1. Stresses Resolved, Illness Remitted

My first exposure to Graf Stress Management came from a man whose late-stage cancer had remitted after using it. He’d previously exhausted his conventional options (chemo, surgery) plus several alternative therapies (Gerson Clinic and Diet, Dardik Wave Energy, acupuncture, and TM), and had been told that nothing more could be done for him.

So he decided to visit to each member of his family while he could still travel. When he was in St. George, UT, an aunt suggested that he consult Dr. Jan Graf, a local chiropractor with a stress management technique that had helped many overcome serious problems

He scheduled an appointment to be polite, although he expected nothing to come of it because he had a “real” illness that wasn’t caused by stress or negative feelings. He was therefore surprised when the technique identified as major stresses two events that had occurred more than 15 ago.  While he readily acknowledged that they’d been traumatic at the time, he given no thought to either one in years. One was an excruciating romantic breakup; the other was a wrong he’d committed which had been far beneath his standards. Could these really be bothering him more than, say, the demands of his career?

And yet he felt instantly lighter, joyful, optimistic and energetic after laying down these and other burdens he hadn’t known he was carrying. He described a tangible sense of “health flowing into him” and an inner knowledge that he would recover. Despite being a sophisticated, highest-caliber professional in a no-nonsense field, he described the session with Jan Graf as “the most amazing experience of my life.”

The Stress Evaluation had lasted two hours, during which he was asked a series of questions designed to identify the stresses causing problems for him.  Each of his responses was checked by means of a muscle test.  Graf explained that this technique drew information from the “intelligence,” an innate faculty that knows everything about us including everything we’ve done and felt. As stresses were identified, Graf showed him a forgiveness technique to resolve them.  The process continued until the man’s intelligence indicated that there were no remaining stresses causing problems for him.

I was fascinated by the approach, which harmonized with my own concept of the connection between health and the mind. Since I was grappling with infertility at the time, I made the trip to St. George and had a life-changing experience with Dr. Graf myself.

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2. Example: Stress Management For Infertility

As my husband and I tried to start a family, we experienced difficulty conceiving. It become an all-consuming focus for me, leaving me bitter, jealous, defensive, and desperate. I decided to try Graf Stress Management after talking to someone who’d used it to clear a terminal illness.

To me, the Graf Technique sounded like the ultimate holistic mind-body approach. I resonated with the idea that we each possess a subconscious “intelligence” which knows everything about us, including the events of our life and the way to run a healthy body. I’d been primed for such a thing during childhood.

My mother had been a very illness-centered person who visited doctors several times a week, every week. She expected to have health problems and sure enough, she did, and she had no sense of the body’s natural ability to manage or heal itself, believing instead that it needed medical expertise to run properly.

She extended this negative thinking in the direction of her children as well, constantly announcing that we were exhibiting symptoms of some malady even though we felt fine.  A single cough was the beginning of bronchitis; a sneeze, allergies.  In my case, she was given to maddening predictions about health problems I was certain to face in the future because they “ran in the family” : asthma in my teens, phlebitis in my twenties, high blood pressure by thirty, arthritis in my forties, and the kidney trouble was just a question of when. In truth, I was strong, healthy, active and athletic kid, and I resented having these negative expectations planted in my mind.

In response, I resisted not only her incursions but the entire undercurrent of negative health programming so normalized in daily life that few of us consciously recognize it. When someone would say, “Don’t go outside without a coat, you’ll catch a cold,” I would remind myself, “The temperature is NOT the problem; the belief that it will make us sick is.” I was willing to wear a coat if needed for comfort, but I refused to buy into the fear of sickness.  Ditto for the bogus rule against swimming after eating (finally debunked).  If digestion were truly that risky, there would be actual reports (“Woman Falls to Her Death While Digesting Dinner”) and regulations such as no driving after eating.

I disregarded even “sensible” advice like making sure sick people didn’t sneeze around me.  I considered myself well able to fight off the billions of harmful microbes crossing my threshold each day. In fact, I believed they helped make me stronger by building my resistance, not that I purposely sought them out but neither did I feel any fear around illness. For the most part, my strategy worked; I confess that 95% of the times I stayed home ‘sick’ from school, I was brazenly faking it.

Notwithstanding my brilliant mindset, I hadn’t managed to “think my way out” of infertility, and nothing else was helping either.  Graf Stress Management sounded like exactly what I needed: a direct linkage between my mind and my body, as opposed to the vague visualizations and hit-or-miss affirmations I’d tried.

My consultation with Dr. Graf lasted an hour and forty minutes.  Through a series of questions he pinpointed my stresses and while the specifics are private, the major stress preventing me from conceiving was a subconscious fear that my children would reject me.  [Note: This is fairly common.  Many of us know someone who’d been unable to conceive until after they’d adopted a child, after which they became pregnant (surprise!) once the feared rejection hadn’t materialized. Incidentally, fear of rejection is an equal-opportunity stress; in my client work, I’ve seen infertility due to the father’s stress as much as to the mothers’s.]

My intelligence had accommodated my fear by making sure I didn’t become pregnant, thereby protecting me from the dreaded rejection. How did my intelligence do this? By preventing ovulation, fertilization, or implantation?  I don’t know, and I don’t need to know–not that I wouldn’t like to.  But ultimately, my job is not to micromanage my body but rather to take care of my stress and let my intelligence run my health. A good division of labor in my opinion.

When my appointment was over, I felt entirely different from when I’d arrived.  I was peaceful, excited, and felt as if I were floating.  I could not believe the amount of stress I’d released and how wonderful I felt when it was gone.  That alone would have been worth the visit.  Truthfully, I felt like it was a stretch to expect that something this simple — and pleasant, did I mention? — could have a real impact on conception, but I was wrong. I was delighted to learn less than three weeks afterward that I was pregnant. And the fertility problem never resurfaced.

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3. What Do We Mean By “Stress”?

Broadly speaking, stress is the inability to cope with what life presents us.  Many people think of stress as the tensions of daily life: too much to do, too little time, grueling commutes, demanding people, etc., yet we generally deal with these things better than we think.

Graf Stress Management’s clinical results reveal that the stresses which undermine us run deeper.  Debilitating stress involves failing to live up to our value standards in our behavior; or harboring fear, guilt, anger, resentment or low self-esteem; or persistent negative thoughts, feelings, or expectations.

