Messages From the Body: Eczema

Apr 28, 2020

I met Peter 8 months ago. He is 46, a very successful entrepreneur with a beautiful family and a full travel schedule. He took 253 flights in 2019! I told him he needed to plant a million trees to set off that carbon footprint.

Handsome. Fit. Jovial and kind. Peter is well other than the fact that he’s been dealing with constant embarrassment associated with his eczema, a skin condition that creates itchy, red patches on various (usually very visible) places on the body like hands, elbows, knees etc. He feels awkward reaching out to shake another’s hand. He wears long sleeves to cover the outbreaks. He feels anxious if the family wants to go for a swim or holiday in a hot climate. He doesn’t want to be seen in a bathing suit or shorts.  

Peter had suffered with this diagnosis for nearly 5 years. He had been to several dermatologists in Hong Kong and in London. He had been prescribed and taken many powerful drugs that not only didn’t resolve the problem but caused him issues with his liver. The first time he came to me, his arms were folded across his chest in near disgust. He was more than sure that our session would be an utter waste of time. I love a good challenge! And, the body was telling me much about dear Peter. 

I want to jump to the end of the story, where Peter unfolded his arms and hugged me…

He is now completely eczema free and has been for the last 7 months. He sent me pictures of his family on vacation in Costa Rica, showing off his legs and arms and his big, contagious smile. 

How did we get there? 

Let me tell the story now front to back. Stick with me. Maybe you know someone with this condition who you could be of service to by sharing Peter’s story...

In our first session, I took Peter’s family history. He’s the middle of three siblings. His parents are still living and married in England. When I asked him to describe his father in a few words, he said “successful and distant”. He looked down as I wrote my notes. 

I then asked him the same question about his mom. He looked me dead in the eyes and said “she’s cold as a fish”. Nothing more. I then ventured over to his siblings. Peter doesn’t speak to his older brother. He can’t seem to remember why not or for how long. I asked if there had been an argument or trauma. He shut down. No response. I asked about his sister and he smiled. “She’s the nicest person you’ll ever meet.” He continued, “My children love her. My wife loves her.” 

I asked if his sister spoke to his brother. “Of course she does” he said. 

I sometimes doodle when I want to let a response hang. So I drew a picture of his family. Mom and Dad stick figures and brother, sister and Peter in the middle as stick figures and then I drew an X gently over his brother and a heart shape over his sister. I drew a squiggle line from stick figure Peter to his stick figure Dad. And a series of hash lines between Peter and his mother. 

He could see my paper. 

Please remember these comments as we unpack Peter’s case.

As we continued to get to know each other in the first session, I managed to meditate him back to his life nearly five years ago when his eczema started. I guided him back to where he lived in London. He could see and describe his home and happy family. I asked him to go to the dinner party. The one he and his wife were running late to. He took me to his best friend’s home where a beautiful party was being hosted in Peter’s honor. It was a goodbye party as Peter had landed a great job with a bank in Hong Kong. He was going to head up a new division and honestly felt a little under-qualified for the position. His lovely wife and kids were happy and eager for the adventure. Peter was happy, proud, excited. 

I asked him to go into the kitchen and hover in the doorway. Once he could see what was on the counter and it matched what I could see, I knew we were in the right place. 

Peter, tell me what you’re seeing. 

I see my mother and father talking. My mom is angry. She’s yammering on at my dad as she usually does. He’s shaking his head and pouring another drink. Peter laughs. He hates tonic but he can’t find any soda water because my mom’s controlling the kitchen. 

What is your mom saying Peter? Close your eyes again and let your ears safely take you there. 

Peter begins to cry. Small tears come rolling down his cheeks. He doesn’t reach up to stop them or ask for a tissue. 

“I can’t believe I forgot this” he says.   

I slow and lower my voice and ask Peter to tell me when he’s ready where his brother is. 

He’s coming into the other entrance to the kitchen. He doesn’t see me. My parents don’t see me either. 

Before I share with you what Peter overheard, I want to tell you what the mind body pattern of eczema is for me in my healing practice. Meaning, what a client’s body is telling me about that client’s life who now has eczema. The body is sending messages about the emotional underpinning, the “what happened” if you will that arrived the client with a diagnosis of eczema. With me?

If not, please click here and read the blog about The Kite.

So what does the body with eczema tell me? Consistently?

“See Saw” Mother - It’s not safe to be up or down!

Likely, the mother figure (biological or adoptive) is or was a narcissist, busy with her own life and ambivalent about being a mother. Sometimes, the ambivalence comes because the mother figure feels trapped in a loveless marriage. Or, her man has had an affair. Or, he suffers an addiction that makes him emotionally unavailable. She’s not known for being a hugger. She didn’t tuck her kids into bed at night and was MIA when they were sick. That’s for doctors.

It’s safer to hang out in the shadows!

The mother often plays a push pull game with her son or sons. She wants their attention and affection and skillfully plays them off each other. Cooing over one and scolding the other and being sure to do so when both are together. She constantly compares one to the other and plays favorites. But, the sons (or daughters if a female client) never know who will be the favorite on any given day or situation. 

