Bach flowers for life event stress

Distress about an ‘adverse life event’ is among the most common reasons that people seek help from the Bach flowers. Besides major events such as the loss of a job, a divorce, and the death of a loved person or pet, many other kinds of traumas, disappointments, irritations or deprivations can happen in life.

During my former career as a research psychiatrist I carried out a study about life events in relation to health. This involved following up a sample of women over several years through a series of detailed home interviews. Adverse events were reported much more often than pleasant ones, and the number of events varied greatly between different people. One event often set off a cascade of others and there were usually accompanying long-term difficulties, such as financial problems or unhappy relationships.

This is not the place to discuss that particular study but I would like to mention some personal observations I took from it. These points are not often emphasised in the academic literature, but they may be helpful to people dealing with life event stress themselves.

1. The impact of an event varies a good deal depending on individual personality and circumstances. The same experience, for example being made redundant, might be variously perceived as a loss, a punishment, an insult, a challenge, the hand of fate, or a blessing in disguise. It could give rise to different emotions such as sadness, guilt, resentment, anger, resignation or relief. There is always potential for ‘reframing’ personal attitudes and emotions around an event.

2. Although adverse events usually lead to emotional distress, and sometimes act as the trigger for a mental or physical illness, ‘every cloud has a silver lining’ and often there are compensations in the longer term. The person who was made redundant might, for example, benefit from a much-need rest before going on to improve his or her skills and presentation and eventually finding a better job.

3. We are responsible for much of what happens in our lives. Although some events such as bereavements and natural disasters do happen independently, they are the minority. Most events do not arise ‘out of the blue’; personal choices and behaviours have usually played some part in the chain of causation. Some also believe in metaphysical aspects, for example that our thoughts and emotions determine our life event experience through the Law of Attraction, or that the Universe presents us with the experiences required to advance our spiritual development.

Here, in alphabetical order, are some suggestions for Bach flowers which can assist coping with stressful life events and difficulties. The statements in quotes are taken from The Encyclopedia of Bach Flower Therapy by Mechthild Scheffer. As always, the choice of remedy or remedies depends on the current emotional state of the individual. Please visit the Bach Centre website for more details.

Chestnut bud ‘from superficiality to experience’: if the same type of adverse event keeps ocuring in your life, this may indicate a failure to learn from past actions.

Gentian ‘from doubt to trust’: if you feel negative and discouraged following a setback, delay or disappointment.

Gorse ‘from giving up to going forth’: if you feel completely hopeless, and can hardly see any point in trying to overcome long-standing difficulties.

Holly ‘from hard-heartedness to generosity’if you feel consumed by hostile feelings such as anger, jealousy or suspicion towards other person(s) whom you hold to blame for what went wrong.

Star of Bethlehem ‘from shock to reorientation’: for shock and grief, for example after an accident or bereavement, even if it happened some time ago.

Sweet chestnut ‘through darkness to light’: if you feel unbearable anguish and have reached the end of your endurance. 

Willow ‘from resenting fate to taking personal responsibility’: when the predominant feelings are those of self-pity and being a victim, Willow can encourage a greater sense of empowerment.

Adverse life events are always upsetting but there is often something to be learned from them. For example, having an accident – especially more than one – might indicate the need to be more patient, to curtail an overload of commitments, to maintain better safety standards for your home or car, to pay more attention to the present moment, or to avoid going too long without food. Or, experiencing a series of relationship breakups might indicate some kind of imbalance in your own psychology.  There are Bach flower remedies to cover some of these issues too, but details would be beyond the scope of this post.

Forgiveness and the Bach flowers

Few states of mind are more toxic to body and soul than unforgiveness – which includes both resentments towards other people, and reproachfulness towards the self. All the major world religions advocate forgiveness. This does not mean condoning wrong actions, but involves moving on from the hurt they have caused, by cultivating love and compassion instead of holding on to anger and blame.

Chronic unforgiveness has been described as ‘a deadly spiritual poison’ and many alternative healers regard it as a major risk factor for physical disease, some going so far as to say that it lies at the root of most cases of cancer. I don’t know whether this is true and it would be a challenging topic for research, but there are certainly many personal stories of remarkable recovery both from cancer and other conditions after sincere forgiveness has taken place – see  this link for one man’s story. Forgiveness always benefits the one who forgives, and also the one who is forgiven, if it is possible and appropriate to tell them about it.

When I think about the occasions in my own life when forgiveness has been called for, I find that they seldom involved deliberate wrong-doing. More often there was a lack of consideration for others, a projection of personal problems onto the nearest target, even a misguided attempt to be helpful – a reminder that different people can perceive the same situation in very different ways, and always a potential ‘learning experience’.

Though we may acknowledge that forgiveness is highly desirable, many of us find it difficult. For some, the intention to forgive can best be supported through spiritual or religious counselling and practice; for others, through psychological techniques. Bach flower remedies such as Willow, Holly and Pine could be chosen to assist the process, depending on the details of each case.

Holly promotes forgiveness and love when there are negative feelings towards others.  Dr Edward Bach made this comment about people who need Holly: ‘Within themselves they may suffer much, often when there is no real cause for their unhappiness’.

Pine promotes forgiveness when there is criticism and guilt towards the self. Bach wrote in his booklet The Twelve Healers: ‘For those who blame themselves. Even when successful they think they could have done better, and are never content with their efforts or the results. They are hard-working and suffer much from the faults they attach to themselves. Sometimes if there is any mistake it is due to another, but they will claim responsibility even for that.’