One of the primary mindset shifts in true healing involves understanding the difference between symptom expression and symptom suppression. In this blog we’re going to explore three main points: What is the purpose of symptoms? What’s the difference between suppression and expression? How do we begin healing through symptom expression?
Reminder: your body is designed with nature in mind. It has perfectly created systems to keep you in balance and is always evolving to meet the demands of the environments you are in. Your body is always adapting, responding, and doing exactly what it needs to do. Most importantly: your body is on your side. It’s not broken, it's trying to save you.
What is the purpose of symptoms?
Symptoms do two main things:
They help your body create homeostasis (balance) and
They act as messengers between the conscious and subconscious mind (which is your body).
When things happen in our environment there is a shift in our internal state and we move out of homeostasis. We breath in smoke, we step into a cold lake, we consume bad sushi, we work beyond our limits. The body has feedback loops of all kinds that take in this information and create a response in order to bring the body back to balance. When we work with those responses (or those symptoms), we nurture the body in finding balance.
External stimuli -> internal shift -> body responds -> symptom expression -> balance
Cut your finger -> tissue breaks -> platelets clot, cytokines signal, immune response activates -> we experience inflammation -> the cut heals
+30*C heat -> body gets hot -> body taps into internal water reserves -> we sweat, get lightheaded, thirsty and skin turns red -> we cool down
Your computer crashes -> amygdala identifies threat -> muscles tense, heart rate increases, blood flow moves to the limbs, hyper-focus -> you express panic -> you find calmness to take a rational next step
While symptoms promote balance, they also invite awareness. When your muscles ache and you feel exhausted, your body is signalling rest. When your mouth is dry and you have a headache, you drink water. When tears fall from your eyes, you know you’re sad and need compassionate care. When symptom expression begins, we can encourage that process, ignore that process, or suppress it.
What is suppression?
Suppression is anything that blocks the expression of symptoms and therefore stores them deeper in the body, for example:
Controlling or over-rationalizing emotions
Having your basic needs denied/ignoring your own needs
Not having the space to self-express
Not having the safety/support to work through past trauma
Allopathic treatment (any “anti-“ treatments)
When suppression is the primary response to symptoms, the natural healing responses of the body are inhibited. The body wants to use the path of least resistance in healing, but if that pathway is blocked, symptoms tend to move deeper into more critical systems. We see this often with respiratory ailments being suppressed and then erupting through the skin.
Reading the list of examples of suppression, you probably thought, “how can we possible avoid suppression?” or “I’ve been suppressed my whole life!”. The reality is suppression is as much a part of health as expression. Sometimes survival is dependent on suppression. Sometimes you need antibiotics, sometimes inflammation needs to be controlled. You might need to stick at a dead end job until you find another, or to set emotions to the side until you reach safety. For the greater good of survival, suppression happens and that’s okay.
Health is not about never getting sick or never experiencing suppression or never eating cake. Health is the practice of coming home by listening to your symptoms, giving yourself what you need, and by encouraging symptom expression as often as you can.
So you take antibiotics and then you support your digestion with probiotic rich foods. Or you stay at your job while looking for another and creating an outlet for the stress that job is causing. Or you bottle those emotions until you're safe with your partner, friend, dog, journal, therapist where you can let them out.
The next most important thing to remember, is the resiliency of your body. Regardless of your history of suppression, your body has the capacity to heal – that’s what it is designed to do. If you are experiencing symptoms, your body is alive. It’s still asking for what it needs, it's still seeking an outlet. The best thing you can do today is start listening to those cues and take one step forwards towards expression.
How do I heal through symptom expression?
By simply understanding that your body is doing exactly what it needs to do, you’re already doing it. The first step in healing is feeling, here’s a few tips:
Get back in touch with your body with body scan meditations – with mindful breath, bring your focus to each body part from head to toe. Breathing into each space, noticing sensations as you go.
Honour your needs – practice responding to your needs for rest, food, movement, support, etc. What do I need right now? What is my body asking for?
Holding space for & releasing emotions – when emotions arise, how can you practice noticing, feeling, and allowing those emotions to pass? Crying, moving your body, yelling into a pillow, journaling, taking time alone, sitting in nature, talking it out, taking a bath.
Working with practitioners that foster the expression of symptoms is a great next step in supporting the layers of healing.
In my upcoming course, I offer a guide to creating a healing plan that honours your needs, as well as an appointment inventory to assess which treatments are supporting you best so you can avoid appointment fatigue and save your money. Sign up to my newsletter to be the first to know about the workbook!
Suppression and expression work together to help you survive – suppression protects us in moments where survival is a priority. Expression helps us release energy and balance internal systems so we can thrive.
You can find balance in both & you can heal.