Repressive coping is a strategy of self-protection that involves dismissing or ignoring strong emotions. People who use repression as a means of coping often do so out of self-defense and tend to experience the same negative emotional symptoms as those who struggle with anxiety. In a new study, Marcus Mund, of the Friedrich Schiller University in Germany, sought to determine if repressive coping also led to the development of physical symptoms associated with anxiety, such as hypertension, asthma, cardiovascular disease and cancer. “If repressive copers repressed unwanted feelings permanently, and if repression of feelings was associated with the mentioned physiological features, it is close at hand to infer that a high proportion of repressors should be affected by pathologically high blood pressure or associated diseases like coronary heart disease (CHD). Indeed, there are numerous studies linking both and showing serologically an increased risk for severe cardiovascular diseases (CVD),” said Mund. “Additionally, repressive coping is assumed to be associated with the development of cancer.” He added, “The same is true for asthma and diabetes, which both can be linked to several immune features.”
Mund and his colleagues analyzed data from over 6,700 clients. They found that those who repressed their feelings were 31% more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes, CVD, hypertension, asthma or cancer. With respect to cancer, those who used repression coping were 51% more likely to be diagnosed with the illness than those who did not. However, Mund said, “For cancer, the present results imply that repressive coping does not precede the diagnosis, but is rather a consequence of it.” He added, “Concerning CVD, the meta-analysis showed that repressors’ risk of suffering from at least elevated blood pressure is increased by 80% compared to non-repressors.” Mund believes the heightened state of arousal that repressors experience causes an increase in cortisol, which directly affects blood pressure and indirectly affects other somatic symptoms. “The current meta-analysis revealed significant associations between repressive coping, cancer, and cardiovascular diseases, especially hypertension,” said Mund. “These results add to the notion of repressive coping as a consequence of cancer as well as to its important role for the issue of hypertension.”
Mund, M., & Mitte, K. (2011, November 14). The Costs of Repression: A Meta-Analysis on the Relation Between Repressive Coping and Somatic Diseases. Health Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026257
© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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