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John W. Travis, M.D. & Regina Sara Ryan
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Being In Need - Out of Balance

From our earliest years we have been rewarded for being strong, for achieving. We got attention in the form of touch, acknowledgment, and rewards for being what others defined as OK. As a result, we often assumed that our self-worth depended upon doing the right thing." Needing this attention in order to live, we set about trying to accumulate more of it, only to be disappointed and frustrated when our best attempts sometimes failed. We were often weak, unprepared, and misinformed, and we accepted that this meant that we were "not OK," or "not good enough." An interesting paradox then emerged. Some of us learned that by getting hurt, through accident or illness, we got even more attention. Perhaps we were soothed with candy and ice cream, or permitted to stay home from school while Mother brought hot soup and the TV set to our bedside. And so the pattern was reinforced. If we couldn't get sufficient attention with our achievements, we could get it by our sicknesses. The seeds planted in our childhood continued to flow as we moved through adolescence and into adulthood. They are with us today and will be as we advance to old age.

The comedian on a popular late-night talk show remarks about his eighty-two-year-old mother: "She loves her new therapy. The doctor is all the time touching her, touching her!" We laugh, knowingly, because most of us recognize how readily people use suffering to get the attention or touch they haven't gotten through other means.

You can accept this insight and resign yourself to it as "the way things are." You can criticize the hypochondriacs of the world or of your own household and resolve to steel yourself to their needs. Or you can examine your own life to see why this tendency shows itself, and you can resolve to do something about it. What would it be like to arrive at a place where you could ask for the attention, the touch, the caring you need, when you needed it? Suppose you start viewing your own illness as a need for attention or connection in some broader context of your life? Imagine the many lessons you would learn, and the growth you could achieve, if you used the experience of disease as an opportunity to reevaluate your lifestyle and environment. What answers might surface if you posed yourself the question "Why might I need this problem at this time?" Could you possibly relax enough to enjoy the rest that an illness may afford? Are you willing to honor and respect yourself in the midst of your weakness, rather than in spite of it? Can you believe that it is OK to be weak, in need, out of balance at times; that it is basically OK to be just as you are - a glorious series of contradictions?

The process of high-level wellness does not preclude an occasional bout with illness. If we view sickness as an evil to be eliminated under all circumstances and at any cost, we make death the ultimate enemy. This attitude can lead to the support of the quantity of life above its quality.

Our culture emphasizes independence and self-sufficiency, overlooking the reality of our interdependence. Many diseases actually result from the isolation and loneliness that are fostered by this mistaken view of reality. The SuperMom or Mr. Perfect, who appear to have no needs of their own, are frequently the ones who get cancer or have a heart attack without warning.

The problem with trying to give more than you receive is that the balance of give-and-take is upset - there have to be enough people willing to receive in order for people to be able to give. We can practice becoming part of the great give-and-take, practice receiving graciously rather than appearing to have no needs. These are skills that, as you acknowledge your vulnerability and interdependence as a member of our species, will weave you more strongly into the web of our shared lives and hence will enhance your wellness.

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