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Emotional Roots of Your Chronic Health Challenges


This blog has tended to focus a great deal on the physical factors behind the chronic disease epidemic in our society, but an increasing body of research is pointing to another factor as the common denominator of disease.

That factor is stress, or rather, the way we process emotion and cope with inputs from the world.  Many followers of this blog will be familiar with the idea that trauma and unreleased emotion can lodge physically in the body’s energy system and become a cause for physical and psychological disease.  What few of us realize is that the very basic ways we process our life experiences may be causing this damaging emotional storage in the first place.


Roots in Childhood

What people often misidentify as their personality, their spectrum of emotional reaction to various stimuli, is simply a collection of coping mechanisms accumulated fairly early in childhood.  Dr. Gabor Maté, well-known Canadian physician, author and palliative care specialist, has intensively studied the emotional lives of people afflicted with diseases from cancer to heart disease to Alzheimer’s to irritable bowel syndrome, and the link is almost universally inescapable.  Certain personalities tend to get certain diseases.


The Personality Spectrum

On one side of his spectrum, Dr. Maté places the familiar Type A personality- dominating, irascible, incapable of emotional repression.  On the other side is a super-agreeable, self-abnegating personality, the kind that will check their own emotional expression and personal needs at the door in order to make things, allegedly, better for others.  In the middle is a balanced personality.  It turns out that the Type A personality is prone to certain diseases, notably heart disease, while the repressed personality is prone to others, most notably cancers.


Psychoneuroimmunology (yes, it’s a big word 😉

As early as the 1950s, physicians all over the world were beginning to notice connections between personality and disease.  Studies in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research  began to illustrate some of the connections.

Dr. David Kissen designed a study showing that lung cancer patients were more emotionally repressed than the general population.  A longitudinal study of a village in the former Yugoslavia over a ten-year period monitored disease and mortality in a test population of 1400 in relation to a personality and emotional processing-based survey.  Ten years later, the highest mortality was from exactly the part of the population that exhibited rational, non-emotional coping styles.

Incidence of cancer was about forty times higher in this segment than in the general population.  Again, those who developed lung cancer all exhibited this trait- although all who did develop lung cancer were smokers, smokers did not develop the disease in the absence of this trait.

From observations like this, the field of psychoneuroimmunology began to take shape.  Very briefly, psychoneuroimmunology studies the connections between the mind, the brain and nervous system, the immune system and the endocrine system.  What it has discovered is that we can actually hyperstimulate our own immune systems through constant low-level stress.  The immune system, of which the adrenal glands are part and parcel, is complex and interconnected, but while it does respond to pathogens, it ultimately takes its orders from the emotional centers of the brain.  If we are under certain kinds of stress, the whole system activates, sending adrenaline and messenger chemicals throughout our systems.  This includes the fight-or-flight response triggers – uncertainty, conflict and lack of control.

If this continues at low level for years without what is called consummation – something that the body interprets as ending this abnormal state – the body will continue to assume that there is a present danger.  It will excrete adrenaline and hormones until the chemical balance and receptivity of the whole system is altered and the immune system begins to degrade.



Certain basic beliefs are strongly associated with illness.  The really interesting thing is that, while they all seem to be on the repressive side of the emotional spectrum, many of them can apply equally to Type A personalities, albeit in different ways.


–          I have to be strong

–          I am separate from everything else

–          I am responsible for everything

–          I can handle anything

–          I must be very ill to deserve care

–          I mustn’t be angry

–          I’m not wanted

–          I exist to serve others


Although articulated as beliefs, each of these generally boils down to a personality trait established in childhood, usually through relationships to parents.  In some cases, a domineering parent plagued by insecurity will try to remake a child in their preferred image; at the opposite end of the spectrum, emotionally absent parents starve the child of attention, let alone affection.  Whatever the case, the bottom line is that the child self-edits, modifies their own behavior and self-expression in order to try to regulate this key relationship that is being jeopardized.  Very often, the extent of the dysfunction isn’t realized until illness kicks in – a biological signal that something is badly out of balance.


