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Psychosomatic Illness in Children | Participatory Awareness

It is well known that many childhood illnesses may be provoked by emotional causes. This article will discuss the nature of the psyche; how it connects with the body at birth and develops in the child according to strict laws of development; how the psyche can play an enormous role in creating and sustaining illnesses; and, finally, what we can do to maintain a healthy ‘psycho-somatic’ state of affairs.

The child is a physical-soul-spiritual being. The physical nature is genetically determined at conception, but the spiritual aspects are another question altogether. Nowhere has science shown that psychological attributes are inherited; I believe this is because these attributes are not physical and therefore not inheritable. The idea that the soul is an independent entity and not a part of the body is difficult for Western medicine to conceive, but a subjective approach is needed if we are to learn something about the psyche.

 In the early 1900s Rudolf Steiner described the nature of the psyche and its relationship to the body in great detail, giving a frame of reference for personal experience. In other words, we can only get an idea of the psyche through our experience of ourselves.  So, how can we understand the psyche in a way that validates our own experience of ourselves, where we see it not as a product of the physical body, or as something that consists of finer physical substance, but as an entity, completely independent, yet fully connected to the physical body?

 THE FOUR ASPECTS OF THE SOUL

 The soul or psyche has a fragile connection with the physical body at an early stage of embryonic development and engages progressively with the physical matrix as development advances. At birth, when the child takes his or her first breath, the soul dives deeper into the physical body. The psyche is closely connected with breathing: emotional states of all kinds have a subtle effect on respiration. The psyche will continue to connect itself with the living physical body in a very definite way until it reaches a certain completion in the 21st year. 

 The child’s developmental journey proceeds in a very specific set way following ordered laws of development:

The sensing or sentient soul. Sight, sound, scent, taste and touch comprise the first aspect of the soul, a stage apparent in the first seven years of life. In this early period the soul life of the young child is closely bound up with the organism, which explains why emotional disturbances impact so easily and directly on the organs causing tummy aches, headaches, skin problems etc. The neurosensory system reaches a certain completion by the seventh year.

 The feeling soul. All these impressions that arouse sensations also activate feelings. During this stage the child enters the next seven-year phase where biological development will focus intensively on the regulation and maturation of the cardiovascular and respiratory functions. With the change of teeth in the seventh year, the soul’s forces move more actively into areas such as the heart, breathing and other rhythmic functions. It is particularly the soul’s feeling life that is active in this period and the child will experience a wide range of feelings from great joy to deep despair that influence the rhythmic activities of the heart and lungs.  

The thinking soul. Having sensed and felt the inner or outer world there is now a need to name things and thereby become conscious of them. This third aspect of the soul uses thinking to make sense of the world and to capture experiences in memory. With the onset of puberty the child takes a mighty step forward in his or her development. Whereas prior to this event the soul was active deep in the body, now it begins to loosen itself from its activity in building up the organs, and it becomes free for individual soul expression. 

The willing or volitional soul. Once the child has mastered the soul function of thinking in the previous stage, he or she can act on sensing, feeling and thinking in an unconscious way, according to their instincts, drives and desires, which live below the threshold of consciousness: or more consciously by means of motives, wishes and resolutions. This fourth part of the soul: the willing or volitional soul allows us to act and react continuously, according to our inner life in order to live and move in the world as human beings.

 By acknowledging the reality and validity of one’s own personal experience, one may conclude that this part of the human being is not of a physical nature, will never be found within the physical body and yet is closely connected with the physical body. Because of this intimate connection, one will find the footprints of the psyche/soul within the physical body. 

THE PHYSICAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL CONNECTION 

From the above overview of the four aspects or stages of the soul, we can see that there is a close correspondence between biological and psychological functions, which has major implications for the wellbeing and future health of the growing child: for example, free expression of movement and healthy sense impressions will promote the healthy development of the nerves and senses; and a healthy feeling life will develop a healthy heart and respiratory system. 

A question that must be asked is how does the psyche engage and interact with the physical body? The physical body and the psyche are only two of the four aspects that make up the human constitution. On the one hand there is the life interpenetrated with the etheric body also known as ‘chi’ or ‘prana’, which brings life into the lifeless physical body. On the other hand there is the essential core being, the human ‘I’, which enables individual self-awareness. 

The physical body provides the physical and chemical foundation for bodily structure and function. Its lifeless mineral nature is completely interpenetrated the etheric body, which changes the dead mineral elements into living substance capable of growing, metabolising, maintaining and repairing the human organism. This energetic vibrating life body is able to absorb every impression that it meets: physical, chemical and psychological: imprinting it indelibly through specific resonance into its memory bank. This energetic life body is dynamically active between the physical body and psyche. 