Graf Stress Management recognizes eight types of stress which are examined elsewhere on this site: Physical, Mental, Emotional, Psychological, Environmental, Fear, Guilt, and Reality Stress.

Common approaches to stress management rely on meditation, relaxation, affirmations, visualization, supplements, yoga, biofeedback, mindfulness, massage, acupuncture, and exercise.  While these can help people feel better momentarily, they focus on relief of symptoms and are not optimally productive in eliminating the underlying causes of stress.

By contrast, Graf Stress Management incorporates on a powerful diagnostic and analytical tool, the Stress Evaluation, to uncover and resolve the hidden roots of stress.   Over the course of forty-plus years, Graf Stress Management has helped tens of thousands of people to clear out deep-seated personal issues and regain peace of mind, often recovering from mental and physical health problems in the process.

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4. Our Intelligence Knows What’s Really Bothering Us: Example

Each of us has a subconscious “intelligence” that keeps a log of our life. From the moment of conception, the intelligence records information acquired from the thoughts and feelings of our parents.  All subsequent experiences, positive and negative, are permanently stored by the intelligence.

Graf Stress Management uses the intelligence as a source of valuable information to identify the stresses causing problems for us, and to clarify what we need to do to resolve them.  The Stress Evaluation gains access to the intelligence through muscle response testing (applied kinesiology) used in conjunction with questions designed to uncover our stresses.  The stresses revealed through this technique are often surprising, such as those which occurred decades ago; we may not have given them a thought in years, yet their effects can linger today as debilitating negative energy.

In addition to pinpointing hidden stresses, the intelligence can clarify how we really feel about things.  What we think about something with our logic-driven minds is often very different from what we feel about it in our hearts.  We have found through the Graf technique that what we feel is often more important to our health and well-being than what we think; it is vital to distinguish between the two.

I once did a Stress Evaluation for a very overweight man whose intelligence indicated that he was using fat as a defense against receiving affection (i.e., making himself unattractive to avoid it). According to his intelligence, he subconsciously felt that affection was immoral although logically this didn’t make sense to him.  He’d grown up in a loving family where appropriate affection was shown.  He had affectionate relationships with his children.  He didn’t consciously think affection was immoral, but his intelligence indicated that he felt it was.

As we continued working, the reason emerged: he was carrying guilt feelings from an episode several years earlier in which he, a married man, had acted beneath his own standards with a woman who not his wife.  Because the transgression involved physical affection and because it resulted in feelings of guilt, he had developed negative feelings about affection.  He knew that the woman had pursued him because she found him physically attractive, and since he had chosen the wrong course in the face of temptation, he no longer trusted himself to behave properly. Instead, he subconsciously tried to prevent himself from acting unfaithfully by making himself less attractive through excess weight.

After taking care of these stresses, he no longer felt affection was immoral nor did he mistrusted himself to live up to his standards.  With no further subconscious need to control himself via excess weight, the man’s intelligence directed his metabolism to get rid of it.   I’m not suggesting that all people become overweight for these reasons, but this man had. Acquiring this information from his intelligence was necessary to help him.

Questioning the intelligence is invaluable in discovering what’s troubling us.  It provides information we can’t get anywhere else which enables us to unload yesterday’s baggage and prevent today’s stress from diminishing our peace, health, and productivity.

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5. Applied Kinesiology and The Stress Evaluation

Graf Stress Management uses its signature Stress Evaluation with every client.  The Stress Evaluation draws individualized information about problem-causing stresses from the client’s intelligence.  It consists of a question and answer format used in combination with a muscle response test known as “applied kinesiology.”

Those who have not personally tried applied kinesiology may find it hard to envision, and a verbal description is no substitute for direct experience.  However, it appears to operate on the same principle as a polygraph, which registers different physiological responses for true and false answers to questions.

During the Stress Evaluation, the client is asked questions which he then answers.  After each answer, the consultant applies light, steady pressure to a contracted indicator muscle on the client’s body — generally the deltoid muscle of the left shoulder, while the client attempts to resist this pressure.  Whether or not the client is able to resist the applied pressure determines the correctness of the clients answer.

When the client’s answer is correct, the client’s energy remains strong as is demonstrated by strength in the indicator muscle, but when the answer is incorrect, there is a momentary loss of energy followed by a corresponding loss of muscle strength.  Graf Stress Management uses this question/answer/test sequence to identify the specific stresses causing problems for a client.

Applied kinesiology appears simple but it is an art more difficult than it looks and it requires a great deal of practice to use it with skill and confidence.  In addition, it is subject to constraints, the foremost being that it can only with willing participants; it cannot force information out of an unwilling party.

In addition, accuracy can be compromised if either party tries to control the outcome to get a desired answer.  Both participants must make a good-faith effort to be neutral and truth-focused.  However, when both are intent on accuracy, applied kinesiology is a highly reliable diagnostic tool for the purposes of Graf Stress Management.

Many other disciplines used applied kinesiology for diagnostic purposes, and it is also sometimes used by individuals as something of a party trick. However, a basic tenet of Graf Stress Management is that applied kinesiology is to be used only in its proper sphere.  This means limiting it to only those questions to which the client legitimately needs answers for the sake of her health and well-being.  Whereas some devotees of applied kinesiology claim it can be used to answer virtually any question in the universe (e.g., Power vs. Force by David R. Hawkins, M.D.), Graf Stress Management does not support this view.  We believe it is not possible to properly, accurately, or righteously use applied kinesiology as a ‘crystal ball’ to pursue private details about another person, or to diagnose car problems, make investment decisions, predict future events, nor is it a parlor trick for entertainment.  Above all, it should not be used to circumvent life’s important growth process of learning to use our free agency to make right choices.

I received a memorable lesson along these lines during my second visit as a client of Jan Graf.  At the time, I had symptoms which caused me to believe that I was pregnant, and muscle testing confirmed that indeed I was.  Predictably, my next question was, “Is it a boy or a girl?”  Graf smiled, stopped muscle testing and replied, “I could tell you, but I’d have a 50% chance of being right.”  In other words, the only answer he was willing to give was a personal guess.  He was unwilling to muscle test because the baby’s gender was not something I needed to know for health or well-being.  I’m aware that muscle testing is used by others to answer this and similar questions–perhaps with accurate answers–but the practice of Graf Stress Management is to use it only on a need-to-know basis.

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6. The Eight Basic Types of Stress

Graf Stress Management’s signature tool is the Stress Evaluation, a question and answer procedure which identifies specific stresses causing problems for a client.