The Way Out

Dr. Maté presents a seven-step program for changing this psychological disease process.  The steps, in brief, are:

  1. Acceptance – We have to recognize and accept the problems of the present, to gain information from our own negative emotional processes without letting them control us.  Only by accepting ourselves as we are can we begin to move forward.
  2. Awareness – This means regaining emotional awareness and the ability to recognize our own emotional truth.
  3. Anger – See below.
  4. Autonomy – We learn to express ourselves as distinct individuals in childhood, but many people were not adequately taught to do this by their parents, and must do so in order to recoup the emotional baggage of childhood and to move forward.
  5. Attachment – Childhood teaches us in short order whether the world is a loving and accepting place, or a dangerous place full of uncertainty.  This directly impacts our willingness to expose ourselves to the vulnerability of relationship.  Without attachment and emotional support, there is no healing.
  6. Assertion – Assertion means standing before ourselves and the world and acknowledging that we are who we are, that separate from all of the performative acts with which we try to establish our identity, separate from all the clutter and the tumult, we exist, unique and fundamentally worthy of existence.  It is letting go of the need to act.  By doing so, we cease to play the parts we have scripted for ourselves.
  7. Affirmation – Affirmation means embracing a direction, a set of fundamental values for which we will strive.  This means freeing ourselves to create, to build something of meaning to us, which means we must listen to ourselves and our own deeper desires.  It also means connection with the universe, with spiritual life, abandoning the belief that we are isolated and embracing the seeking and finding of the universal good beyond ourselves.



We will focus on step 3, because it seems in many ways to be the lynchpin.  Inability to express anger and constant expression of anger are two sides of the same coin.  In either case, the anger and the sources of anger are still in the system.  Many cancer sufferers are noted for their inability to express anger or even to feel it when they ought to, so deeply is it buried.  On the other hand, according to a study at Johns Hopkins, dominant and irascible personalities are an independent risk factor for coronary heart disease.

Both approaches to anger represent, in the words of Toronto psychotherapist Allen Kaplin, a fear of the genuine experience of anger.  Normal anger is both empowering and relaxing.  It is a surge of power responding to a threat, and in that moment of empowerment, the muscles and the whole system naturally relax.  Not exactly anger as portrayed on television!  Rage, on the other hand, is described by its sufferers fundamentally as a state of anxiety and fear.

And that is the clue.  Some children adapt to dysfunction in parental relationships by trying to manage those relationships through their own good behavior.  Others are seized by the anxiety of the tenuousness of this critical element of life, and begin to act out through bursts of rage.  In either case, the more anger is forbidden, the more guilt is attached to anger, the more abnormal, lasting and anxiety-ridden the experience of it becomes.  Some defend against the feeling by never expressing it, others by expressing it when it first appears so that they don’t have to experience it.

To change this dynamic means acknowledging anger, accepting the information it carries, experiencing it internally, and then deciding consciously whether or not to act on it.  Healthy anger stands up and says “I matter.”  It does not manifest as rage, but as the assertion of calm.  By lifting our engrained rejection of anger, it can come to serve its proper function – as a transient state designed to redress temporary problems, and then to naturally leave the system.

The bottom line, of course, is that for all of us, it’s critical to look at our emotional patterns if we really want to become RESILIENT people – and the works of Dr. Gabor Maté are a great place to start.  For one thing, until we disentangle all the coping mechanisms from our true personality, we don’t even know who we really are (a theme I discussed at some length in The 5 Pillars of Life).

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger




The Power of Friendship

“Thus nature has no love for solitude, and always leans, as it were, on some support; and the sweetest support is found in the most intimate friendship.”
– Cicero

Did you know that social isolation can be as damaging to your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day?

