How can stress turn into illness? (II)

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Before embarking on reading this piece I would suggest you check part I HERE

What are repressed emotions?

I met people who think they shouldn't get angry or sad to protect their health or that they should" control" emotions or do only "positive thinking" Also, some categorize emotions into "positive" and "negative". This approach is actually detrimental to our health. Repressing emotions is actually a major factor in causing chronic disease.

The problem for most of us is identifying the harmful patterns and emotions we haven't allowed to complete their course because most of them were formed in early childhood.

Gabor Mate mentions in his book:"Repressed anger will lead to disordered immunity. The inability to process and express feelings effectively and the tendency to serve the needs of others before considering one's own are common patterns in people who develop chronic illness. These coping styles represent a blurring of boundaries, a confusion of self and non-self on the psychological self... The immune system becomes too confused to know self from others or too disabled to defend against danger" (Gabor Mate, When the body says No: the cost of hidden stress")

The inhibition of emotional expression and particularly a life-long tendency to suppress anger have been found to involve an increased risk for a variety of health problems ( Fava and Sonino, 2000, Psychosomatic Medicine: Emerging Trends and Perspectives)

Perhaps during our childhood, our parents reprimanded us for being too emotional or crying in public and as a result, we learnt to hide our feelings and always show a positive attitude. No wonder by practicing this behavior for so long we might have lost contact with our true emotions and at a certain point because we could not stand up for ourselves, the body had to say no through some chronic condition.

Some of us might say they had a happy childhood and have no recollection of any trauma, however, we still manifest some behaviors that played a role in generating a certain health condition. What might have happened is, despite the fact that your parents poured love and provided for you, you might have felt an emotional separation or pressure to perform according to their needs or expectations.

Most often it is not about what happened to us but about what we felt related to what happened.

If you are reading this and intuitively believe that certain stressors, behaviors generated your health condition, please never blame yourself: you did whatever you could with the resources you had. The same goes for your parents:)

The 7 "A"s of healing as per doctor Gabor Mate are:

1. Acceptance

This is simply accepting the current condition. However, it does not mean becoming resigned to our circumstances and continuing to live by the same principles. It means having love and compassion for ourselves while figuring out what issues we should work on. It means accepting that during this present moment, things cannot be any different.

2. Awareness

Everyone looking to maintain their health or heal themselves should focus their efforts on listening to their emotional cues rather than controlling or burying them deep inside. It means acknowledging any emotional state and letting it manifest in a healthy way as well as noticing your body and looking for any signs of stress.

Emotional competence is a skill that if we don't hone long enough we risk losing it.

3. Anger

"I never get angry" a Woody Allen character says in one of the movies, "I grow a tumour instead".

What we understand from this anecdote is that repression of anger most often leads to disease. On the other hand, expressing it in by shouting and kicking leads us to the extreme that is associated to cardiovascular disease. How can we express in a healthy and safe way though? 

Specialists say "healthy anger is an empowerment and a relaxation, it is a physiologic experience without acting out". Have you ever seen animals experiencing anger? They clench their teeth, show their claws but very often they don't attack. It is a way to show their enemies that they are capable of attack and that they are protecting their territory.

This is a way to express anger without acting on it: recognising the emotion and allowing it to take over and then watching it dissipate while your muscles relax.

Some people choose to express themselves by doing deep breaths, writing, singing, dancing or doing sports. The key is not suppressing the experience. 

4. Autonomy

Autonomy is strongly linked to healthy boundaries. When integrity or freedom is jeopardized we see a deterioration of health.

"Most commonly in the lives of children, boundaries are not so much violated as simply not constructed in the first place. Many parents cannot help develop boundaries because they themselves were never enabled to do so in their own formative years. We can only do what we know." (Gabor Mate, When the body says No: the cost of hidden stress")

Without a clear boundary the child becomes enmeshed in the parental relationship and will either withdraw, grow a resistance to authority or do compulsive caretaking of others, neglecting his/her own needs.

5. Attachment

Secure attachment promotes strong relationships and a good state of health.

Secure attachment is experienced when we know how to receive affection and support from others but we can self-regulate ourselves without the help of others.

6. Assertion

Asserting ourselves means having the courage to state WHO WE ARE to the world. That doesn't mean we go do public declarations hehe but it means we know how to hold our stand and voice what we feel and think. It does not require any action, but the mere fact that we exist and we are proud of our existence.

7. Affirmation

There are 2 basic values that help us affirm ourselves. One is honoring our creative Self and the other is our spirituality/ connection with the Divine or the Universe itself depending on each one's beliefs. It basically means expressing the deepest urges and finding purpose. Let's say you wanted to be a writer but your family pressured you into taking up medicine. if you are not living according to your gifts and deepest desires you will always live with a grudge and never to your fullest self. 


Be well and true to yourself, 






















1 comment


It was great to come across this article. The key is REPRESSED emotion vs SUPPRESSED emotion leads to chronic issues. we deal with emotional suppression every day and that doesn’t affect our long-term health. It may lead to unhealthy habits that contribute to poor health, but by itself, it doesn’t. Repressed emotions, however, are the problem. Repressed emotions are a good thing at the time of repression. It allows us to keep going. But when those emotions are not dealt with, they emerge as a negative physical impact on our bodies.

Dr. Samuel Mann November 21, 2023

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