Questioning progresses from general (the type of stress) to specific (who, what, when, where, and why) until the precise stress is pinpointed.  Currently, eight types of stress are identified by Graf Stress Management:

Physical Stress includes physical traumas such as cuts, burns, sprains, broken bones, surgery, etc.  Our intelligence is capable of healing these quite well provided there are no additional stresses interfering with the healing.

Mental Stress is any activity that is excessively taxing mentally with a touch of performance anxiety thrown in, such as studying for the bar exam.  Normal school- and work-related thinking are generally not mental stresses because we expect them and are prepared in advance.

Emotional Stress involves concern for a loved one who is experiencing problems and whom we feel unable to help.  Interestingly, babies and young children are the most frequently seen sufferers of emotional stress, typically occurring when their parents aren’t dealing well with their own stress.  A sick baby or child can often be helped simply by assisting the parents with their stress.

Psychological Stress has to do with the way we feel about ourselves — our self-esteem. It can be about things we don’t like about ourselves or about problems in our relationships with other people.  Psychological stress causes more problems that all other types of stress combined.

Environmental Stress concerns our surroundings – where we live, work and spend most of our time.  This stress can be triggered by abrupt, unfavorable changes in our environment such as natural disasters.

Fear Stress comes from harboring fear.  Fear is a destructive emotion that curtails productive living and should be avoided at all costs.  Examples include fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of disease, fear of the dark and other phobias, as well as a generalized sense of helplessness.

Guilt Stress stems from living beneath our value standards.  Each of us has standards, some inborn and others acquired, that govern our performance in every aspect of our lives.  Some are less important (the way we load the dishwasher or fold our towels) while others are vital to our peace of mind (integrity, morality, parenting).  When we live up to our standards, we feel at peace with ourselves but when we fall short of them, we feel guilt stress, sometimes even to the point of punishing ourselves physically.

Reality Stress can occur when people fail to distinguish between reality and fantasy in their own lives.  A person may unwittingly identify with a fictional character (Harry Potter, Cinderella) and go through life responding as if they were that person at the expense of their own authentic growth and development. A variant is the person who imagines herself to be in a relationship with some (e.g., a celebrity or an internet “friend”) whom she doesn’t personally know at all.

After identifying which types of stress are troubling a client, the Stress Evaluation works to establish greater detail. Is the stress present, or when in the past? Does it involve a particular person? And so forth, until the stress is identified and resolved in a manner indicated by the client’s intelligence.

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7. Example: Clear Answers from the Stress Evaluation

I don’t know of a more powerful tool for quickly and accurately pinpointing stress than Graf Stress Management’s Stress Evaluation, as the following example illustrates.

Although the client’s presenting problem was abnormal hair loss, often joked about as a cliche symptom of stress, the underlying causes were not “cliche” at all but unique to the client.

A client I hadn’t seen in several years returned because her hair had suddenly begun to fall out.  When we questioned her intelligence during the Stress Evaluation, we found psychological and guilt stresses.  She naturally assumed they were related to the contentious divorce she was going through, but to her surprise they were not. (We found that she was actually dealing with the divorce’s stress fairly well.)

Instead, the stress behind her hair loss was related to a several years-old business matter that she subconsciously considered a test of her integrity – a test she was failing. A few years earlier, she’d been selling an expensive line of cosmetics that included a shampoo. While she no longer sold these products, she had continued to use some of the leftover shampoo inventory on her hair — that is, until recently when it had gotten packed away during her move to a new house.  In the new home, she’d been washing her hair with whatever shampoo she unpacked first, which happened to be a different brand.  And THAT was the problem.

No, it wasn’t because one shampoo was better than the other. Instead, it was strictly a matter of integrity. The Stress Evaluation revealed that she subconsciously felt honor-bound to use up all of the expensive shampoo she’d formerly sold before she could legitimately start using another brand.

She felt this way because her customers had purchased the expensive shampoo on the basis of her word that it was superior and well worth the very high cost.  For her to use another brand while she still had some of the high-priced product on hand was beneath the standards of her integrity, hence the guilt stress. It was as if she’d lied to her customers about the worth of the shampoo.

Interestingly, we found that her sense of integrity did not require her to continue buying the high-priced shampoo when she used up her supply.  Presumably, her changed financial circumstances due to the divorce constituted a legitimate reason to switch to a less expensive brand.

After the Stress Evaluation, she felt at peace with herself and stood taller from reaffirming the fact that she had high standards.  True to our findings, as soon as she returned to the shampoo she formerly sold her hair immediately stopped falling out because she no longer needed to punish herself. These days, she’s long since exhausted her supply and  yet her hair remains intact because she is living up to her value standards.

We shared a laugh when she called later to report back to me because it was funny in the ridiculous way that life often is. And yet it was also a sweet moment to me.  I love the fact that integrity and morality matter to all of us at our core even to people who see themselves as hard-bitten expedient types, not given to pondering the morality of their actions. Oftentimes people think they’re getting ahead by short-cutting integrity but in truth they’re creating their own stress, diminishing self-esteem, and possibly setting themselves up to pay for it later with self-inflicted illness.

The Stress Evaluation provides information possibly not obtainable anywhere else to guide targeted corrective action, as opposed to the hit-or-miss conjectural solutions that can emerge from conventional talk therapy.  In this client’s case, the most obvious stress in her life, even to her, was her ongoing divorce.  Indeed, it was the only thing she mentioned when I asked for background at the start of the session.  As such, the divorce would likely have been the focus of psychotherapy, yet we were able to dismiss it from consideration immediately because the Stress Evaluation revealed that it was not a factor in her hair loss.

Instead, the relevant stress was an integrity concern connected to an old business matter.  Without being able to draw on the intelligence for this information, what would a physician, psychologist, or nutritionist have suggested to correct the problem?  How many tests would have been run and at what expense?  With what findings?  How long would it have taken to find a solution, if ever? (This Stress Evaluation took about twenty minutes.) In conclusion, when a client is willing and able to face their stress, the Stress Evaluation can provide a valuable wealth of information about problems and solutions.

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8. Any Illness Can Come from Stress

For the most part, we deal with stress ineffectively and destructively.  We try to escape it with food, alcohol, drugs, sex, or possessions.  We distract ourselves with television, gaming, internet browsing, or even people and relationships.  We hide from it with denial.  We overeat or starve ourselves.  We make ourselves sick.   We are embarrassed by stress and our avoidance tactics are endless.

