“I never get angry,” says a Woody Allen character in one of the director’s movies, “I grow a tumour instead.” Much more scientific truth is encapsulated in that droll remark than many doctors would recognize.
For all its triumphs and technical progress, mainstream Western medical practice militantly dismisses the role of emotions in the physiological functioning of the human organism. Its rejection of the mind/body unity is a classic case of denial.
In over two decades of family medicine, including seven years of palliative care work, I was struck by how consistently the lives of people with chronic illness are characterized by emotional shut down: the paralysis of “negative” emotions–in particular, the feeling and expression of anger. This pattern held true in a wide range of diseases from cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis to inflammatory bowel disorder, chronic fatigue syndrome and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Sufferers from asthma, psoriasis, migraines, fibromyalgia, endometriosis and a host of other conditions also exhibited similar inhibitions. People seemed incapable of considering their own emotional needs and were driven by a compulsive sense of responsibility for the needs of others. They all had difficulty saying no.