Personality

Newsletter #476
Lee Euler, Editor

 

Do You Have A
Cancer-Prone Personality?

 

You’ve most likely heard of the Type A personality.

The Type A person is very competitive, strives for achievement, lacks patience, is easily provoked and displays anger openly. The theory has faded from favor, but at one time “experts” believed people with Type A personalities were at greater risk of cardiovascular disease.

But there’s another type of personality that’s less well known – Type C. People with this personality are thought to be more prone to cancer. Is this true? And if it is, is there anything they can do about it?

Let’s see. . .

 

Nearly two thousand years ago the Greek physician Galen believed that melancholic women were more prone to cancer. I’m oversimplifying a bit, but melancholia is what we now call “depression.”

In the 15th century an Italian doctor, Lorenzo Sassoli wrote to a patient, “…what displeases me is your being grieved and taking all matters to heart. For it is this…which destroys our body more than any other cause.”

Dr. Sassoli lived during the Renaissance, when the theory of the “four humors” – one of which was melancholia – was at its height. These humors were actually thought to be fluids in the body. One of them, blood, of course is a fluid. In the four-humor scheme of things, strong blood made for a sanguine personality who was hopeful, playful and carefree.

The four humors suffered the same fate as the idea that the sun revolves around the earth, but belief that emotional states were important in cancer development was reported, under new guises, in many 18th and 19th century publications.

The findings of Dr. Temoshok

Studies in the 1940s and 1950s continued to explore this idea but it wasn’t until 1979 that the Type C personality was coined by Dr. Lydia Temoshok.

Richard Sagebiel, MD, who headed a melanoma clinic in San Francisco, noticed “a strange pattern of stress and coping” among his patients. He asked Dr. Temoshok to make a study of them as she was conducting research into stress and its impact on health.

She found the patients who were not doing well, having the thickest tumors and poorest prognosis, were:

  • Bottling up their emotions. Emotionally flat. Hardly ever expressed anger or any negative emotion. Unable to acknowledge sadness or fear. Dismissed or ignored strong emotions.
  • Pleasant to a fault, regardless of circumstances. Overwhelmingly nice. Uncomplaining. Unassertive. Cooperative. Patient.
  • In denial – used denial as a coping strategy.
  • Pleasers. Always putting others first. Overly self-sacrificing. More concerned about the other people in their lives rather than themselves. Striving unduly to please others – even strangers — leaving their own needs unattended.
  • Prone to guilt and self-blame. Low self-esteem.

These characteristics she dubbed Type C.

The experience of doctors who treat cancer

Canadian homeopathic doctor Alexander Mostovoy finds this Type C personality a common feature of his cancer patients. He sums up this “carcinogenic personality profile” as follows…

They are more likely to grieve or worry unduly over a personal loss. This could be a financial loss or loss of status as well as loss of a loved one.

They have a passion that has remained unfulfilled and suppressed over many years.

They feel unworthy. They put others’ needs before themselves. They tend to be really nice people.

They avoid conflict or arguments, can’t express hostility, are punctual, neat and tidy, always strive for perfection, work too hard, overachieve and find it difficult to relax.

For over half a century the late Dr. W. Douglas Brodie, founder of the Reno Integrative Medical Center in Nevada and a pioneer of integrative treatments for cancer, found that there were consistent personality traits among the many thousands of his cancer patients.

In addition to the attributes already described, Dr. Brodie found his patients often were not close to one or both parents. This may have been a problem early in their lives or occurred later in life. He believed it was linked to a lack of intimacy with their spouse or family member.

The carcinogenic personality may harbor long-suppressed resentments, anger or hostility. These may originate in childhood and the patient may be unaware they exist. Patients who fit the profile internalize emotions and find it hard to express them.

Rashid Buttar, Medical Director of the Center for Advanced Medicine and Clinical Research, Cornelius, North Carolina, has treated hundreds of cases of breast cancer. He says: “Nearly all of the women were constantly giving of themselves and were always worried about something…they never ever took time off for themselves.”

Positive results from medical studies

Studies have been carried out to find if the experience of these and other doctors has any foundation. In some of the studies, the Type C trait (or collection of traits) has been found to be a feature.

For instance, in 1991 Australian researchers analyzed 600 people diagnosed with colorectal cancer to find out if personality was associated with the disease. The patients were compared to matched controls – very similar people who did not have cancer.

The researchers found that cancer patients were significantly more likely to show “the elements of denial and repression of anger and of other negative emotions…the external appearance of ‘nice’ or ‘good’ person, a suppression of reactions which may offend others, and the avoidance of conflict.”

One of the problems when looking at personality factors with respect to cancer is that in the Australian study, as well as in the experience of doctors who treat cancer, the disease has already been diagnosed.

Can we be sure that people who have been given such devastating news are going to display the same personality traits as they did before they met the doctor and received the diagnosis?

