We often don’t realize how much our emotions affect our health. Repressed anger or rage, for example, can cause long term health issues. Corticosteroids build up in the blood, and often blood pressure is elevated. Muscles remain tight and we get used to it over time while we develop aches and pains or worse. Stress can also cause a multitude of health issues, especially in a world impacted by COVID-19 with more and more people facing mental health issues.
Rather than deal with those emotions we often “absorb them” into our soul. But eventually it becomes like trying to keep the lid down on a pressure cooker – it takes more and more effort over time to “keep a lid on things”. When the internal pressure becomes too much, we might have a nervous breakdown or react in a way that surprises those around us as well as ourselves. Whenever we have “skeletons in our personal closet” they tend to haunt us over time. All of this adds to up to what I would simply call the “toxic waste of the soul”. Such “toxic waste” is merciless over time, and takes its toll on the human soul. Facing our personal pain and getting rid of this “toxic waste” might not be easy but there are long term rewards. At the risk of over-simplifying, think about the simple household chore of taking out the kitchen waste.
Removing Kitchen Waste: Simple Wisdom
Most people have a garbage receptacle in their kitchen, often underneath the kitchen sink. Everyone knows that as food scraps and such are deposited into the garbage, it will eventually start to smell. Most people that I know will soon take the garbage out, preferably before the smell becomes intolerable. Logically, there are other solutions to this all too common problem. You could apply a powerful deodorant to the garbage so that you wouldn’t smell it—I have even seen commercials where some chemical is sprayed in a room and the room is suddenly amazingly fresh with no more foul odors or stale air. Or, to really fix the problem, you could get a nose spray or a nasal operation to destroy your sense of smell.
We would all probably laugh at those “solutions,” for any sane person knows that it is best to just remove the garbage before it starts to smell. While few analogies are perfect, in this case taking psychiatric drugs is not much different from the kitchen garbage problem when you consider the toxic waste of the soul as one’s inner garbage. Taking psychiatric drugs covers up and suppresses the toxic waste in one’s soul—lies, shame, fear, woundedness, guilt, anger, rage, and so forth. Like being unable to smell the garbage, you can’t feel your pain any more — as if your soul has been anaesthetized. While the drugs offer some help and relief, their goal is symptom management.
Body, Mind and Soul: Deeply Interconnected
PsychoNeuroImmunology (PNI) and psychosomatic medicine demonstrate the ‘mind-body’ or ‘body-mind-soul’ connections. Such medical research affirms more and more how our attitudes and emotions can greatly impact our health and well-being. Lewis and Lewis, in their classic book published in 1972, Psychosomatics: How Your Emotions Can Damage Your Health, compiled a considerable amount of medical research and case histories showing the connection between body and mind. The authors state the basic premise of psychosomatic medicine, that every emotion you feel is a physical event. When you experience a strong emotional reaction, like facing an accusation or your favorite player scores the winning goal at the last possible moment, hormones and other chemicals are produced and your body chemistry is changed. The stronger the emotional reaction, the more your body chemistry is changed. The authors note how emotions can alter your endocrine balance, your blood supply and blood pressure, inhibit your digestion, impact your breathing and even change the temperature of your skin. It is the sustained state of emotional disruption that can lead to disease.
The authors, both medical doctors, wrote about hyperthyroidism caused by an overactive thyroid gland that releases too much thyroxin typically from an overactive pituitary gland often caused by traumatic or strongly emotional and disturbing events or even relationships. They cite a study that identified 94 percent of 200 cases of hyperthyroidism involving ‘psychic trauma’, while another study similarly revealed 85 percent of 3343 cases but 61 percent of those cases had long term or chronic emotional disturbances such as worry, disappointment, or even grief (pages 34-42). The authors refer to a Harvard surgeon who concluded that “psychotherapy is the most effective treatment for hyperthyroidism, better than surgery, radioactive iodine and antithyroid drugs that treat only the thyroid gland and not the real emotional causes which untreated can possibly ‘go on to produce … some other bodily disturbance’.” (page 37). Thus, transforming and healing prayer as the ‘psychotherapy’ could be profoundly effective for hyperthyroidism by releasing the person from the painful emotional effects that ‘supercharge’ the pituitary gland.
Sternberg, in her book published in 2000, The Balance Within: The Science Connecting Health and Emotions, shows how stress can have a major impact on one’s health. If stress is prolonged and uncontrolled such that the body continues to manufacture hormones and chemicals (which initially helped to mobilize you) from nerves and glands, then those same hormones and chemicals in your body will debilitate you and typically impair your immune system (pages 111-122). An accumulation of cortisol such that there is an imbalance in one’s body shuts down the immune cell response. In fact, she wrote, ‘chronic stress can shut down the reproductive hormones in men and women’. Incredibly, research has also shown that ‘a memory of a stressful event can turn on the stress response almost as much as the original event itself’. This means that painful recurring memories, for example, could impact one’s health more than often appreciated. Obviously, the solution to the above health concerns could involve decisions and priorities in life as well as transforming prayer to restore peace into one’s soul. Medication to manage hormonal levels, though of some help, would not be the real solution since it fails to address the underlying cause.
