Thursday, February 25, 2016

Symptoms & Behavior

Ok, so what goes through my mind when I'm waking up this morning? I was thinking about a patient who has been having some problems lately, and her problems led me to think about many similar patients' problems, problems that are somewhat particular to a homeopath's concerns.

Patients come in with various problems, like migraines, menstrual pain, rashes, and even more serious conditions like rheumatoid arthritis or heart disease. When a homeopath takes a case, he or she is trying to determine in what way the person's system is "misregulating" itself. The  we want to find the remedy that would cause symptoms of such a misregulation in a healthy test subject. This is laid out in my main website, as well as all the homeopathic references going back to Hahnemann's Organon. To that end the practitioner considers a host of data points such as temperature responsiveness, appetite, sleep patterns, and of course specific symptoms. He also consider behaviors that give clues to the system's--the person's--imbalance.

Most of us are accustomed to thinking of behavior as a thing we control all the time. Someone who displays "bad" behaviors, such as dependency, meddling, lust, or impatience, for example, we tend to think of as a normal person with a "bad personality" or a flaw of character. In short, we view the physical body's manifestations of imbalance as natural and only partly controllable, while we view behavior as under the person's control.

There's a lot of evidence that strongly suggests that a lot of human behavior isn't under our direct control. A complex interplay of neurological impulses, hormonal fluctuations, and reflexive responses to environmental stimuli directly affects our behaviors. I would argue that there are two ways to view the behaviors patients display in the clinic, and report on during the case. (Sometimes, it's a spouse or parent who reports adverse behaviors, much to the indignation of the patient!)

The first way to appreciate behavior is as the native and evolving personality of the person. The second way to appreciate behavior is as a reaction the system has to stressors in the environment. In the first case, consider that the best things we are consist of a mix of positive, adaptive impulses that contribute to the survival of the person and her potential for contributing to the social welfare of all. In the second case, consider that our problem behaviors are a mix of those things we need to work on and can change, and behaviors that are reflexive responses to stressors in our environment. This says that some of the "bad" stuff we do is really just bad stuff that we have the capacity to change and some is stuff out of our direct control (or control of it is so difficult that we are only partially successful at doing so).

As an example, consider a person who is ardent and passionate about justice. Perhaps she becomes a lawyer and argues causes for the poor or other unjustly treated. She's a bit abrasive, but that's understandable, given that she's working under difficult circumstances and probably sees a lot of injustice. Maybe she drinks a bit too much at the end of the day, to ease her mind. For the homeopath, the love of justice is not something we want to change--after all, isn't justice what we all want for the world? The abrasiveness and drinking? Let's consider the latter first. She can control her drinking, and indeed maybe she does to the extent that she's overconsuming, but it's not directly affecting her work. It is affecting her health. It raises her risk for breast cancer, accidents, and other problems. The former, the abrasiveness, is something she'd like to control, but it gets away from her, and she snaps at co-workers, and is described by friends and family as "difficult" and "combative." She may consider this something she'd like to dial down, but also as something that makes her tough.

This case could be described by the picture of the remedy Causticum: passionate, tough, "hard", and strongly affected by perception of injustice and harm to others. These sound like they are sort of "good" things, until one sees them harden to passion beyond reason, toughness to the point of inflexibility, hardness that infuses every fiber of the system (typically, stiffening of tendons and ligaments), and being affected by things in the environment so much that the person becomes a kind of "walking open sore", subject to experience every slight as great pain. Isn't this something we'd like to relieve?

Patients are often surprised at their behavior changes. Frequently a patient reports that their spouse sent them back "for more of those little pills, because I'm acting like a..." well, you get the idea! We aren't really accustomed to thinking of who we are in the world as perhaps a maladaptive behavior that arises without our control. This is the mind-body separateness that is the culture we have been given, an outlook that regular, technological medicine reinforces.

When patients come in to see me for a rash or headaches or high blood pressure, I'm interested in that, and getting those problems to go away is a goal. What they are often not used to thinking of is that their behaviors may also be expressions of those more physical symptoms, rather than separate, untreatable issues. In homeopathic medicine, much behavior is a reaction to stressors, but it's abnormal behavior. Our lawyer: we want her to be tough, but not so tough she's inflexible. The drinking? It's an example of a behavior that may be a volitional act. That is, she drinks because it works to relieve her stress. Here, if the remedy is working, her reaction to stress can change and she may be less inclined to drink--but, she also has to be willing to engage in consuming less alcohol or abstain altogether. In this behavior, the strength of the adaptive parts of the personality can help her change, while the remedy addresses the internal stress response that leads to a tendency to be over-stressed.

In this example, the native personality is not only something we don't want to change. The over-reaction to the world's injustices and bad stuff is the imbalance we do want to change. And the drinking as an act of self-medication is a secondary behavior that we do want to change, and will be easier to change with the right support (homeopathic and motivational), and will ultimately help her to be the person she wants to be: acting positively in the world and as healthy as she can be.

In short: behavior is part of who we are and is a neuroendrocrine reaction to the world. When that latter "reaction" is pathological, that's what we need to fix, and should improve with the right remedy.

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