You may have heard of the Milgram experiments of the early 1960s – when experiments of this kind were still possible – exploring responses to orders from authority. Milgram’s experiments were influenced by Adolf Eichmann’s defence for ordering the killing of millions of Jews, during his trial in Israel, that he was following orders. Eichmann was executed in 1962.
The majority of participants in Milgram’s experiments, 65%, agreed to administer what were apparently dangerous electric shocks to ‘students’ who were getting their answers wrong. The ‘students’ were actors, and not actually receiving shocks.
Even if contemporary society (to the rue of some) is less deferential than half a century ago, and people more likely to challenge and disobey authority, the tendency to abdicate self-responsibility would seem as prevalent as ever. How does this relate to the therapeutic context? In making my point I shall risk overstating my case . . . It is much easier – and much more common – to visit the doctor and get some pills to alleviate symptoms rather than explore what’s underlying the symptoms, which can mean facing up to what’s going wrong in your life and taking action to change it.
And if the pills don’t work? The temptation is to take more pills, or different pills. But if the problem is that there is something wrong in your life, your body is only going to heal if you take action to change your life. Your body is messaging you, but you’re trying to shut it up rather than attending to its message. Your body can’t help but express what’s wrong. It’s probably been trying to tell you for a long time.
Why would people want to deny the messages of their body? Possibly because addressing what’s wrong in your life involves taking responsibility. Milgram’s participants evaded
responsibility by following the orders of the authority. The advantage: the claim that your actions weren’t your fault – a defence unlikely to stand up in court.
More pertinently: even if you won’t, your body will take responsibility for how you live your life. It has no choice but to express it in every organ, muscle, cell. You can choose to give another authority over your body or gag your body’s messages, but abdicating responsibility for your body is the fast track to unfulfilment. Alternatively, you can choose to be responsible, and pay keen attention to the messages of your body – which may mean you have to admit you got something wrong, and need to change. This is the path for happiness and health. It takes courage.
Jonathan Livingstone is a therapist & coach in Plettenberg Bay. Call him on 079 0199 449. www.therapycoaching.co