Becoming overwhelmed by stress is an individualized process but the results are common to all: we become less engaged in healthy, productive living. Our thinking and behavior degenerate from constructive to destructive, from creative to self-sabotaging.  We procrastinate.  We lose motivation, curiosity, enthusiasm.  We feel confusion, fatigue, depression, anxiety, or hopelessness.  There are serious second-order effects as well: many of the problems we have in life are the result of poor decisions made under the influence of overwhelming stress.

Medical research has concluded that many serious diseases and chronic illnesses are directly related to the inability to cope with stress — in other words, stress is not responsible for just minor, transitory complaints like headaches and colds.  In over 40 years of clinical use on thousands of people, Graf Stress Management has found stress at the root of all types of physical and mental illnesses, from chronic conditions like infertility, fibromyalgia, and addiction, to debilitating or terminal illnesses like cancer, lupus, AIDS, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Denying we have stress only hurts us.  It is nothing to be embarrassed about but rather, the symptom of a problem to be addressed.

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9. The Roles of Illness: Escape, Justification, and Punishment

If the intelligence is capable of running a perfectly healthy body, why do we get sick?

Graf Stress Management finds that health problems are often the result of our intelligence giving us what we subconsciously feel we need.

In other words, we often use health problems to subconsciously fulfill one or more of the following stress-driven purposes:

  1. Providing escapes from unmanageable situations;
  2. Providing justification for or manifestation of fears, expectations, or negative feelings;
  3. Punishing ourselves or others.

The mechanism by which this happens is as follows, simplified for the sake of space:

Escapes   There are times when we feel that we can’t cope with a situation.  If we see no graceful way out, we may create a physical health problem as an escape.  There are infinite individualized reasons people escape and unlimited ways to do it, whether it’s the minor stomachache to get out of school, or in the extreme, a terminal illness to exit a bad marriage from which divorce is not an option.  Our intelligence literally runs the body and can give us whatever we need to make it happen.  We’ve likely all used escapes at some point without even realizing it.

Justifications   We frequently justify our fears or expectations by turning them into reality.  We fear “catching” a cold from someone who’s got one and sure enough, we do.  Is it because our immune system can’t kill the virus, or because our expectation is so strong that our intelligence complies by directing the immune system not to attack?  Have we given the virus the upper hand by virtue of our fears and expectations?  Why is it that some people never seem to have cold symptoms?  Could it be that they don’t expect to get sick if exposed and therefore don’t need to justify the fear and expectation?

The world is filled with microorganisms, many linked to diseases.  Billions of microbes pass through our body each day, kept in check by our immune system.  But when a situation triggers our fears or expectations of becoming sick, our intelligence responds by delivering the illness we either feared, expected, or felt we deserved.

It would be interesting to observe the disposition of these same microorganisms in the body of a person who has no need to either justify fears or expectations, escape from a situation, or punish himself.

Justification of negative feelings can also appear as “hereditary” problems where.  We tend to think of these as inevitable genetic imperatives, but in fact Graf Stress Management indicates that children (including adult children) can subconsciously feel the need to have the same malady as a parent to “justify” being accepted by that parent, particularly if there have been feelings of rejection in the relationship.  It’s as if the child were saying, “See, I’m your son /daughter.  I have (nearsightedness/breast cancer/etc.) just like you.”

Justifications can help us save face, too, as with one young woman who subconsciously used excess weight to justify never being married.  She’d felt rejected most of her life and was fearful of being rejected by suitors.  The Stress Evaluation revealed that it was less painful to feel like a man wouldn’t marry her because of her weight than because “she was her” — i.e., because of something essential about her.

Punishments    Each of us has value standards associated with our performance in everything, from the trivial (such as how load the dishwasher), to the important (integrity, morality, financial success, educational achievement, and family relationships).  When we live up to our standards, we like ourselves and enjoy high self-esteem.

But when our behavior falls short of our standards, we don’t like ourselves and have low self-esteem.  Often, our first response to sub-standard behavior is to justify it by blaming someone else for what we did. When this doesn’t work, we may internalize the stress and develop physical symptoms to punish ourselves for it.  We may also use symptoms to punish other people for what they’ve done to us.

In summary, a fundamental tenet of Graf Stress Management is that health problems are frequently escapes, justifications, and punishments rather than events that “just happen” due to microorganisms, genes, and forces beyond our control. While some are offended at the suggestion that they’ve “made themselves sick,” if it is true it offers expanded possibilities for taking care of our health.

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10. The Vital Role of Value Standards

Each of us has values and standards governing our performance in every aspect of life, from non-essentials like how we organize our drawers to vital matters like integrity and morality.  When we live up to our value standards, we like ourselves and we enjoy high self-esteem.  But when our behavior falls short, we don’t like ourselves, we have low self-esteem, and we may experience guilt stress.

Graf Stress Management has discovered three interesting facts about our value standards:

1) Value standards can be raised, but not lowered.   As we acquire new insights, our standards may be raised.  That is, once we recognize a higher standard than the one we’ve previously held, we unconsciously make it our new baseline and we cannot revert to the lower standard again as our baseline.  We may choose to live beneath our standards, but we will experience the shortfall as guilt stress.  Whether we like it or not, we appear to be hard-wired in an upward direction.

2) Certain key value standards are inborn, not learned.   The standards that appear to be most important to us, such as honesty, morality, forgiveness and so forth, are in place at birth.  I have not worked with a single person whom we did not find to have been born with high moral value standards.  Teachings in the home and elsewhere may reinforce or undermine the choice to live up to these standards, but the values themselves appear to be in place at birth, from what we learn during the Stress Evaluation.

3) Failure to live up to key standards can be devastating to our health and well-being.   Many of the problems that bring people in for help turn out to be subconscious self-punishments for violating these standards, or attempts to escape from situations in which they feel at risk of violating their standards.

I recall a client who withdrew from college and entered a psychiatric hospital following a psychotic breakdown. Several years later, as he prepared to return to the university, he suffered another psychotic episode.  A psychiatrist had worked for years to ‘stabilize’ him on anti-psychotic drugs, never addressing the cause of the episodes, perhaps assuming it was ‘genetic’ and triggered by the pressure of college.

