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Pain in Positive Thinking January 6, 2010

Posted by bitchwantstea in Health.
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Cancer is predicted to overtake heart disease as the world’s biggest killer in 2010.  Diagnosis can be devastating, deliberating, and soul destroying.  But despite the cruelties of cancer – from chemotherapy to mastectomies – it’s important to maintain a positive outlook.  … Right?

In the past few years, positive thinking has become not just an encouragement, but a necessity.  Negativity is discouraged, even dangerous.  Nothing good can come from it.  But recently, reports have suggested that’s not quite true.  Australian Science Magazine has reported that those with a grumpy disposition cope better in certain situations than those with a happy one, by breeding attentiveness and careful thinking.  But Barbara Ehrenreich has a much more personal battle to tell with the power of positivity and negativity – her battle with breast cancer.

Some embrace cancer as a positive, life-changing experience that has made them a better person.  Some even refer to it as a ‘gift.’  And then there is the ongoing debate of whether positivity can be used as potential aid to recovery.  While this positivity is understandable and commendable, it is dangerous to stigmatise those who do not, cannot, or will not, feel the same way.  In her struggle, Ehrenreich documents not just the fight against the disease itself, but also society’s fear of allowing a sufferer to experience emotions such as fear, hate, anger and regret.  Pushing positivity increases the likelihood of those in need burying their true emotions due to guilt or shame, or even in fear that it will hinder their recovery.

Ehrenreich documents a particularity heartbreaking exchange between Deepak Chopra, co-founder of the Chopra Center for Wellbeing, and a woman with breast cancer.  The cancer had spread to the bones and lungs:

“Even though I follow the treatments, have come a long way in unburdening myself of toxic feelings, have forgiven everyone, changed my lifestyle to include meditation, prayer, proper diet, exercise, and supplements, the cancer keeps coming back. Am I missing a lesson here that it keeps reoccurring? I am positive I am going to beat it, yet it does get harder with each diagnosis to keep a positive attitude.”

Chopra’s response: “As far as I can tell, you are doing all the right things to recover. You just have to continue doing them until the cancer is gone for good. I know it is discouraging to make great progress only to have it come back again, but sometimes cancer is simply very pernicious and requires the utmost diligence and persistence to eventually overcome it.”

This truly highlights the danger of when positive thinking takes on unsubstantiated, unfounded, physical power to heal.  If only the sufferer had been more positive, more upbeat – then she might have been saved.  Ehrenreich’s warning is an important one:

“What it gave me, if you want to call this a “gift”, was a very personal, agonising encounter with an ideological force in American culture that I had not been aware of before – one that encourages us to deny reality, submit cheerfully to misfortune and blame only ourselves for our fate.”

More reading here. Thanks Telegraph!

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