This week, we’re going to talk friendship and the vital role it plays in anchoring your personal resilience!  Social connection is hugely important to your resilience – friends help you over the toughest hurdles of your life, and instill in you a sense of belonging. We all have a cast of characters in our lives: from acquaintances and running partners to best friends, and you may even take these people for granted. But the presence of others in our lives help us to feel that we are part of a community. We humans are social creatures, and introverts and extroverts alike need to bond with others simply to feel grounded.

It has been said that introverts will typically seek fewer and deeper friendships, while extroverts take refuge in a crowd, but that’s an oversimplification.  Whether you’re an introvert of an extrovert, your attitudes and approaches to friendship will go through many stages throughout your life.

“Each friend represents a world in us,  a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.”

-Anais Nin

When people are asked what pleasures contribute most to happiness, the overwhelming majority rate love, intimacy and social affiliation above wealth or fame, even above physical health. The importance of this particular pleasure becomes clear when you look at what loneliness can do to you. Social disconnect has the same negative health effects as high blood pressure, lack of exercise and obesity.

It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

As we’ll be discussing in the article next week, stress and other negative emotions may in fact be the root of nearly all illness. Bottling negativity inside can have disastrous health effects, and it’s communication with friends that really helps get these emotions out. Even if you’re not discussing your problems, friendship helps you. You’re much more likely to laugh with your friends, and laughter is one of the best stress-busters there is. It’s impossible to feel down when you’re laughing!

A single rose can be my garden… a single friend, my world.
– Leo Buscaglia

Exclusion bites – in a study published in Science magazine, scientists had subjects play a simple ball game with peers, in which one was ultimately left out of the game. An analysis of the victim’s brain activity proved that social exclusion literally hurts! It stimulated the same parts of the brain as physical pain. When we look at this in its evolutionary context, it makes sense – humans in a tribe would need to get along with others for the protection it brings, and to ensure the cooperation so necessary for survival. In order to carry on, it is better to stand together than to stand alone.

Friendship is a single soul dwelling in two bodies.
– Aristotle

Teenagers feel the need for social connectedness much more strongly. In their developing brains, social integration is richly rewarded. An article in National Geographic on the teenage brain had the following points on reasons why people skills are so important:  “Socially savvy rats or monkeys … generally get the best nesting areas or territories, the most food and water, more allies, and more sex with better and fitter mates. And no species is more intricately and deeply social than humans are.

“This supremely human characteristic makes peer relations not a sideshow but the main show. Some brain-scan studies, in fact, suggest that our brains react to peer exclusion much as they respond to threats to physical health or food supply. At a neural level, in other words, we perceive social rejection as a threat to existence.”

In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.

– Albert Schweitzer

Something that rings true across popular culture is the need to find that we are not alone – whether it’s in singing in the shower or turning your pillow over to the cold side, it gives people a sense of satisfaction to know that there are others out there like them. There’s a plethora of modern websites devoted to “things we all do” – and this has been a factor driving comedy since it began. Anyone recall the first thirty seconds or so of Seinfeld shows, in which Jerry Seinfeld would perform stand – up, often along the lines of, “You know this thing we all do? What is it with that?” or “This thing we all wonder … why is this like that?” It is these connections between people that create bonds. Whether it’s humourous, or a more serious connection, the world seems much more friendly when we realize we have things in common with others.

In the end, friendship is hard to define. Men, even married ones, desperately need to “get out with the guys” (even if that’s with just one other guy at a time).  Women need time with “the girls” too. While we all need friendships, the kind of friendships we need varies from person to person.  Some people feel a great need to be close to children.  Some people couldn’t imagine life without an animal “friend”.

It takes a long time to grow an old friend.
– John Leonard

I’m sure you still have some questions – what kind of social connection do I need to be healthy? How do I get it?

I’ll let journalist Valerie Frankel answer the first. In Self magazine, she identifies the four types of friends that you need to be happy: “Psychologists have long described four major types of friendship 1) The acquaintance, someone you’d chat with on the street of at a local cafe, who gives you a  sense of belonging; 2) The casual friend, a ‘grab lunch’ pal who often serves a specific purpose, such as a tennis or running partner; 3) the close buddy, an intimate, trustworthy comrade you can say anything to; and 4) the lifer, who’s as deep and forever as family.”

