself) spend most of their day addressing the physical needs of a patient, which is good, but it is equally (if not more so) important that we ask, “How are you doing emotionally? Spiritually?”.
This week I invited Ro Elliott to come on the podcast and talk about the most interesting aspect of our wholeness, our personality. Ro is a lifelong friend and active Enneagram coach who passionately believes in the connection between our life journey and health journey.
The Enneagram is a system of personality typing that describes patterns in how people interpret the world and manage their emotions. A perfect way to dig deeper into WHY we feel and act as we do.
Let’s dive in.
Emotional Health and Trauma
We are all on a Health Journey and getting older is part of it. Increasing our health span requires attention not just to the physical, but to our mental, emotional and spiritual health as well. In the last chapter of Peter Attia’s book, Outlive: The Science and Art of Longevity, he talks about his mental health journey and how vital it was to his physical health. Note: This chapter might have been my favorite.
Stress can make you sick. Plain and simple. Stress has been linked to cardiovascular disease, depression, and even the common cold. The functional/integrative approach to stress is finding the WHY. As I have said before, your DNA loads the gun, but it’s the environment that pulls the trigger. Ro’s story is a good illustration.
As a young adult, Ro over-exercised, underate, and struggled with anorexia. Early in her marriage, she had three babies under three years. After her third child, her health plummeted. She had no idea what was happening. After many tests and prayers, it was determined that she had Lupus. Note: Lupus is a disease where your body’s immune system attacks your tissues and organs. Ro had a strong family history of autoimmune diseases. She said that when she was 30, it felt like she was 80.
Her doctors recommended steroids (alternative medicine wasn’t much of a thing back then), but after doing her own research she decided she would rather deal with the disease symptoms, than the steroid side effects. Knowing Ro didn’t want to go the steroid route, her in-laws suggested trying some vitamins and juicing, which in hindsight opened her mind and spirit to a whole new world.
The new regimen was working physically, but there was still pain inside. Deep pain that also needed healing. Ro talked about the three legged stool: body, soul, and spirit. All three have to be healthy, or you will wobble. So true! I try to always ask my patients about their spiritual life. I am a big believer in healing, prayer, and the power of HOPE.
We have all experienced trauma in our lives. There is trauma with a little “t” and Trauma with a big “T”. Either way you spell it, it’s trauma. We all have experienced it at some point in our lives. There is an emotional side to this trauma. We hold trauma inside of our bodies, and if we don’t release it, inflammation can result. Remember, inflammation is the root cause of all disease. The first step to releasing trauma is to recognize it’s there. Ro recommended a good book to read on this subject called, “The Body Keeps Score” by Bessel van der Kolk, MD. I ordered it right after the podcast!
From age 50-58, Ro took time to rediscover herself. After her fifth child left for college, her house was empty. She felt lost and alone even while surrounded by a loving husband and good friends. The stir inside led her on a journey to discover her true identity (apart from being a mom/wife). The Enneagram was her path to self-discovery.
Personality, Relationships, And Your Health
If you have ever taken one of the Enneagram tests online, you probably noticed how easy it was to see the negatives in your personality over the positives. This is because you know all too well the behaviors that no longer work for you. The Enneagram helps people move out of unhealthy behaviors and patterns by giving them a picture of how your wiring is supposed to work in community.
We each have a way of taking in information that is unique to us. It’s not the behavior that makes us different, but the WHY behind the behavior. Why do I feel, think or behave a certain way? Why do I do the things that I’m doing? What’s the motivation? Two people can do the same thing for very different reasons. Fear plays a huge role.
The Enneagram has 9 types. Each type has a core fear. That core fear is what we have been trying to not let happen to us all our lives. When we don’t feel those core fears, we develop coping skills and defense mechanisms to help us move through life. At a certain age, those coping mechanisms start to work against us. We self protect and self promote until we lose our true self.
Much of our life is spent on autopilot. We do what comes naturally, but that doesn’t mean that it’s healthy. We are asleep to ourselves. The Enneagram helps wake us up. It helps us to see our beauty, as well as our shadow side (the true and the false self). It helps bring those two things together, so we can live wholehearted. Being aware of our shadow side allows our true self to be healed.
I talk a lot about stress and its impact on your health. The stressors in our lives are often relational. The Enneagram improves the way we communicate with each other. Note: Most conflict comes from miscommunication. Everyone is looking through a different lens. The Enneagram leads to compassion for yourself and for others. This alone can improve your health. Remember that good relationships are the cornerstones of good health.
My short time with Ro ended with her sharing that she was an Enneagram Two, The Helper. Her core fears are being unloved, unwanted, and feeling worthless. How she coped with those fears was by working hard to please others. She thought that if people needed her, she would feel validated. Getting rid of this false identity gave her the freedom to be loved for who she is, not for what she’s doing for others.
After reading another one of Ro’s book recommendations, The Road Back To You by Ian Morgan and Suzanne Stabile, I discovered that I’m an Enneagram Nine, The Peacemaker. As with all of the numbers, there are strengths and weaknesses. If you know your basic personality, you can better understand yourself and others. It’s extremely insightful to come face to face with who we really are and embrace it.
As a physician, I’m more effective when I can talk to a patient with empathy and understanding of their true self, realizing their optimal health is connected to their emotional health.
I implore you to consider reading the two books mentioned above (The Body Keeps The Score and The Road Back To You), especially if you’ve had to deal with a lot of trauma in your life. I encourage you to look inward to discover your true identity and let the healing take place.
Stay educated. Stay healthy.
Till next week.