During the Stress Evaluation we found that at the time of the initial breakdown, the young man had felt devastated after violating a value standard that was very important to him, one he’d made an outright pledge to uphold.  He was fearful that the college environment posed a high-risk situation for him to repeat the offense and he no longer trusted himself to withstand the temptation.  Plus, he felt he didn’t deserve the privilege of college after what he’d done.  The breakdown had given him an escape from the risk of temptation while also punishing him for his behavior.

The finding that we’re born with high value standards is at odds with today’s moral relativism, which treats values as cultural by-products or personal choices.  Popular culture promotes ever-lower standards, particularly for sexual morality, in the drive to be ‘progressive’ and ‘non-judgmental.’  It treats the guilt we feel (or suppress) from wrongdoing as an oppressive inhibition getting in the way of real happiness.

But according to the intelligence, just the opposite is true.  Our high moral standards are innate and we are not capable lowering them.  We feel peace and satisfaction when we live up to them, and we experience stress, not happiness, when we live beneath them.  And rather than being a nuisance, guilt feelings in their proper context are useful signals that we have ‘missed the mark’ and need to correct our behavior.  It is important, however, to deal with guilt swiftly and positively through corrective action.  Torturing ourselves with guilt feelings after the fact is not only painful and unproductive, it is itself beneath our value standards.

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11. Forgiveness: The Most Effective Way to Handle Stress

Graf Stress Management’s forty-plus years of clinical use have yielded a definitive insight: Forgiveness is key to managing stress and enjoying healthy, peaceful, productive living.

The Stress Evaluation reveals that we are each born with high value standards, and one of these is the need to forgive when we take offense. The failure to forgive  places stress on us which can result in very real mental and physical health problems, as well as other self-sabotaging behavior.

No approach to stress management (e.g., relaxation, hobbies, medication) that neglects this core truth can relieve the subconscious component of stress.

I confess that when I first learned this, it bothered me.  I had been a grudge-holder all my life and the idea of ‘unwarranted, unearned forgiveness’ went against my grain. Fortunately, that’s not what forgiveness is.  Here’s how I explain it to clients:

When something offends us – makes us hurt, mad, sad, embarrassed, frustrated, etc. – we have the choice to either take offense or not take offense.  It happens so quickly, so reflexively, that we may not even realize we have a choice but we do. And most often, we choose to take offense.

Once we’ve taken offense, our first response is usually to retaliate or ‘get even.’  So we tell the other person off, or we get physical, or exclude them socially, sue them, gossip about them, and so forth.  We think it will make us feel better to see “justice” done, but what the Stress Evaluation reveals time and time again is that, surprisingly, retaliation makes us feel worse.  The reason it does is that it’s beneath our innate value standards to return evil for evil, and living beneath our standards is always stressful.

Some people are not retaliators by nature.  Instead, when they get offended they “swallow it” and do nothing outwardly, but instead of forgiving and forgetting they think about it again and again. It festers inside them, sometimes to the point of causing very serious physical health problems.

There’s a third option for dealing with offense that few of us even consider: forgiveness.  We have a lot of trouble with forgiveness because we don’t understand what it really is.  We think it means condoning wrongdoing, or letting someone get away with something, or giving someone a free pass to hurt us again.  This is NOT what forgiveness is.

Forgiveness in the context of stress management means allowing the offender the free agency to be less than perfect, and letting the Lord be the judge. It’s a matter of letting go and not internalizing the negativity.

Often we hold onto our resentment because we think it punishes the offenders, as though our negative feelings had any impact on them at all! The truth is, we’re the ones hurt by those feelings, not the offender, which is why we benefit from forgiving. Forgiveness keeps the negativity from causing problems for us. As discussed above, we are born with an internal standard that requires us to forgive when we take offense. We can’t opt out of it; our only choice is to live up to it and be at peace, or live beneath it and feel stress.

Forgiveness does not negate the fact that the wrongdoer will stand accountable for his actions, just as we will for ours. Justice will inevitably be served, but not necessarily by us or on our timetable.

In addition, forgiveness does not mean that we must like people who’ve hurt us or choose to socialize with them. It doesn’t require that we make ourselves vulnerable to them again, nor does it mean that we can’t hold them responsible to remedy the damage they’ve done, when appropriate.  We may still pursue justice through appropriate channels if the situation warrants it; however, there is a meaningful difference between suing for justice and suing for revenge.

Generally, the person we find it hardest to forgive is our self.  In fact, when the need to forgive our self shows up during the Stress Evaluation, it often come as a surprise to the client.  Subconsciously, we seem to feel that if we make ourselves suffer enough we can “pay” for our wrongdoing but it turns our that even when we are the offender, the failure to forgive is stressful to us.

The Stress Evaluation is especially helpful in clarifying whom we need to forgive and for what, details that are sometimes unclear to our rational minds. It turns out that what we think offended us may NOT be what actually did offend us, according to our intelligence. In particular, when a lot of time has elapsed since the episode, we may not realize that lingering stress is still causing problems for us and needs to be resolved.

Again and again, we observe that nothing brings more peace of mind and relief from overwhelming and debilitating stress than the simple, humble tool of forgiveness.   When properly applied as needed, it can result in dramatic physical and mental restoration, peace of mind and increased energy levels.

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12. The Technical Steps of Forgiveness

“I’ll never forgive her.”  “It’s going to take a lot before I forgive him.”  “It’s too soon for me to forgive.”  Statements such as these are evidence of thewe widespread misunderstanding about forgiveness — a misunderstanding that hurts us.  A common misconception is that forgiveness requires enough time to pass for us to become “ok” with what happened.  Or that amends must be made by the offender before forgiveness has been earned.  We mistakenly regard forgiveness as a justice process where accounts get settled between the offender and the offended.

But insights from the clinical practice of Graf Stress Management provide an altogether different view of the nature, process, and purpose of forgiveness.  First and foremost is the recognition that forgiveness benefits us.  We generally think of it as being the other way around, that it’s something we do for the sake of those who have wronged us.  There is some truth to that inasmuch as most people want to be forgiven for their wrongdoing.  But from the standpoint of taking care of stress, the main benefit is for us.

The fact is, grudges we hold have no impact whatsoever on those against whom we hold them.  Nor do they remedy the original offense, despite the illusion that we are “getting even” by thinking ill of the person who caused it.  Moreover, the Stress Evaluation consistently demonstrates that failure to forgive is a more significant stress than the offense itself, sometimes with devastating results.  (Additional discussion of forgiveness is found in 11. Forgiveness: The Most Effective Way to Handle Stress.)

