(Originally published for The Dragontree)
Years ago, I read a book on the theory of homeopathic medicine that changed the way I thought about health and inspired me to go into medicine. One of the most interesting concepts regarded a hierarchy of systems and layers within human beings. According to the Greek teacher and author, George Vithoulkas, the human organism can be understood in three layers: Mind, Emotion, and Body.
The deepest and most vital is the mind layer, through which we understand life and the world, and have the means to process stimuli and thoughts and to connect to others. The next layer out is the emotion layer, through which we experience feelings, such as hope, happiness, fascination, inspiration, and also sadness, frustration, and anger. Finally, the outermost layer is the physical layer, which includes our muscles, bones, blood vessels, skin, and internal organs.
When there is some sort of disorder, Vithoulkas said, the human organism will do its best to express this imbalance in a way that impacts us as little as possible. If the symptom shows up on the mind layer, the best case scenario would be, say, mild forgetfulness or distraction. Worse might be something like difficulty with language, or misunderstanding basic social cues, and the worst would be total confusion or even loss of consciousness. Since the mind is critical to grasping meaning, core mental function represents the highest level on the most core layer of the self. We sometimes refer to the lack of such function as a “vegetative state,” and most of us would want the plug pulled if we became this way.
If the symptom manifests on the emotional layer, at best, maybe we would feel just a bit irritable or uneasy. At a more critical level, perhaps we would develop a tendency to get angry about all sorts of minor things, or we would cry at the drop of a hat. At the highest level on the emotional layer, we could be disabled by crippling depression, total numbness, or relentless fear.
If the symptom is expressed on the body layer, the worst would be a disease of organs we have only one of – such as the brain, heart, and liver. Disease of a single kidney or lung wouldn’t be quite as bad, since we have another. Issues with more superficial tissues, like skeletal muscles, are generally fairly minor. And the least critical layer to the overall function of the organism is considered be the skin. So, Vithoulkas wrote, if the organism is healthy enough, if will manifest a problem as a skin rash, since this would spare the mind, the emotional body, and all of the critical physical structures and processes. Our skin is the outermost layer, the farthest-removed from our core structures and systems.
Vithoulkas explained that in the healing process, the expression of an imbalance moves to a less critical level and/or a more superficial layer of the organism. If we’re lucky enough to have a skin problem, we should understand this as a good thing, and avoid doing anything to suppress its expression, because the only possible result would be expression on a deeper layer and/or a more critical level. Thus, if you suppress a skin rash and get cranky or distracted, you’ve driven it inward.
This was especially interesting to me when I first read about it, because I had grown up with eczema – an itchy red rash on my elbows and knees – and from the age of 10, I had been using a suppressive therapy to treat it: corticosteroids. Corticosteroids are drugs that mimic the anti-inflammatory hormone cortisol that is normally produced by our adrenal glands. The most popular steroid for skin rashes is hydrocortisone. The ones I was using were much stronger.
So, if you have a chronic skin issue, I encourage you to approach it as holistically as possible – that is, emphasizing your overall health and addressing the internal mechanisms that may be contributing, rather than treating the skin as disconnected from the rest of oneself. Here are some general first steps worth taking:
Following these strategies will benefit you even if you don’t notice an improvement in your skin. In coming articles, I’ll give you more specific strategies for alleviating skin problems and promoting beautiful skin.
Dr. Peter Borten