Lewis and Lewis (page 84) wrote how physical symptoms are not always constantly related to the same emotional or relational cause. Psychosomatic medicine has recognized ‘psychosomatic shifts’ where psychosomatic symptoms can move from one body system to another – like from migraines, to peptic ulcer, to a heart condition. Beneath psychosomatic shifts are forgotten, rarely discerned, ‘unconscious’ or perhaps repressed emotions. A person who believes that ‘good Christians never get angry’ or even a hint of tears is ‘being weak’ will then have emotions and their unresolved issues plus pain stuck in their soul. While a person may try to forget pain or issues from the past, the body will not. While feelings may go underground, they often surface later in physical effects.
Psychosomatic medicine would support the theory that a personality profile might often be matched to a corresponding physical illness. You might think of this as the “acid test” of psychosomatics. Lewis and Lewis cite (pages 71-72) a study involving Dr. Ring who had his colleagues refer 400 patients to him, all of whom suffered from any of ‘asthma, backache, coronary occlusion, degenerative arthritis, diabetes, dysmenorrhea, glaucoma, hypertension, hyperthyroidism, migraine, neurodermatitis, peptic ulcer, rheumatoid arthritis and ulcerative colitis’. Dr. Ring was only allowed to interview the patients for 15 to 25 minutes solely to determine their personality — even the patient’s body was fully covered during the interview. Incredibly, based on personality information alone, he detected 100 percent of the hyperthyroid cases, 83 percent of those with peptic ulcer and rheumatoid arthritis, 71 percent with coronary occlusion and from 60 to 67 percent for those with asthma, diabetes, hypertension and ulcerative colitis.
While the mind, with its beliefs and emotions, can affect our body, sometimes the reverse is true and this must not be forgotten. Lewis and Lewis (page 12) note how depressive psychosis is sometimes caused by cancer of the pancreas. Or pellagra, caused by a lack of niacin, can cause psychosis, hallucinations and delusions which disappear once niacin is added to the diet. An abscess in the brain can cause depression, anxiety, or vague headache. Cushing’s disease, characterized by an enlarged pituitary gland which may have a tumor, causes an excess of adrencorticotrophic hormone (ACTH) which stimulates the adrenal glands and can cause clinical depression. These examples, and there are many more, demonstrate the dynamic connection between body, mind and soul.
Proverbs teaches that cheerfulness, laughter and mirth effect one’s well-being and health. ‘A cheerful look brings joy to the heart and good news gives health to the bones’ (Prov. 15:30). ‘A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones’ (Prov. 17:22). Scientific research concerning mirth and laughter brings a fuller appreciation for this apparently simple teaching from Proverbs. Hostetler (“Humor, Spirituality and Well-Being, JASA, 2002, 54(2), pg. 109) summarized results from one research laboratory, confirmed by others wherein some plasma immunoglobulins increase in response to mirthful laughter thereby strengthening the immune system in general. The rise in the percentage of natural killer cell activity and an increase in the body’s level of T-cells in response to laughter also strengthen the immune system. His research also shows how laughter increases the production of enkephalins and betaendorhpins. Laughter is, in fact, good medicine and that is no joke. While negative attitudes and situations can diminish health, we see here that positive attitudes and situations can bring healing and maintain health.
Psychosomatics in the Old Testament?
PNI and psychosmatics are not entirely foreign to Bible. An example from Ezekiel illustrates the basic premise of psychosomatic medicine where an emotion is translated into a physical event. The news of impending judgment upon Israel, with all the accompanying fear and trauma, meant that ‘Every heart will melt and every hand go limp; every spirit will become faint and every knee become as weak as water’ (Ezek. 21:7). Likewise, Habakkuk’s heart pounded, lips quivered, bones felt weak and his legs trembled upon hearing of God’s impending judgment (Hab. 3:16). The wife of Phinehas, who was pregnant and near the time of delivery, immediately went into labor when she heard that her husband and father-in-law were dead and Philistines had captured the ark (1 Sam. 4:19-20). The terrible news caused strong emotions that in turn affected her body such that it induced labor pains and delivery. It seems the emotion of deep despair (1 Sam. 4:20) was so strong that she died during delivery. Similarly, when King Belshazzar saw a human hand appear and write upon the wall, his face turned pale and he became so frightened that his knees knocked together and his legs gave way (Dan. 5:6). Later, he became even more frightened and his face grew yet more pale (Dan. 5:9).
The Scriptures admonish us not to harbor bitterness towards other people (Eph. 4:31; Heb. 12:15), but rather, to be forgiving. Maybe it should not surprise us, then, that just having a bitter thought can actually change a person’s blood chemistry.
The implications of the above from medical research and the Scriptures show that transforming and healing prayer has great relevance and strategic importance for one’s health and well being. Taking to heart the Scriptures and being open to the ministry of transforming and healing prayer could well mean fewer or no years spent in a nursing home later in life. While emotional and relational issues are not always involved in many of today’s illnesses, especially the chronic ones, they often are. There is a dynamic connection between spirituality and health. Avoid or remove toxic waste in your soul – a most worthy and rewarding goal in life.
Audio Message With Three Testimonies
Some years ago I gave a message at a conference in the UK on the topic of the mind-body-soul connection. The message develops this important topic further and ends with three personal testimonies on the ministry of transforming and healing prayer. The link to the audio message appears below. The testimonies start at 22:11 in this just over 29 minutes message. Enjoy!