One way to find out is by taking psychological profiles of people before they go on to succumb to cancer.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University began a long term prospective study, starting in 1946, to see if psychological factors could predict future disease states. They followed 1,130 medical students over 18 years. The results came as a surprise to them.

“Our results appear to agree with findings that cancer patients ‘tend to deny and repress conflictual impulses and emotions to a higher degree than do other people.'”

Negative results from medical studies

Whilst many older studies endorse the idea of a cancer personality, most newer studies — using more advanced methodology — do not.

A review of studies in 2010 concluded that they “do not give much support to personality as a causative factor for cancer.”

Another review in 2014 included over 42,000 people and more than 2,000 suffering from six types of cancer amongst them. They looked at five personality traits – extraversion (sociable, outgoing personality), neuroticism, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness to experience.

They concluded that “none of the personality traits were associated with the incidence of all cancers or any of the six site-specific cancers.”

Another major long-term study was published in 2010. Nearly 60,000 people were followed for 30 years. The scientists looked at the personality traits of extraversion and neuroticism as well as many other risk factors. They concluded that these personality characteristics “were not significantly associated with risk of cancers.”

Is there a cancer personality or is it chronic stress?

Gabor Maté, a Canadian doctor, has studied the Type C personality extensively. He believes that the features of this personality make people of this type more vulnerable to stress.

“It is stress – not personality per se – that undermines a body’s physiological balance and immune defenses, predisposing to disease or reducing the resistance to it.

“Physiological stress, then, is the link between personality traits and disease.”

Dr. Temoshok disagrees.

“Stress per se is not a critical factor in illness – it’s the strength or weakness of one’s coping mechanism.”

Most oncologists are uncomfortable with the idea of a cancer personality because they believe patients will think they brought on the disease themselves. They say the research is inconclusive in any case.

Those that believe in the concept point out that it is just one of the many factors that have a role to play in the development of cancer.

I fall into this camp myself. I absolutely believe stress plays a role in cancer, and I also believe that personality traits likely play a role, too, for some people. After all, holding in anger all the time, or constantly trying to please others, is very stressful.

But as causes of cancer, I believe these emotional factors are overwhelmed by over-consumption of sugar and other carbs, nutrient-poor diets, poor exercise habits, poor sleep habits, exposure to toxins, and other factors that regular readers of this newsletter will be familiar with.

Just as people may change their diet, cut out smoking or reduce their environmental exposure to toxins in order to lower their cancer risk, so they should not shy away from looking at aspects of their personality that may damage their health. Both the sick and the healthy should look for ways to reduce these risk factors. Getting stress out of your life is essential not only to avoiding cancer, but to happiness in general.

Even if there isn’t a cancer personality as such, work with a health professional – if that’s what it takes — to learn to feel comfortable about taking time out for yourself, express yourself emotionally, be more assertive, and build greater self-esteem. These are valuable qualities for anyone, whatever their link to health may be.

Another valuable way to prevent cancer is to eat healthy food. See below if you missed the article in the last issue on a food that’s especially powerful. It’s often overlooked.


Cancer Defeated (cancerdefeated.com)

Newsletter #483
Lee Euler, Editor

Personality Types
Most Likely to Beat Cancer?
The Ones in Touch with Their True Selves

Are you an Apollonian, Odyssean or Dionysian? Each of these personality traits will cope with cancer in different ways.

Will one be more successful at overcoming the disease than another? Let me explain what these personality traits mean – and how they can help or hinder a battle with cancer. . .

In trying to pin down what we mean by “personality,” researchers have looked at factors such as optimistic vs. pessimistic, passive vs. aggressive, introvert vs. extrovert, neurotic vs. emotionally stable and truthful vs. untruthful.

Most studies suggest personality traits don’t matter

Three studies found breast cancer patients have shorter lives if they are low on the extrovert scale. Those with non-Hodgkin lymphoma have a reduced life expectancy if they tend to be rigid about following social rules and customs. Women deemed to be highly neurotic don’t survive as long, according to one study that looked at all types of cancer. However, five other studies could not find any relationship at all between cancer and personality.

A very large study of 60,000 people from Sweden and Finland, conducted over a 30 year period, concluded that extroversion and neuroticism are not risk factors for cancer survival. The researchers said that “the clinical message of this study is that cancer patients should not think that their personality traits may have affected their cancer or cancer prognosis.”

However, the way personality traits are characterized in these studies is rather simplistic, so it’s not surprising that no firm conclusions have come out of them.

The importance of congruence

In Remarkable Recovery, What Extraordinary Healings Can Teach Us about Getting Well and Staying Well, the authors Caryle Hirshberg and Marc Ian Barasch conducted a large number of interviews with nearly fifty cancer survivors. These were patients who had been declared terminally ill and given only a few months to live, yet were still alive and well many years later.

The authors were “struck by the sheer force of individual personalities, by how people’s approach to healing had been a reflection of their own unique selfhood.”