One obstacle to effective forgiveness is that we don’t know how to do it properly.  A common mistake is conditional forgiveness:  “I’ll forgive if she apologizes,” “I’ll forgive if he changes,” “I’ll forgive this time, but not if it happens again.”  Yet these conditions prevent true forgiveness from taking place.  Remember, we’re the ones who benefit from forgiveness.  Let’s make sure it happens!

Forgiveness doesn’t need to be a dramatic, emotionally wrenching, drawn-out experience.  It can simply be a gentle “letting go.”  Graf Stress Management relies on five basic principles to guide effective forgiveness:

  1. Say it out loud. There is real power and effect in feeling ourselves say the actual words.
  2. Be specific. State exactly whom you’re forgiving and what for.  Generalized statements like, “I forgive everyone for everything that’s ever happened to me” don’t work.  Forgiveness needs to be directed toward actual offenses.  Even if the person who offended us didn’t actually do something wrong, the fact that we took offense means we need to forgive.  For example, “Pat” was under no obligation to invite us to join her in the cafeteria, but it hurt our feelings, so: “I forgive Pat for causing me to feel rejected by not inviting me to sit with her at lunch.”  (Of course, we would need to forgive ourselves as well for our part in that transaction, namely, the taking of offense: “I forgive myself for feeling rejected when Pat didn’t ask me to sit with her.”)
  3. Use the present tense: “I forgive,” not “I need to forgive,” “I should forgive,” or “I will forgive.”  Make it happen now.
  4. Do it as many times as it takes. Every time you even remember an offense, it offends you all over again, so forgive again, no matter how many times you already have.
  5. Do it immediately. Don’t let it fester for even a minute.  Make it a reflex.

These simple steps have been shown in thousands of clients to have extraordinary effect in managing stress and securing peace of mind, health, and well-being.

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13. Example: Forgiveness Lets Healing Happen

Some people think of forgiveness as nothing more than a social gesture that makes things run smoothly, like saying “please” and “thank-you” — mannerly but of no real effect.

Others see it as the choice of appeasers and cowards too weak to take real action to get even.

But both are wrong. Forgiveness has unequaled power to dissolve stress and by so doing, it unleashes the power of the intelligence to literally heal minds and bodies.

As for being the easy way out, the truth is that sometimes it requires all the courage (in the true sense of “heart”) that we can muster.

The following account illustrates the need for courage to forgive, and the corresponding peace and healing that can follow.

Jan Graf once worked with a very frail man whose terminal illness that had not responded to medical treatment. Having outlasted his doctors’ prognosis, he appeared to be living on borrowed time

The Stress Evaluation revealed that someone had deeply offended this man fifteen years earlier.  Graf asked, “ Can you think of anyone who offended you fifteen years ago?”

At first the man drew a blank, but then it dawned on him. “Oh yeah. How could I forget him?”  When told that he needed to forgive this person, the man replied, “I know I do, and someday I might, but I’m not about to forgive him today.”

(Note that although the client’s own intelligence indicated that he would benefit by forgiving, he stubbornly refused to because he felt like he was getting even with the other man by hanging onto the resentment — “that guy didn’t deserve to be forgiven.” In reality, that man was completely unaffected by the client’s hard feelings whereas the client was near death from the negative energy involved.)

Graf pointed out that at the rate his health was deteriorating, he didn’t have many “somedays” left.  The client countered that given the way he felt about the other man, it wouldn’t be real forgiveness anyway, just insincere lip service.  He then told the story: a friend persuaded him to invest in a deal which would yield a fantastic return.  Against his wife’s better judgment, he borrowed several hundred thousand dollars by mortgaging his home and his business.  But when it came time for the fantastic return, the friend told him that the deal hadn’t worked out and the money had been lost.

The bank subsequently foreclosed on the client’s house and business, and he declared bankruptcy.  His wife took the kids and moved in with her parents.  In despair, he became inappropriately involved with another woman and was excommunicated from his church.  Thanks to this friend,  he lost every single thing of value to him.  “And you ask me to forgive him?,” he demanded incredulously?

Graf suggested he do it anyway, reminding him that his intelligence indicated the need to do so.  At length, the client agreed to perform the “lip service” and began stammering out, “I forgive…,” but was unable to get the words out due to his pent up anger.  “I can’t do it.  I can’t even say it.”

“Try it from the heart now, “ Graf counseled him.  At this point, the man began sobbing for nearly ten minutes, then finally said, “I forgive ‘Stan’ for causing me to lose my family, my home, my business, my church membership, my money, and his friendship.”

Graf reminded him to forgive himself, too, for his role in the matter.  As the man finished forgiving, he felt a tremendous weight lift off his body.  He had no idea he’d been carrying such a heavy burden.  Graf suggested that he ask his family to forgive him, and if possible, ask the friend in question to forgive him as well for the bitterness he’d carried all these years.

Graf further suggested that the client consider returning to his church and finding the Lord, whom he also needed to forgive since he blamed Him for allowing this terrible thing to happen.

After working through many other stresses in his life, the client left and Graf’s receptionist asked him whether or not he thought the client would recover.  Graf didn’t know–it was up to the client–but even if not, the man would be much more at peace when he met his maker.

Three years passed and one day the receptionist noticed that the same client was coming back in.  Graf envisioned a weak, skeletal man on a gurney, barely alive, but was instead shocked to see a healthy man walk into his office.  The client informed Graf that he’d made a complete recovery within six months of the visit and was returning only to thank him and to find out whom else he needed to forgive because his shoulder had been hurting for a month.  The man returned several more times over the years, always marveling how good life is and that he is alive to enjoy it because of forgiveness.

As Graf explains, “I do not share this story to suggest that I can heal any health problem, for I certainly cannot.  However, this man was able to heal himself when he no longer needed the disease to [manifest] his anger or to punish himself.”

This is the power of forgiveness.

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14. Example: The Transformative Power of Forgiveness

The book Return from Tomorrow by psychiatrist George Ritchie, MD, recounts Ritchie’s near-death experience and its aftermath. It includes a striking vignette from Ritchie’s post-WWII Army service during which he became acquainted with a man who’d spent six years incarcerated in a Nazi prison camp. This man’s forgiveness and love had apparently preserved his health in the midst of one of the most brutal and inhumane circumstances in modern history.