Life processes mediate between the physio-logical bodily functions on the one hand and the psychological functions on the other: for example, the breathing life process regulates respiration-in breathing/out breathing, but it also affects the breathing of emotions, for example: being choked with fear (=soul in-breathing), or expressing anger (=soul out-breathing); the dynamic life process of growth works physically on the development of the physical body on the one hand, psychologically/spiritually on personal spiritual growth and development, on the other.  

It is the vibrating resonating life body which is our infinitely vast memory bank. It is here that all our life experiences, good and bad, are stored. Therefore, any exposure to psycho-emotional stimuli of a similar nature to the stored memory will impact on this resonating life body, which then interacts dynamically with the psyche, impacting on the developing personality and influencing the soul functions of thinking, feeling and volition.

 

THE HEALTH CONNECTION 

So what does all this mean for health and illness? The child’s constitution is the interpenetration of four systems governed by laws and principles completely different from each other. The mineralised physical body is energised by means of life processes intimately connected with the psyche which enable the child to experience the world inwardly through sensing experience, feeling experience, thinking experience and will-based experience; all of which is regulated by the higher organisation of the child’s ‘I’ which will direct everything according to the destiny of this child’s life. Health is an expression of the harmonious working together of these four principles. 

Unfortunately the life process of health maintenance and self-regulation is challenged by incorrect eating, environmental pollution, harmful sensory impressions and inner emotional disturbances. In different ways these factors all lead to destabilisation of the health-maintaining life forces, thereby leading to illnesses.   

There are many childhood illnesses, both acute and chronic, that illustrate the psychosomatic nature of the child, and health practitioners need to evaluate which of the many potentially harmful influences are more actively involved in the development of an illness. In allergies for example, the condition is often determined by a constitutional inherited predisposition that is influenced to a greater or lesser degree by environmental trigger factors. 

On the other hand the child’s specific soul disposition may lead to hypersensitivity to the psychological environment. The child feels things too strongly, cannot digest certain thoughts or feelings, feels threatened by gestures, words or actions and ultimately must vigorously do something to expel these toxins. The immune system is therefore activated to protect the body by means of an allergic response. 

CONCLUSION 

With this basis for understanding the developing child, an approach may be found for maintaining health and preventing and treating illness. The essential prerequisite for achieving this goal is the understanding that the child is always psychosomatic in his or her condition of health or ill health. From here it is not difficult to understand that physical factors can influence the psycho-spiritual nature, and psycho-emotional factors will impact on the physical nature. When this process reaches a certain point, manifest illness will result. Understanding this disturbed equilibrium will help us to find the means for restoring the healthy equilibrium. 

CASE HISTORY 

At the age of 19 a patient of mine developed ankylosing spondylitis (a form of arthritis of the spine and pelvic joints which causes board-like rigidity of the spine, with pain and stiffening of these joints). This is an autoimmune condition whereby the body rejects its own tissue, sees it as alien, and attacks it aggressively. In exploring his childhood and youth, long before the physical condition began, the self-hatred and self-rejection that lived in this child’s soul for many years became apparent. The shy and self-conscious child, brought up by controlling parents who were unable to sense his loneliness and inadequacy, became progressively more alienated from his own self, leading ultimately to anger, hatred and rejection of his self. At a certain point these powerful feelings turned inwards on the physical body, resulting in physical rejection of that part of the body that maintains the upright human posture: the spine. Through understanding these psychosomatic connections he is now working courageously and lovingly, through the strength of his ‘I’, to accept himself fully.

Further reading 

  1. Pert C. The Molecules of Emotions. UK: Simon & Schuster, 1998.
  2. Goldberg R. Enhance the developing child’s potential. South African Journal of Natural Medicine. 2001; 3: 47-49.
  3. Goldberg R. Understanding the allergic child. South African Journal of Natural Medicine. 2002; 7: 29-31, 92.
  4. Goldberg R. Protecting the heavenly years of childhood. South African Journal of Natural Medicine. 2003; 10: 47-49.
  5. Goldberg R. The three births of childhood. South African Journal of Natural Medicine. 2003; 11: 44-46.
  6. Steiner R. Multiple references from The Complete Works. Dornach, Switzerland: Rudolf Steiner Verlag or London: Rulolf Steiner Press, 1997.
  7. Husemann F, Wolff O. The Picture of the Human Being as Foundation for the Art of Healing. Vol 2. Stuttgart: Velag Freies Geistes Leben, 1974.
  8. Steiner R. Education of the Child. London: Rudolf Steiner Press, 1975.
  9. Aeppli W. The Developing Child. USA: Anthroposophic Press, 1986.
  10. 10.Lievegoed B. Phases of Childhood. Edinburgh: Floris Books, Anthroposophic Press, 1987.