Anger and Stress Management Tips for Satisfying Relationships by Dr. Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.
Family gatherings bring on dermatitis
Sabrina woke up itching with red splotches all over her face, neck, chest and arms. Dermatitis was back, out of the blue. Frustrated with this itchy eczema she went to breakfast determined to be strong and in command when her parents threw questions at her about her health and career.
Will this family event be loving or hostile?
The weeks leading up to this holiday break with family were dotted with images of warmth, acceptance, encouragement and respectful interactions. Sabrina always hoped that her family gatherings would be just like the ones she had experienced at her friend’s home. Everyone talked openly and tolerated differences of opinion. The bonds in Nancy’s family were strong and survived heated arguments. Perhaps this time Sabrina’s family would match that ideal.
Anxiety about conflict makes Sabrina stressed out
As the family time drew nearer Sabrina found herself getting tense and preparing for the worst. Anxiety was creeping up as she imagined the demands and expectations in the disapproving way her father would look at her. She pictured her sister dumping all her problems out at the dinner table and looking to Sabrina to fix them. She heard her mother’s critical voice demeaning her dress code and unreliable free lance design business.
Eczema shocks Sabrina into self-discovery
Sabrina decided to by pass that scenario. She didn’t want to feel angry, upset, foolish or small. She put on her tried and trusted battle costume. The one that allowed her to focus her attention and concern on everyone else. That way she could avoid conflicts, protect herself from disappointment, make the family feel good and avoid getting stressed out. It was a sure fire way to succeed and be in full control.
Sabrina felt strong and ready to head off any battles before they decimated her sense of efficacy and pride in herself. The eczema outbreak shocked her, and that’s when she decided to discover more about herself and her dermatitis.
Dermatitis, personality, stress and emotions – how are these linked for Sabrina?
Studies have focused on the interplay between stress and personality factors that appear to be linked with sufferers of eczema and other forms of dermatitis.
People with eczema and other forms of dermatitis have a certain combination of factors that make them vulnerable to stress. They have difficulty regulating what the outside world throws at them, and use their bodies as a barrier against being overwhelmed with emotions that feel unmanageable. They like the idea of caring relationships but experience interpersonal interactions as conflictual and intrusive.
Here are the main research findings:
1. get stressed out by job related failure and social conflicts
2. have anxious personalities that make it difficult to handle stress effectively ( Journal of Brain, Behavior and Immunity, 2008)
3. have strong needs for recognition and success
4. take pride in their own strength and vitality
5. are highly strung, and choose self-reliance over inter-dependency
6. tend to be impatient and irritable
7. are unable to relax easily
8. are often tense and restless
9. are sentimental but easily and often disappointed with other people and the world in general
10.view the demands of others as infringements and imposition on their lives
11. have a characteristic “armor plate defense.” Their bodies, especially skin becomes the barrier that prevents disappointing experiences from entering their psyches and creating emotional turmoil.
12.Are prone to alexithymia – difficulty expressing emotions in words.( Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 2007)
Building up her psychological skin helped the dermatitis disappear
The embarrassment of having eczema in such prominent places as her face and neck made Sabrina feel self-conscious, stressed and foolish. All the things she worked so hard to avoid. Her distress brought her into psychotherapy. She discovered that she had been sitting on a life time of bitter disappointment with her family that had never been processed. She learned that she hated having to be a certain way in order to be included in her family. Sabrina noticed that each time she forced herself to be what she thought her family expected, her eczema would return as if in protest. Sabrina found that in therapy she was accepted and honored for herself. She felt safe enough to acknowledge and express her emotions at a pace that she could tolerate. As she built up her psychological skin of resilience, the dermatitis faded. It had done it’s job and wasn’t needed anymore.
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Disclaimer: this article is for educational and informational purposes only. There is no liability on the part of Dr. Raymond for any reactions you have while reading it or using any of the suggestions therein. Interacting with this material does not constitute a therapeutic relationship with Dr. Raymond.