“When the war in Europe ended in May 1945…I was part of a group assigned to a concentration camp near Wuppertal, charged with getting medical help to the newly liberated prisoners, many of them Jews from Holland, France, and eastern Europe.  This was the most shattering experience I had yet had; I had been exposed many times by then to sudden death and injury, but to see the effects of slow starvation, to walk through those barracks where thousands of men had died a little bit at a time over a period of years, was a new kind of horror.  For many it was an irreversible process: we lost scores each day in spite of all the medicine and food we could rush to them.

And that’s how I came to know Wild Bill Cody…His real name was seven unpronounceable syllables in Polish, but he had a long drooping handlebar mustache like pictures of the old western hero, so the American soldiers called him Wild Bill.  He was one of the inmates of the concentration camp, but obviously he hadn’t been there long.  His posture was erect, his eyes bright, his energy indefatigable.  Since he was fluent in English, French, German, and Russian, as well as Polish, he became a kind of unofficial camp translator.

We came to him with all sorts of problems; the paperwork alone was staggering in attempting to relocate people whose families, even whole hometowns, might have disappeared.  But though Wild Bill worked fifteen and sixteen hours a day, he showed no signs of weariness.  While the rest of us were drooping with fatigue, he seemed to gain strength.  ‘We have time for this old fellow,’ he’d say.  ‘He’s been waiting to see us all day.’  His compassion for his fellow prisoners glowed on his face, and it was to this glow that I came when my own spirits were low.  So I was astonished to learn when Wild Bill’s own papers came before us one day that he had been in Wuppertal since 1939!  For six years he had lived on the same starvation diet, slept in the same airless and disease-ridden barracks as everyone else, but without the least physical or mental deterioration.

Perhaps even more amazing, every group in the camp looked on him as a friend. He was the one to whom quarrels between inmates were brought for arbitration. Only after I’d been at Wuppertal a number of weeks did I realize what a rarity this was in a compound where the different nationalities of prisoners hated each other almost as much as they did the Germans.

As for Germans, feelings against them ran so high that in some of the camps liberated earlier, former prisoners had seized guns, run into the nearest village, and simply shot the first Germans they saw. Part of our instructions were to prevent this kind of thing and again, Wild Bill was our greatest asset, reasoning with the different groups, counseling forgiveness.

‘It’s not easy for some of them to forgive,’ I commented to him one day as we sat over mugs of tea in the processing center. ‘So many of them have lost members of their families.’

Wild Bill leaned back in the upright chair and sipped at his drink. ‘We lived in the Jewish section of Warsaw,’ he began slowly, the first words I had heard him speak about himself, ‘my wife, our two daughters, and our three little boys. When the Germans reached our street they lined everyone up with machine guns. I begged to be allowed to die with my family, but because I spoke German they put me in a work group.’

He paused, perhaps seeing again his wife and five children. ‘I had to decide right then,’ he continued, ‘whether to let myself hate the soldiers who had done this. It was an easy decision, really. I was a lawyer. In my practice I had seen too often what hate could do to people’s minds and bodies. Hate had just killed the six people who mattered most to me in the world. I decided then that I would spend the rest of my life – whether it was a few days or many years – loving every person I came in contact with.’

Loving every person…this was the power that had kept a man well in the face of every privation.”

This story dramatically illustrates the powerful physical and psychological benefits of forgiveness and love.  Despite the slaughter of his family, despite sharing the same unspeakable living conditions as his fellow prisoners, he had not suffered the ravages or emaciation of the others. His ability to forgive – NOT condone, NOT “swallow”, NOT retaliate – but to endure without internalizing the negativity, and on top of that to love, had made all the difference in the world to his body and mind. Surely we are capable of the same in our lives if we choose to so dedicate ourselves.

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15. Do I Need to Believe In It For It To Work?

A drawback to many mind-body therapies is the requirement to believe, without doubting, that they will work. In other words, there is claimed to be a direct link between the client’s ‘expectation’ and the success of the outcome.

This can be a depressing obstacle for those unable to fully “buy into” a given technique without having first seen some results.  They hope it will work and are willing to try, but there is anxiety that perhaps it won’t be able to work because they lacked conviction — which they couldn’t pretend without first seeing results.  Vicious circle.

I had a similar concern when I tried Graf Stress Management as a client. It was appealing to me, so much so that it deserved to be true, but it sounded too simple to be effective. So, I found myself simply going through the motions of the Stress Evaluation without real expectation of success.

Fortunately, it didn’t matter whether or not I believed in the technique — it mattered only that I was able and willing to deal with the stresses that were causing problems for me and to do those things that my intelligence indicated were needful. That much, I could do.

Initially, I sought Jan Graf’s help for infertility, with success. Upon becoming pregnant, I experienced extreme nausea and returned to see Graf a second time. The Stress Evaluation indicated that the nausea was due to psychological stress. In particular, I apparently felt a subconscious need to respond as a ‘normal’ woman by exhibiting nausea, a ‘normal’ symptom of pregnancy.

I had no problem believing this finding. My earlier visit had taught me that I could trust the muscle testing (applied kinesiology) as a diagnostic tool, and the pregnancy itself was proof that I’d gotten results from taking care of my stresses. But it stretched my credulity to think that I could take care of this problem simply by stating aloud: “I release the need to be sick to justify being accepted as a woman.”  I didn’t have a shred of confidence that merely saying that was going to change anything. I had literally zero emotional investment in the words. There was no “Aha!” feeling like I’d had with many of the stresses we’d uncovered in the first session.

Frankly, I doubted stress had anything to do with my nausea. I’d reasoned according to the theory of the day that it was caused by HGC in my bloodstream from to the pregnancy and as such, it was inevitable.

Nevertheless, I said it.  And I meant it — I was totally fine with no longer being nauseated just to show the world that I was a normal woman with normal symptoms of pregnancy. But did I think it was going to help? No. Not at all. I mean, this was real night and day nausea. Yet, to my surprise, about half an hour after I’d made that simple statement, I realized that I no longer felt nauseated. And it never came back, even on my next pregnancy.

That experience cemented the validity of Graf Stress Management for me. Simple means, when they’re on target, can work whether we believe in them or not. As soon as I’d taken care of my stress — even a stress I did not strongly identify with — the nausea ended, regardless of what I thought had actually been causing it and notwithstanding the fact that there still remained HCG in my bloodstream.

