Persistent anger harms our physical health in ways we may not recognize. A 2006 study published in the British journal Thorax found a connection between the tendency toward hostile attitudes and a decline in lung function.
From the study:
Higher levels of hostility were associated with both lower levels of pulmonary function at baseline and also with a faster rate of decline in lung function over time. It is interesting to note that, among more hostile men, pulmonary function was worse at every examination over a 10 year period than in less hostile men….The findings of this study are consistent with other work that has found negative cognitions, emotions, and behaviours to be associated with poorer and more rapid decline in lung function.
While this prospective study’s subject pool was limited–it only included older white males–the results raise some interesting questions.
If hostility can produce a measurable decline in an organ’s function, is it possible that other bad-minded attitudes such as shame and worry also produce harmful effects on the body?
And if the respiratory organs suffer in the presence of hostility, is it possible that other organ systems (e.g., heart, stomach, intestines, skin, genito-urinary) are similarly impacted by hostility and related negative attitudes?
Since older white males are a subset of the human experience, why wouldn’t other subsets of the human experience–the various combinations of gender, age, socio-economic status, and ethnicity–suffer in the same way given similar circumstances?
If we suffer from disease states affecting our lungs (spring allergies anyone?), and if we are intent on improving the health of this precious system, then let us expand our thinking beyond mere symptom management and give more energy to considering the possible root causes. The results of the above study indicate a reality that most of us intuitively sense, and which holistic paradigms like Traditional Oriental Medicine have long maintained: our mental-emotional states can be a significant contributor to the development and maintenance of disease.
When root causes–often a tangled, neglected mess of factors and conditions–are identified and rightly addressed, the symptoms will effortlessly resolve in due time. Rightly orienting the mind in relationship to root causes, we team with trusted sources of information and put in work. While the words are simple enough, there are a number of difficulties worth recognizing:
1. Collectively, we are only starting to regain awareness of–and thus remain largely unaware of–the link between our mental-emotional states and physical health status.
2. We tend to automatically accept our default attitudes as truth, without taking the time to examine/question/challenge their relevance, validity, or accuracy. Put another way, when was the last time you ever asked yourself whether your cherished beliefs were actually wrong?
3. We are *so* susceptible to plain old laziness, our wanting to take the easy way out; we’d rather swallow a pill or relax on the treatment table than get to the utterly unglamorous task of facing ourselves.
4. We fear facing ourselves. In the words of the Pathwork Guide: …human beings are terrified of themselves. They do everything possible to avoid looking at themselves. (Pathwork Lecture 138)
5. At a primal level of our being, we harbor a deep-rooted resistance to letting old relationships die. They are comfortable, they are predictable, they are a source of control, “the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t”. What is a lifestyle but an established way of relating with life?
Now obviously, not all respiratory problems can be traced back to agitated mental-emotional states. Nor do all negative attitudes result in a decline of lung function. An oversimplified model is not the point at all. The take-home point: mind and body are inextricably interwoven, by design inseparable. Let us open our minds to a more holistic way of thinking about our health challenges. Let us recognize that we are capable of effecting positive changes in our health, if we are committed to putting in the right work!
Reflection session questions:
If the above difficulties represent problems, what are possible solutions?
What are some root causes of our anger and hostility? You may find this post, a brief exploration into the subject of anger, helpful.
How might seemingly enjoyable or necessary activities really be a form of distraction from facing our personal messes?
Point to ponder:
You can’t fix it if you don’t face it.
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The time is always right to do what’s right.attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr.
Copyright (c) 2020, Justin Jaucian