The mother, while removed emotionally, can seem to need her boys (or girls) to help her, care for her, support her. Same sex children are often placed between the parents in arguments as witnesses to “testify” against their father. When younger, the siblings often remember bonding over their mother’s behaviour and feeling the same negative and unchosen sentiments. But, as they grow older, they play the game better and better so as to receive more of the positive attention and less of the negative attention. But the “see saw” teeters to one side. And the thud changes everything. Often forever. 

One sibling is very confident, sometimes bullying and an attention seeker. This sibling can often do no wrong and get away with murder. Usually a charmer to whom life comes easily. And, more often than not, the other sibling becomes uber responsible, is very self-effacing, races to be self-critical in hopes that it will hurt less if they say the mean things before their mother does. They are less confident, never bully, can get lost in studies and are seen and heard from less and less as they become teenagers. 

Why even try?

The second sibling, Peter in this case, usually has a story of huge resentments built up over years of not decades. They claim to manage anger well or perhaps not be angry at all. They feel helpless, hopeless, why even try. No one cares, no one’s ;listening, no one will come to my defense. They can become more and more isolated as they feel deprived of love, attention, being the chosen one. They are often very loving, want to be held and very easily hurt in break ups or sports teams or grades or being chosen for a play. Having said that, this sibling is over very accomplished in nearly everything they do! And, often they are consistent, dedicated, available lovers, partners and parents. 

Just fuck it all! Really! Just fuck it all!

The emotions gather into a tsunami of unresolved (and often actually unremembered) pain. The body wants to run, hide, leave! And, many bodies do! They come to Asia or go to some country a continent away from their childhood family. The anger is usually repressed. Typically, they have never spoken to a counsellor about their childhood. And, often say something in session like “well, it’s not that bad” or “ I know others who had it a lot worse”. The process of minimizing and shaming themselves out of their true feelings is common. 

I could go on, and more advanced cases of eczema or psoriasis are just that...more advanced stages of the same but deeper, longer and therefore more traumatic realities.

So let’s go back to Peter hovering in the door jam of the kitchen while a party is happening in his honor. What do you think he overhears? What is his mother yammering on about to his father? 

You’re right!

She’s going on and on about how Peter doesn’t deserve this job, this opportunity of a lifetime! 

Who does…

Peter’s brother according to his mother. 

The conversation is not kind, not loving or maternal. It cuts Peter to his core. It gathers up decades of pain. Instead of walking in and saying anything, he sees his father do nothing to defend him. He just wants another drink. He sees his brother come through the other doorway and hug his mom knowing full well what she’s saying and doing. And Peter hears his brother say:

“Mom, Peter will be back here in 3 months. He’ll get fired or quit (even though Peter has never been fired or quit anything)”

Peter sees his father leave the kitchen and his mother stroke her brother's fledgling beard.  

The gift called eczema!

When I walk Peter through the fictitious case of eczema and speak as if in the third person about some of the possible characteristics, emotional pain and perhaps even trauma experienced by those who suffer eczema he is listening with all his heart. 

Not all of the above fits Peter like a shirt, but most of it does. 

Peter and I agreed that his eczema is a gift. It’s was time to look at these emotional realities, engage in the process of awareness, ownership and shift such that he could forgive his family and move on in life without eczema. 

We talked about how eczema had come as a visitor to encourage him to lovingly step up and out of the pain his childhood caused him. The remembrance of a critical moment in his life, the kitchen discussion, helped him piece together when he last spoke to his brother and why? The kitchen event was indeed the last time they were in the same room. 

We also agreed to clean out his gut through a 7-day You!Healing fasting program. When he started to eat again, we agreed to journal the foods that produced any allergic reactions. For the two that did, we unpacked those foods and memories associated with them and he is no longer allergic to those foods.

You’re curious yes?

The two foods were vanilla ice cream (the really full cream brand) and a specific breakfast cereal. Both were linked to events in his childhood where he was eating these foods and something he perceived as cruel was happening. Life went “shitty” for Peter in the kitchen so we worked on revisioning the kitchen. He now loves to cook for his wife and kids. 

Peter tried to speak with his brother. He asked me to facilitate that session. His brother was dismissive, obnoxious and rude. Peter had pre-cycled what he wanted to say to this brother which he was able to do gracefully. Forgiveness in Peter’s heart was about understanding the lesson in this relationship with his brother and to take safe space and lean into those who loved him deeply and supported and believed in him. Fortunately, when we inventoried those people, there were many!

Peter has a rich life. He is eczema free...for now. We talked about the possibility that eczema might come back. We agreed to a “no fear/no worry” policy and that if eczema did visit again, that together, we would welcome it in, listen to it and see what else was left to be learned from it. 

And, Peter is on the listen out for anything that ever sounds like:

“See Saw” Mother - It’s not safe to be up or down!

✓  It’s safer to hang out in the shadows!

✓  Why even try?

✓  Just fuck it all! Really! Just fuck it all! 

Remember the Kite Analogy

and the reality that

nothing comes from nothing; nothing ever could

(Link to the Blog: The Kite)

Love to you Peter!


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