‘I can’t stomach not knowing, I can’t just take it in.’ ‘It gives me a lump in my throat.’ ‘It makes me so up tight.’ ‘If the firm really went bust, that would give me the shits for a week.’
I hope you’ll forgive that slip into the vernacular, but it helps me make the point that so many everyday expressions are based on the functions or more frequently the malfunctions of the gut. How many can you think of? I can’t stomach it! I can’t swallow it! It makes me want to throw up! Butterflies in the stomach! Gut Reactions!
When I was very young, my grandmother Daisy used to ask me; ‘What’s the difference between a rotten egg, a grand piano and your face?’ I’d smile expectantly. ‘Well’, she’d say, her eyes glinting, ‘a rotten egg makes you sick, a grand piano makes mu-sic and your face makes me sick.’ ‘Grandma! How could you?’
One of my patients developed diarrhoea for the first time after his girl friend dumped him and went out with his best friend. ‘And how did you feel?’, I asked. ‘I were gutted’, was his response. “Exactly’, I commented, ‘and you’ve had diarrhoea ever since!
Of course this isn’t at all surprising. It’s nothing new! Think of the some of the old words for emotion; melancholic, choleric, splenetic, phlegmatic. There is no better metaphor for our emotions than the way we ‘feel’ in our body. That’s why we use the term feelings interchangeably with emotion. And the gut has long been thought of as ‘the root of our feelings’. Nietzsche even considered the gut the source of all prejudice.
Indeed when we were very, very young before we could express emotion and we just had bodily feelings, so much was expressed through the gut. Mothers knew only too well that when their baby was uncomfortable, frustrated, hungry, cold or just lonely, because then they wouldn’t eat, they’d choke, bring their feed up, their bowels were runny or they didn’t go at all or they had colic. Such gut feelings and gut reactions are mediated by the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of the autonomic nervous system, linking emotion upheavals to alternations in gut function.
Even in adulthood, when something happens that cannot be thought about and expressed in language, it is often the gut that tells the story. But the symptoms tend to disappear when we can bring the source of our gut feelings to mind and deal with it. Of course, it may not always work like that. If something happens that we cannot deal with, something that we feel so ashamed of we can’t admit it to anybody, then the tension and the feelings stay, wrenching the gut out of kilter and making our lives a complete misery.
So listen to your gut. It has a hot line to the mind. It will often tell you that things don’t feel right even before you know it yourself. Trust your gut feelings. Understand your gut reactions. Learn to deal with the situations and events that cause them. This will make you stronger, more resilient, it will give you the guts to cope with anything in life. But in order to preserve that vital early warning system, look after your gut, treat it well, eat sensibly, don’t overload it, have enough off- time. You are the proud owner of a fine bodily instrument, strung with the finest gut, tune it well and learn to trust it!
This post is based on a previous article I posted on another blog on 25th March 2010: www.mindbodydoc.wordpress.com