Nothing but heaven itself is better than a friend who is really a friend.

How to make these kinds of connections? First of all, it’s important to take the time to develop the friendships you already have. Try asking someone you know out to lunch, or calling up an old friend. Take the time to maintain the bonds that you already have. If you’re looking to make new connections, join a club or take a class  according to your interests. Try online social networks, and make sure to attend after-work functions. Participate in your child’s school. Most of all: don’t be afraid to make the first move! Everyone could use another friend.

Now, take action, cement your best relationships and build some new ones!

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger

Building a Resilient Romance

Calling all Couples (and singles who would like to find their soul mates)!

If you’re in a committed, long-term romantic relationship or you’d like to be, you’ll want to read this very carefully.  It could be one of the most important things you ever read.

Healthy human relationships are one of the indispensable keys to building a resilient and fulfilling life.  And for most human beings the single most important relationship in life is with their spouse.  

Healthy marriages mean healthy homes, healthy kids and a healthy society.  And yet, as we all know, the chances of any marriage lasting for the long haul these days are barely fifty-fifty, if that. Part of the reason is that almost none of us are taught how to create a true romantic relationship, one full of trust, respect, mutual affection and everything that goes with that.  

What most people are unaware of is that this was turned into a science by at least two ancient cultures – the Hindu  and the Taoist – and it’s a science that anyone and any couple can learn with just a little dedication.  

Yes, I’m talking about “Tantric Sex” (TS).  Before you stop reading, I’d ask you to bear with me while I explain.  First, most people who’ve heard of TS buy into one of the many misconceptions out there, such as the idea it’s about using gymnastic positions for love-making, or it’s a hedonistic search for the ultimate orgasm.  

Nothing could be further from the truth.  The truth about this ancient science is that its real purpose is to introduce you to the spiritual potential of romance and love-making, and to build emotional and spiritual intimacy that not only lasts a life time, but goes far beyond what most people consider humanly possible.

As a Qi Gong expert, I’ve known about the Taoist versions of this for ages.  With further research, though, I’ve noticed that most of the Taoist writings about this available today will send you spinning off in the wrong direction.  Fortunately though, there are some excellent resources out there for you, resources that can make a huge difference in your relationships very quickly. 

That’s why I’m delighted to inform you that I’ll soon be interviewing two of the world’s most respected experts in TS, Pala and Al Copeland, on Thursday, August 26 at 9pm Eastern / 6pm Pacific.  

Pala and Al are a married couple who have devoted the last decade and a half to helping couples to find a true spiritual connection through their romance, to keep that romance alive and  to elevate their overall health and quality of life in the process.  They’ve helped thousands of people worldwide and they can help you too.

You’ll learn:

1.       The difference between falling in love and creating love.

2.       Why sex fizzles, love fades, and passion dies after couples have been 

together for a long time.

3.       How couples can create love that will thrive for a lifetime together.

4.       What sexual nutrition is and why it is so important.

5.       What Tantra is.

6.       What spiritual sex is

7.       Simple practices any couple can do to re-introduce zest, spark, and 

sizzle into a stale relationship.

Now you may be asking yourself, “Does this stuff really work?”  Well, I can tell you from my personal experience that it is startlingly effective on all levels.  In fact, the only reason I’m bringing up this topic at all is that I believe it’s a crime that couples are not taught how to deliberately create the affection, the friendship, and the intimacy that they and every human being crave.  

So whether you’re in a committed relationship or you want to be, take note of that date (August 26) and mark it on your calendar.  Feel free to bring your spouse along and to invite anyone else who could benefit from this priceless information.  
I’ll be sending you further information over the coming weeks, including the call-in details.
~ Dr. Symeon Rodger 

The Most Powerful Relationship Question You can Ever Ask

Your boss walks in and starts blaming you for not finishing a particular report “on time”, even though she had never made the deadline explicit.  A simple misunderstanding?  Maybe, but if it’s part of a pattern of behavior, you’ve got a bigger problem.

