Emotion suppression, defined as a tendency to inhibit the expression of emotion, has long been suspected to influence health, with recent meta-analytic evidence linking suppression and chronic disease. Emotion suppression may convey risk for earlier death, including death from cancer.
Emotion suppression involves intentionally avoiding distressing feelings by thinking of other things or holding things in, while emotion repression is defined by lack of conscious awareness of negative emotion.
Suppression is believed to operate on health first at a behavioral level, by inducing unhealthy coping behaviors such as over-eating as substitutes for healthy emotional expression. Direct correlations between suppressive defensive styles and glucocorticoids have been reported.
Personality as risk factor for developing cancer via a ‘cancer-prone personality’ remains debatable, but this pattern could contribute to cancer risk through immune and hormonal pathways.
Anger and Cancer: Is There a Relationship?
It is time for both medicine and psychology to unite in the fight against certain cancers by continuing to examine the personality traits and cancer link. This may be part of a regimen for cancer prevention.
Robert Enright Ph.D.
Anger is a negative emotion that can follow frustration and disappointment. It can vary from mild and short-term to intense and long-term.
Extremely low anger scores have been noted in numerous studies of patients with cancer. Such low scores suggest suppression, repression, or restraint of anger. There is evidence to show that suppressed anger can be a precursor to the development of cancer, and also a factor in its progression after diagnosis. Notice that their conclusion centers on a certain type of anger that which is not overtly expressed but instead, to use a common expression, is bottled up.
Our next question, then, is to look for supporting evidence of this claim of suppressed anger relating to cancer, and we find it in the early study by Greer and Morris (1975). In a sample of 160 women, they report a statistically-significant relationship between what they call extreme suppression of anger and breast cancer.
Unhealthy anger compromises immune system in general, releasing of the stress hormone cortisol, that gives the body bursts of energy, but also has its negative effects – imbalance in blood sugar, suppression of thyroid function, and decrease bone density. Research shows that chronic-angry people suffer more frequent colds, flu’s infections, asthma and arthritis.
To date, there are remarkably few studies of the anger and cancer link. The research to date does suggest a link, particularly with regard to intense and persistent anger that is suppressed. That link to date does not suggest a general association between suppressed anger and all types of cancers, but may be implicated in certain cancers such as breast cancer (although the findings are not consistent), and prostate, lung, and colorectal cancers.
Source: Psychology Today
Assessment of ‘cancer-prone personality’ traits in healthy subjects and in patients with breast cancer (Finland).
Eskelinen, Ollonen P, 2011
The clinical examination showed breast cancer (BC) in 34 patients, benign breast disease (BBD) in 53 patients and 28 individuals were healthy study subjects (HSS). The BC group reported significantly more commitment to own children than the patients in the BBD group and in the HSS group. The women in the BC group also reported more commitment to own husband than the patients of other groups. The BC group reported also significantly more commitment to own work and own body.
In summary, patients with BC tended to have an increased risk for bearing the ‘high commitment’ characteristic and this pattern could contribute to cancer risk through immune and hormonal pathways.
The Cancer Personality
The Cancer Personality, by Dr W Douglas Brodie (1925-2005) (Alternative Cancer Therapies): “In dealing with many thousands of cancer patients over the past 28 years, it has been my observation that there are certain personality traits present in the cancer-susceptible individual.
These traits are as follows:
1. Being highly conscientious, caring, dutiful, responsible, hardworking.
2. Exhibits a strong tendency toward carrying other people’s burdens and toward taking on extra obligations, and often “worrying for others.”
3. Having a deep-seated need to make others happy. Being a “people pleaser” with a great need for approval.
4. Often lacking closeness with one or both parents, which sometimes, later in life, results in lack of closeness with spouse.
5. Harbors long-suppressed toxic emotions, such as anger, resentment or hostility. The cancer-susceptible individual typically internalizes such emotions and has great difficulty expressing them.
6. Reacts adversely to stress, and often becomes unable to cope adequately with it. The patient is not able to cope with this traumatic event or series of events, which comes as a “last straw” on top of years of suppressed reactions to stress.
7. Has an inability to resolve deep-seated emotional problems, often even being unaware of their presence. Typical of the cancer-susceptible personality is the long-standing tendency to suppress “toxic emotions”, particularly anger.
Usually beginning in childhood, this individual has held in hostility, originating in feelings of rejection by one or both parents. Whether these feelings are justified or not, the individual perceives this rejection as real, and this results in a lack of closeness with the “rejecting” parent, followed later in life by a lack of closeness with spouses and other close persons. Those at the higher risk for cancer tend to develop feelings of loneliness as a result of their having been deprived of affection and acceptance earlier in life, even if this is only their perception. They have a tremendous need for approval and acceptance, while suppressing their own emotional needs.
They become the “caretakers”, showing great compassion and care. In their childhood they have been typically taught “not to be selfish”, and they take this to heart as a major lifetime objective. There is nothing wrong with caregiving, of course, but the problem arises when the susceptible individual derives their entire worth, value and identity from their role as “caretaker”. If this very important shift cannot be made, the patient is stuck in this role. As already stated, a consistent feature of those who are susceptible to cancer appears to be that they “suffer in silence”, and bear their burdens without complaint.
How one reacts to stress appears to be a major factor in the larger number of contributing causes of cancer. Most cancer patients have experienced a highly stressful event, usually about 2 years prior to the onset of detectable disease. This traumatic event is often beyond the patient’s control, such as the loss of a loved one, loss of a business, job, home, or some other major disaster.
The typical cancer personality has lost the ability to cope with these extreme events, because his/her coping mechanism lies in his/her ability to control the environment. When this control is lost, the patient has no other way to cope. Major stress causes suppression on the immune system, and does so more overwhelmingly in the cancer-susceptible individual than in others. Thus personal tragedies and excessive levels of stress appear to combine with the underlying personality described above to bring on the immune deficiency.
Source: Alternative Cancer Care