I started getting hives out of the blue a few years ago. It wasn’t clear what I was reacting to so the doctor recommended a food allergy test. The cause ended up being something else but the food test stayed with me. It’s not a yes/no result and there are gradients of reactions one can have―from itching, nasal congestion, and hives to anaphylaxis, which is the most severe reaction and is life threatening. I’m vegetarian and it was interesting that I had zero reactivity to meats and seafood, even the most inflammatory ones like shellfish. I was sensitive to things like beans (which is common) and basil (felt random and unexpected).
As I dug into the results, I realized that I was reacting mainly to foods I ate the most. Some foods might have been unsuited to my digestive system anyway but the frequency of consumption led to outsized reactions. Did I need a small pause? This is actually the wisdom behind detoxification diets. We limit exposure to inflammatory foods and then start adding them back bit by bit to see how the body does. A severe reaction means permanent avoidance, a minor discomfort means the need to be mindful while eating.
I wonder if this logic holds for the people in our life. Just like I wasn’t allergic to what I didn’t eat, I don’t have reactions to those I don’t engage with. I react only when there is interaction and, more importantly, relationship. The people I live with or interact with the most are likely the ones that trigger me the most, and I have an outsized ability to irritate them back. Our body carries the imprint of past interactions and reactions. If we’ve reacted in the past, we’re more likely to react again.
Our psyche stays on guard just the way our white blood cells do. Whether we realize it or not, our minds automatically filter current experiences as they are unfolding using the lens of our past, predict what will happen and behave accordingly. And like our overactive immune systems that might see basil as a threat, our mental predictions aren’t always accurate. We’re often unable to see what’s actually going on in our closest relationships and frequent interactions.
Could a relational detox help? Where we pay attention to who triggers us, whom we trigger, and then most importantly, cultivate the skill to see below our mutual masks of irritation to the underlying vulnerability in ourselves and others. Where we actively work on not getting triggered so kind and clear communication can flow.
Those we share the most time, space and life with are the ones we exchange our deepest imperfections with. A loving relationship with them needs a non-judgmental open heart and compassionate will. To be proximal and yet love is an unending practice.
“Perhaps the biggest tragedy of our lives is that freedom is possible, yet we can pass our years trapped in the same old patterns…
We may want to love other people without holding back, to feel authentic, to breathe in the beauty around us, to dance and sing. Yet each day we listen to inner voices that keep our life small.”
― Tara Brach: psychologist, author and Buddhist meditation teacher