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  Home  > Personal Wellness  > Key Concept #2: The Iceberg Model of Health and Disease

Key Concept #2: The Iceberg Model of Health and Disease

Illness and health are only the tip of an iceberg. To understand their causes, you must look below the surface.

Icebergs reveal only about one-tenth of their mass above the water. The other nine-tenths remains submerged. This is why they are such a nightmare in navigation, and why they make such an appropriate metaphor in considering your state of wellness.

Your current state of health, be it one of disease or vitality, is just like the tip of the iceberg. This is the apparent part - what shows. If you don't like it, you can attempt to change it, do things to it, chisel away at an unwanted condition. But, whenever you knock some off, more of the same comes up to take its place.

The Iceberg Model of Health and Dis-ease

To understand all that creates and supports your current state of health, you have to look underwater. The first level you encounter is the lifestyle/behavioral level - what you eat, how you use and exercise your body, how you relax and let go of stress, and how you safeguard yourself from the hazards around you.

Many of us follow lifestyles that we know are destructive, both to our own wellbeing and to that of our planet. Yet, we may feel powerless to change them. To understand why, we must look still deeper, to the cultural/psychological/motivational level. Here we find what moves us to lead the lifestyle we've chosen. We learn how powerfully our cultural norms influence us, sometimes in insidious ways - like convincing us that excessive thinness is attractive. We can learn, for example, what "payoffs" we get from being overweight, smoking, driving recklessly - or from eating well, being considerate of others, and getting regular exercise. We can become conscious of any psychological payoffs based on dysfunctional childhood experiences - like stuffing away our feelings as a way to gain approval from Mom and Dad.

Exploring below the cultural/psychological/motivational level, we encounter the spiritual/being/meaning realm. (Other possible descriptors include transpersonal, philosophical, or metaphysical.) Actually, it is more a realm than a level, because it has no clear boundaries. It includes the mystical and mysterious, plus everything in the unconscious mind, as well as concerns such as your reason for being, the real meaning of your life, or your place in the universe. The way in which you address these questions, and the answers you choose, underlie and permeate all of the layers above. Ultimately, this realm determines whether the tip of the iceberg, representing your state of health, is one of disease or wellness.

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