They found the cancer survivors possessed a certain quality which the authors call congruence, “a way to be deeply true to themselves.”

Interestingly, the same word was used by Dr. Johannes Schilder from the Netherlands, who looked at psychological changes in people with tumor regression (i.e. significant healing). They had “a stronger congruence among emotions, cognitions and behavior.” He said both he and some of his colleagues found this to be a striking characteristic.

“Before the remission, there was access to only a certain group of personalities, but afterwards more are allowed to be expressed.”

Sing your own song

Dr Lawrence LeShan is a pioneer of psychological interventions for cancer patients. In Cancer as a Turning Point he says, “You are not responsible for becoming ill, and you are not responsible for your recovery. What you are responsible for once you are ill is to do your best to get better. This means …..changing your life so that your inner healing abilities will be stimulated to the highest level possible.”

Considering the role of diet, exercise, sleep and stress in promoting cancer, I don’t agree that cancer victims have no responsibility for their illness, but let’s set that aside for the moment and stick to his point about personality.

He found that cancer patients were usually passive and suppressed their emotions. They often had unfulfilled passions which were repeated over their lifetimes.

Dr LeShan witnessed many remarkable recoveries by helping people find their zest and enthusiasm for life — to find their life purpose and then live it.

“A person who is singing their own song in life, creating it in ways that fit their personality structure, may well stimulate the body’s self-healing abilities.”

You have to live your life, not somebody else’s. You have to live as the person you are. We may respond to life events in different ways according to our particular personality profile, but the response has to come from our true selves.

Apollonians, Dionysians and Odysseans

After half a century in practice and working with thousands of patients, the late American psychiatrist Dr. Herbert Spiegel developed three clusters of personality traits or ‘mind styles’ as a guide and predictor of how people negotiate their experience.

The Apollonian is difficult to hypnotize and is “highly organized, directive, judgmental, takes an analytical approach to problem solving, is consistent, vigilant, self-assured, will not readily take in new stimuli, but will be most influenced by his or her own pre-existing beliefs, opinions and private agenda.”

The Dionysian is highly hypnotizable, is biased towards feelings over logic, sensitive to the environment and is extremely vulnerable to persuasion.

The Odyssean falls between the other two. He or she can shift as needed between heart and mind. People with this type of personality may use concrete thinking or abstract fantasy depending on the situation.

According to Dr. Spiegel’s wife and colleague Marcia Greenleaf, the importance of dividing up personality types in this way is that each requires a different style of medical intervention.

Asked to study Hirshberg and Barasch’s cancer survivors, Spiegel and Greenleaf found that the ability to recover can be found in all three types; it’s about finding the right path for each person.

For instance, Apollonians will always ask a lot of questions and may be labeled resistant patients for doing so.

But as Greenleaf notes, “if you spend half an hour talking with them, letting them participate in working out their care plan, they are wonderful both on their own behalf and also to the staff.”

Adapting to the patient’s requirements, when you know what they are, helps in their recovery.

Dionysians need positive reinforcement from others and may do well working with a psychologist or hypnotherapist that they completely trust. They need encouragement to express their emotions and require positive input from nature, art and music.

Dr Larry Norton, Medical Director of Evelyn H. Lauder Breast Center, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, makes use of Dr Spiegel’s personality types.

“It gives me a method to determine the proper way to explain something to a given patient, the proper way to develop options and the proper way to help them handle difficulties that arise in treatment.”

Apollonians “tend to be very concrete. They don’t like ambiguity. They want a lot of hard facts. They like to make their own decisions and restrict surrendering control to anybody – physicians especially.”

Dionysians “tend to be more poetic in their description of symptoms. They have a greater tolerance for ambiguity. They also tend to be very suggestible.”

Becoming true

The results of Hirshberg and Barasch’s research show that “there is no fixed set of behaviors leading to remarkable recovery” but certain psycho-spiritual factors came out as being the most important to cancer survivors. These were:

Belief in a positive outcome 75%
Fighting spirit 71%
Acceptance of the disease 71%
Seeing cancer as a challenge 71%
Taking responsibility for the disease and its outcome 68%
Renewed desire/will to live/commitment to life 64%
Positive emotions 64%
Faith 61%
New sense of purpose 61%
Changes in habits/behavior 61%
Sense of control 59%
Lifestyle changes 59%
Self-nurturance 57%

The late Italian psychiatrist Roberto Assagioli maintained that the healthiest form of selfhood is one that merges “expressions of vital elements of our being, however negative they may seem to us at first.”

As one survivor put it, her healing came about because she was “becoming true.”

It‘s clear that we can cannot typecast personality. As Hirshberg and Barasch conclude, “Beyond simplistic ideas that conventionally ‘negative’ traits can make us ill and ‘positive’ traits heal us, every ‘type’ of person can find his or her own unique direction to recovery.”

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