Your organization has a big “townhall” event celebrating the “successes” of the past year.  You sit quietly in the back, knowing from your insider information that many of these so-called successes were actually disasters that have been “respun” for political purposes.  The crowd seems to eat it up, yet you – and no doubt many others – leave with a bad feeling in your gut.

Sound familiar?

Let’s face it – in our public lives and sometimes even in our private ones, we’re often surrounded by double-speak, by words that fundamentally don’t match reality. 

The upshot of all this is more stress for you.  You may even question your own sanity – I certainly did when I got caught up in dealing with my Church’s financial scandal and the lies of its senior leadership designed to cover it all up. 

The real question here, though, is how can you protect yourself and maintain your personal resilience when that resilience is under silent but persistent attack by people who are foisting their personal agendas onto you?

The Most Powerful Question to Ask in Any Relationship:

Remember this: the neurotic person, the manipulative person, the dysfunctional organization, the narcissistic personality, all these will project their distorted view of reality onto you and will try to force you to comply.

They will not only have the audacity to call “white” “black” and “black” “white” right in front of your eyes; they’ll also insist you do the same.  And the one thing you can never do if you want to maintain your resilience is to compromise your personal integrity by participating in their fiction, whether that fiction is a delusion or a deliberate lie.

Often the distortion of reality these people create is so great that without even noticing it, you lose track of reality yourself and begin to buy into the fiction without noticing.  And it’s when you’re in danger of losing your bearings that you want to ask yourself the single most powerful relationship question there is:

“What SHOULD this situation look like?” 

To expand on that, you can ask, “If this situation were reflective of all that is good, true and beautiful, what WOULD it look like?” 

Asking the question and answering it – at least in your own mind – will keep you sane.  It will keep you focused on what’s real.  It will keep you resilient.  And, it will expose what’s going on around you and reveal the agenda behind it.

These mind-bending situations are a lot like living with an alcoholic.  The alcoholic forces you to compensate for their behavior and turns you into an enabler.  He forces you to replace THE truth with his or her truth, and with no regard for the effects that will have on you.

If you want to maintain your resilience – your emotional health and independence – don’t go there.  Ask the magic question. 

It’s true that asking the question won’t necessarily change the external situation.  And if you think for one moment it’s going to change the person or people who are distorting reality, guess again!  However, it will protect you from that situation on many levels.

In fact, whenever you’re having problems with any relationship or whenever you have to make a decision about maintaining or breaking off any relationship, just use this question.  It will clarify everything for you in minutes.

Don’t take my word for it – try it!!

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger

Resilience Tip: Why you need to build your network

One of the most consistent findings in studies of various resilience indicators (such as longevity, health, emotional balance, etc.) is that people with healthy and numerous social relationships are at the top of the range… every time.

Ancient traditions of health maintenance and spiritual life were built on the deep insight that all of us are interconnected with each other and the whole world in ways we’re not even consciously aware of.  Quantum physics and the latest experiments in distance healing are beginning to validate this insight.  What’s it all mean?

You are a communal being – you’re not meant to be alone or isolated!

As our Western society has evolved over the past century, driven by industrialization, urbanization and endless technological change, we’ve become more and more isolated.  Sometimes it seems that our spouse and kids are all we have, if that!  One of the symptoms of this isolation is the mushrooming of social media – facebook, myspace, twitter and more.  People are desperate to connect with other people.  It’s a deep seated existential need we have as human beings.

So what can you do?  If you want to be more resilient, help others to do the same.  Connect with new people.  Reconnect with old friends and family members.  Take some time over the next week to go out for coffee with someone you haven’t seen in a while or call them.  Nudge somebody on facebook and remind them you care.  What you give will come back to you many times over.  Resilient people have big networks of other people they care about and people who care about them in return.

You CAN be such a person.  Sharing love is not only easy, it’s fun and it’s free.  What could be better?

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger

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