I learned from this experience that just because there was HCG in my bloodstream did not mean I had to respond to it with nausea — a lesson that can be broadly generalized to other health matters.  I also learned that stress management worked, whether or not I believed in Graf’s paradigm of stress-caused illness.  I mean, I had no trouble believing in it as far as the infertility was concerned (namely, that my subconscious fear of being rejected by my children had kept me from conceiving). But I was pretty sure that the nausea was an inevitable chemical imperative of pregnancy, not a “head problem.”  Yet the fact remained that whether or not I believed stress was responsible, as soon as I’d taken care of mine, my body took care of the nausea. The empirical evidence was undeniable.

It was clear to me that Graf Stress Management was a major advance over other mind-body strategies I’d tried which relied on techniques like affirmation and visualization.  Mu problem with them was that they required conviction about the thing being proclaimed (such as, “I am now easily becoming pregnant”), which was intellectually impossible for me since I was having the opposite experience.  I was neither “now” nor “easily” becoming pregnant.  Affirmations had to be believable, not just hopes that I was trying to brute-force into reality.

The unique contribution of Graf Stress Management lies in incisively finding and resolving the specific stresses burdening an individual — stresses that may be working insurmountably against the very thing visualized and affirmed.  For example, in my own case, without taking care of my fear that any children I might have would reject me, I doubt I should ever have conceived.

And that’s my objection to other mind-body approaches: without resolving any countervailing stresses, I see little possibility of them accomplishing the desired end.  I do not believe the mind can compel the body to do something the intelligence opposes simply by affirming or visualizing it, even with the sincerest conviction.  Affirmations can be helpful, but only if they’re your affirmations, consistent with the psychological particulars of your situation, as opposed to blanket statements claiming a desired result.

 

 

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16. Does Graf Stress Management Work for Everyone?

In theory, the principles behind Graf Stress Management apply to everyone but in practice, the technique works well only when people participate of their own free will and choice.

Although the muscle testing component of the Stress Evaluation operates on a principle similar to the polygraph, it is not an interrogation, and information cannot be forced out of anyone. Thus, delinquent teenagers and hostile spouses cannot be dragged in involuntarily for “fixing,” although one dealing with such people might obtain help for stress of those relationships.

Even those who participate willingly may have stresses that they’re unwilling or unable to face and which will not emerge from the Stress Evaluation. In keeping with the bedrock principle of life, free agency, the intelligence will protect a person even to the point of death from dealing with an issue she is unwilling or unable to face. Sometimes stress management can help a person become willing to face such a stress when they are motivated to make the change.

Another impediment to successful stress management is the loss of will to live — a sense of wanting to be done with life, often after prolonged suffering or discouragement. This can occur even in people who are actively pursuing medical treatment for a given malady. The will to live can sometimes, but not always, be regained.

Finally, it is sometimes simply a person’s ‘time to go’ and nothing will induce recovery, although Stress Management can still be beneficial to help them be at peace while preparing to meet their maker.

In summary, experience persuades me that the mechanics of Graf Stress Management apply to everyone, but that not all are good candidates to use it.  The willingness to let oneself be helped is a key factor. When it’s a good match to the client, Graf Stress Management is an effective, efficient, and satisfying approach to promoting health and well-being.

 

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17. The Good News About Stress and Illness

Most people believe that the connection between stress and illness works roughly in the following manner:  Stress physically wears us down, thereby diminishing our resistance to disease-causing microorganisms or causing us pain, such as headaches, from muscle tension.

Graf Stress Management takes a more comprehensive view of both stress and the mechanism by which it causes illness.  First of all, the Graf framework sees problem-causing stress as more than simply the pressures of daily life.  Rather, the most debilitating stress is related to negative thoughts and feelings– guilt, hurt, resentment, low self-esteem, and so forth — conscious as well as unconscious, from both past and present events.  Indeed, it’s common to find the roots of today’s problems in stress from an earlier point in time.

As to the mechanism by which stress creates illness, Graf Stress Management’s paradigm regards illness as generally initiated by the intelligence to fulfill our subconscious needs caused by stress.  These needs fall into three categories: 1) escapes from situations we can’t cope with; 2) justifications or manifestations of negative beliefs and feelings, and 3) punishments of ourselves or others.

Stress-induced illnesses can range from minor bugs to life-threatening ailments.  Indeed, it appears that the entire range of physical, mental, and emotional maladies can result from stress.

It’s tempting to dismiss this paradigm as simplistic or unscientific.  I don’t blame anyone for feeling this way without first-hand experience in Graf Stress Management.  But experience has shown these principles to work in thousands of clients over more than forty years, even if we don’t know precisely how.

Uncertainty about the way things work is accepted in medicine and the same latitude ought to be accorded Graf Stress Management.  One woman, I recall, was incredulous when I described my view of the mechanism by which stress causes illness.  “You don’t really believe that!” she exclaimed.  But moments later she told me without batting an eye that she’d just begun a course of blood pressure medication which her doctor hoped would help, even though “no one knows how it works.”

Some people take offense at the idea that we use illness for punishment, escape, or justification.  They think I’m saying that it’s people’s own fault if they get sick; they could get well if they really wanted to.

Let me be clear: I have great compassion for people struggling with health problems and I don’t believe anyone would consciously choose to do so.  Nor do I think they could they bring on real symptoms simply by choosing to.  However, this is a subconscious process, and our subconscious dynamics are altogether different.

In any case, I’m not making a value judgment.  Whether or not people use illnesses to escape, justify, or punish is either true or false.  I find it true and therefore, helpful knowledge.

Using illness for escape, justification, or punishment is far more common than we suppose.  I believe we’ve all done it at times without even knowing it.  And lest anyone think I sound superior, please know that I am as vulnerable to stress-induced problems as anyone else, although at this point I usually take care of things before they mushroom into physical symptoms.  It’s fair to say that I’m my own most frequent client and I’m glad to report that you get better at it with time and practice.

In the final analysis, a clearer understanding of the dynamic between stress and illness is liberating.  I’m grateful to know a quick, painless, and effective method for identifying and resolving stress rather than relying on slower, generalized approaches like medication, psychotherapy, exercise, or relaxation.  Graf Stress Management is a revolution that shifts our minds and bodies from being at the mercy of germs, genes, and other forces outside our control, to having the ability to discover and resolve what’s really troubling us — from the inside, out.

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