Controlling Change

Patients come to an Osteopath because they want something to change.  Most commonly they are in pain and they would (not unreasonably!) prefer to be comfortable.  How is that change going to occur?

The fundamental principle of Osteopathy is that under normal circumstances our bodies fix themselves and therefore the role of the Osteopath is to find out what is preventing that happening, do something about it and let the body get on with fixing itself.  Osteopathy looks at the whole person, taking into account psycho-emotional and social factors as well as the patient’s environment and lifestyle.  It recognises that mind and body cannot be separated – a body without a mind is called ‘a corpse’!  The physical state of the body affects our emotional and psychological state, while our emotional and psychological state affects our posture and our physical health. Looking at the body without considering the mind is like looking at a coin edge-on: you see a long thin rectangle; looking at the mind without considering the body is like looking at the same coin face-on: you see a circle.  In both cases you are choosing to ignore one dimension of the whole and considering only a part of it.  It would be more realistic to refer to body/mind – and acknowledge the whole of the coin.

For a change to occur in my body/mind it is mybody/mind that has to make the change.  The doctor may prescribe the medication but it is my body that has to respond to the drug to make the change happen; the Osteopath may treat me but it is my body that has to respond to that treatment for anything to change and the Osteopath cannot forcemy body to make that change.  No-one else can do the changing for me: the only person who can change me is me.

This means that, while others may provide help and support, in the end it is my mind/body that has to do the work of changing.  That may sound as though all the responsibility and blame is being dumped on me – ‘if you don’t succeed in changing then it is all your fault’. That is not the real point.  The real significance of this is profoundly empowering: I am the one who has control over my own body/mind.  No-one can stop me changing and no-one can make me change if I don’t want to.  I am in control.

‘Control’ is something of a two-edged sword.  In one sense we exercise control by stopping people/things doing what they want to do – think about controlling a dog or controlling traffic.  In this case, however, being ‘in control’ means being free to do what we really want to do.  I am free to make the changes I want to make.

‘The only person who can change me is me’ is only one side of the coin.  If it is true for me then it is true for everyone else: the only person who can change them is them (not me).  That means I cannot change anyone else – the only person I can change is me. If my brother is overweight I cannot lose the weight for him.  If my partner bites her nails I cannot stop biting them on her behalf.

The only person Ican change is me, so I cannot change the way they behave – only they can do that.  What I canchange is the way I respond to that behaviour.  If my daughter does something that makes me angry, that means I am choosing to respond to her behaviour by being angry.  I have the option of changing the way I respond.  No-one else can make me change, but no-one else can stop me changing if I so choose.  So I (and only I) have the choice of responding by being ‘not angry’ – and that will change the sequence of events because she will now be reacting to a father who isn’t ranting and raving.  I cannot make her respond in the way I would like, but I canchange what she will be responding to.

Having accepted that I cannot change other people, only my response to them, life becomes a whole lot simpler.  It acknowledges our autonomy: I am relieved of the pressure to control other people’s lives and empowered to control my own.  Suddenly ‘control’ has changed from ‘stopping other people doing what they want’ into ‘freeing myself to do what I want to do’.  ‘The only person I can change is me’ and ‘the only person who can change me is me’ turn out to be liberating rather than limiting.

Inevitably, in some of our patients the only thing stopping them getting better is their own beliefs: if I think: ‘I am never going to get better’ then it is very unlikely that I will, because my subconscious will be working on that basis and processing information accordingly.  Our mind/body has to be considered as the whole it really is and we need to acknowledge the huge part our mind plays in our health.  As we have seen above, the good news is that we have the power to do that and to change the way our mind processes information.  That is a hugely neglected resource in our healthcare – but one we have the choice to use if we want to.