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Doctors’ emotional struggles in the medical field

Most humans, especially doctors, are completely disconnected from their bodies. This conditioning starts in childhood, escalates through teenage years, and peaks in residency where we are trained to completely detach from our body. Our emotions are held in our body. But in order to survive the chronic stress and trauma of medical training, we stop feeling.

It’s our coping mechanism.

It’s survival.

Yet this is so counterintuitive to our soul’s calling because most of us pursued medicine to help, connect, and heal. But we lack the tools to foster this mind and body connection.

Lauran was my first patient in the PICU. A beautiful bright 17-year-old teenager, she had a lung transplant for cystic fibrosis. I cared for her all month. Her family was present 24/7, loving, kind, considerate, respectful. PICU had become their second home, their second family. Each morning, I would enthusiastically skip over to her bedside to greet her until that dark early morning.

I found her bed empty. Gone. She had passed away that night. We, as her team, did what was expected. We moved on. No pause. No time to process the grief. No moment of silence. No tears.

We wonder why we feel numb, empty, apathetic. It’s emotional exhaustion, my friends, from years of unprocessed feelings.

As kids, we are taught to escape our emotions:

Don’t cry; you are a big boy.
Don’t cry; you are a strong boy.
Don’t scream; it’s rude.
Don’t yell; it’s disrespectful.
Pretty girls don’t get mad.
Strong girls don’t cry.
Princesses don’t yell.
Stop your crying; you are strong.

These were the messages programmed in our subconscious as kids. As adults, the messages took a more vulgar tone. Put on your scrubs, look presentable, always smile, don’t complain, be kind, do your job, and don’t question authority.

As we start adulting, we start to internalize these messages. We self-sabotage.

Don’t cry; you are the doctor. That is going to make you look weak.
Don’t scream; it’s rude. You will lose your job if you say anything.
Don’t yell; it’s disrespectful. Let admin take care of it. They know best.
Don’t get mad. They will label you as bossy and pushy. Definitely grounds for termination.
Don’t show your frustration. Keep quiet. It’s just a few more patients on your schedule; it’s not a big deal.
If humans are controlled and silenced, they will grow up as adults that will abandon and neglect their true self.

Let’s work on changing the narrative for ourselves and our colleagues.

Don’t cry — I see you are grieving. It’s normal to cry when you lose a human life that you cared for.
Don’t scream — I see you are angry. You have every right to stand up for yourself.
Don’t yell — I hear the passion in your voice. Let’s take a walk together outside and debrief.
Don’t get mad — It’s normal to feel angry when your rights are not respected.
Don’t show your frustration — I see that you are angry. How can I help you?

It’s simple: all humans, kids, and adults, want to be seen, heard, and validated. We have a lot of work to do. Start today. Start with yourself. You can heal. You can connect. You can find joy.

Sogol Pahlavan is a board-certified pediatrician, co-founder, managing partner, and CEO, ABC Pediatric Clinic. She, along with her sister, Silen Pahlavan, has grown their two-physician private independent pediatric clinic, serving 10,000 patients in East Houston, which is an underserved Hispanic community. After struggling with burnout, Dr. Sogol embarked on a journey of mindfulness and became certified as a mindfulness physician business coach. She is a TEDx speaker and a podcaster, hosting Mindful Living with Dr. Sogol. She is also the co-founder, SOULpreneurMD, which helps female physician entrepreneurs create profitable, hassle-free businesses, and can be reached on LinkedIn.

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