After spending two decades in the field of health and healing, I have noticed an intriguing pattern: people with chronic or autoimmune illnesses frequently share three common characteristics. Far from being weaknesses, these characteristics are also inherent strengths once we understand how to navigate them. Transforming these maladaptive aspects into adaptive ones can lead to happier, healthier lives.
The Freeze or Appease Response
Under the pressure of stress, many individuals adopt one of two coping strategies: they either “freeze” or “appease.” Those in the “freeze” category might withdraw from stressful situations as a protective mechanism, they tend to walk away rather than get involved in an argument or confrontation. Those who “appease” may display an excessively accommodating nature, eager to diffuse conflict and maintain harmony even at personal expense.
This coping style can often lead to a person becoming an “internalizer” – someone more inclined to self-blame rather than attributing the issue to external factors. While this trait can foster a heightened sense of responsibility and introspection and lead to a lot of personal growth, when unregulated, it can also lead to undue self-criticism and anxiety.
High Empathy and Sensitivity
Another shared trait is a profound empathy, often present in those who are Highly Sensitive People (HSPs). This means they possess an extraordinary capacity to discern others’ moods through subtle cues, such as body language, tone of voice, or even energetic vibrations. You may not even realize you’re doing this and may think everyone has this ability, but I assure you, they do not!
However, being an HSP can make modern society’s demands challenging. HSPs often require more “tend and befriend” energy — nurturing and supportive environments — which our culture doesn’t always provide. While their heightened perception can make them excellent caregivers, educators, or counselors, the constant bombardment of stimuli can sometimes lead to overstimulation or emotional exhaustion.
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE)
Finally, a surprising number of people with chronic or autoimmune illnesses have an ACE score of 3 or more. ACE studies refer to the exploration of how negative experiences during formative years can significantly impact a person’s health and well-being later in life. These adverse experiences range from emotionally immature parents to household dysfunction, such as substance abuse, mental illness, or parental separation.
A high ACE score often correlates with increased risk for chronic or autoimmune diseases. These experiences can alter immune and nervous systems, predisposing the individual to a variety of health conditions. Yet, understanding this link provides an opportunity for healing past traumas and working towards a healthier future.
Understanding these shared traits — the freeze or appease response, high empathy and sensitivity, and an elevated ACE score — can empower us to make essential changes. Recognizing these aspects within ourselves is the first step towards mitigating their potentially detrimental effects and harnessing their strengths.
Remember, we are not defined by our conditions or our pasts. We have the power to shape our futures, and by addressing these aspects consciously, we can influence our health positively.