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Retroflection in gestalt and the link with chronic disease

Updated: Jul 22, 2023



In Gestalt therapy, retroflection refers to an internalized process where an individual directs an impulse, action, or emotion toward themselves that would typically be directed outwardly. It involves turning something back onto oneself. This concept is derived from the word "reflection," which implies mirroring or bouncing back. Retroflection can occur at various levels, including physical, emotional, and cognitive.


When it comes to chronic disease, the link between retroflection and health issues can be understood in the context of psychosomatic theory. Psychosomatic theory suggests that psychological factors, such as emotions, thoughts, and beliefs, can influence physical health. In this framework, chronic diseases may be seen as manifestations of unresolved psychological conflicts or unexpressed emotions.


Retroflection can contribute to the development or exacerbation of chronic diseases through several mechanisms. When emotions or impulses are turned inward instead of being expressed or acted upon, they can accumulate and create internal tension. This internalized tension can manifest as chronic stress, which has been linked to various physical health problems, including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, gastrointestinal disorders, and immune system dysfunction.


Moreover, retroflection can lead to self-neglect or self-sabotaging behaviors. For example, if an individual suppresses their anger or frustration and turns it inward, they may engage in unhealthy coping mechanisms such as overeating, substance abuse, or neglecting self-care. These behaviors can contribute to the development or maintenance of chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, or substance use disorders.


Gestalt therapy aims to increase awareness and promote integration by helping individuals identify and express their emotions, needs, and desires in a healthy and constructive manner. By addressing retroflection and encouraging appropriate external expression, this therapeutic approach can potentially reduce the psychological and physiological burden associated with chronic diseases.


It's important to note that while psychological factors can influence health outcomes, chronic diseases are complex and can have multiple causes, including genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors. Therefore, a comprehensive approach that considers all these factors is usually necessary for managing chronic diseases effectively. Consulting with healthcare professionals and mental health practitioners can provide personalized guidance and support for individuals dealing with both psychological and physical health challenges.


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