For those of us who’ve struggled or are struggling with cancer, we sure don’t need any additional reasons to blame ourselves. Anyone can get cancer at any time, so even the thought that somehow our personalities might have something to do with it can be dangerous to our recovery and our future health.
But bear with us here a moment. What if certain parts of our personalities put us at a higher risk of contracting cancer? Wouldn’t we want to know, so we could address those parts? Surely just as we improve our diets and incorporate exercise into our daily lives, if there were something else we could do to either prevent cancer or increase our odds of beating it, we’d want to do it, right?
Okay, so here’s the thing: there are no hard and fast conclusions, but some studies have found that certain personality traits increase risk of cancer. An amazing amount of research and study would need to happen before anything could be proven, but when scientists explore the question, one thing comes up again and again as a potential risk factor: repressed emotions.
“Most illness,” says Sat Dharam Kaur, naturopathic doctor and author, “including breast cancer, has an emotional as well as a physical cause….Women more prone to cancer of any kind are sometimes those who put the needs of others first and are perceived as ‘good, kind, and nice.’ They are often unable to express their anger or negative emotions.”
A 1984 study found that people who developed melanoma shut off their emotions from their conscious awareness. A 1991 study in Australia of over 600 people found that cancer patients were more likely to demonstrate elements of denial and repression of anger. They seemed to be “nice” people who suppressed reactions to avoid conflict. In 2007, researchers at Stanford University found a link between a “repressive emotion-regulation” style and higher blood pressure in breast-cancer patients.
Other studies say it’s all bunk. In 2003, Japanese researchers found no increased risk of cancer among people with any one of four different personality types. Dutch researchers in 2008 studied 9,700 women and found no connection between personality and breast-cancer diagnosis.
Cancer personality or not, repressed emotions can screw up our health. According to Dr. Gabor MetA, “Nervous system activity, hormone levels, and immune function all become disorganized under the impact of chronically repressed emotions….Common to all chronic conditions-from arthritis to cancer, from chronic fatigue to migraine headaches-is emotional repression.” Author and eczema sufferer Evelyn Lim writes, “Natural health practitioners propose that eczema skin symptoms are not just triggered by environmental or food factors; they can be triggered by repressed emotions….when you have pent-up anger and do not find a way to release it, your body will seek ways to release it elsewhere.”
So along with that nutritious diet and daily exercise, you may want to add “express emotions in a healthy way” to your list of to-dos. We’ve provided a comparison below of repressing and expressing emotions.
- Ignoring your feelings
- Pretending something hasn’t happened
- Always keeping busy so you can’t feel
- Keeping conversations superficial
- Burying angry emotions under the mask of peace and love
Dealing with Emotions (in a Healthy Way)
- Using “I” statements to say how you feel: “I feel angry when you are late and don’t call me”
- Releasing angry energy through exercise, screaming into a pillow, or journaling
- Saying “no” when you need to without feeling guilty
- Listening to music that helps
- Letting the emotions flow through you, rather than blocking them or bottling them up
- Finding a therapist to help you express and identify what you need to let go of
What do you think of the “cancer personality” question? Please share your thoughts.
Photo courtesy of Erin MJ via Flickr.com.