Sections

Services

Information

UK United Kingdom

Monday’s medical myth: you can think yourself better

Of all the cultural beliefs about health and illness that saturate the developed world, there is none so pervasive and deeply held as the idea that you can “battle” an illness by sheer force of will. We…

Being blindly and unrelentingly positive can be a burden to disease sufferers. Image from shutterstock.com

Of all the cultural beliefs about health and illness that saturate the developed world, there is none so pervasive and deeply held as the idea that you can “battle” an illness by sheer force of will.

We admire people like AFL great Jim Stynes who show a brave and positive face to the public when confronted with a diagnosis of cancer, and somehow expect that a positive and determined mindset will help “overcome” the disease.

The underlying assumption here is that the mind and body are separate, a philosophical stance known as dualism.

In contrast, the scientific viewpoint is that the mind is caused by the brain. And all the neuroscientific data points this way.

So what, you may say. Even if the mind is caused by the brain, I can still consciously control my thoughts, and therefore I can influence things that go on in my body. This is quite true.

The next question, then, is whether there is evidence that optimism, positive thinking or learning to control your thoughts in some way will be enough to have a significant influence on any disease process.

It’s important to note that we’re not talking about quality of life. We’re interested in whether the actual course of a disease can be changed by purely mental effort.

People who are optimistic are more likely to turn up to health appointments. Image from shutterstock.com

It’s common sense (and supported by mountains of positive studies) that sick people’s quality of life can be improved by having a positive outlook.

The consensus is that optimistic people turn up for their treatments more regularly and are more likely to find resourceful ways to get as much as they can out of their life with chronic illness.

Interestingly, pessimism may be more predictive of a bad outcome than optimism is of a good one.

What does the evidence say?

The most comprehensive summary of the evidence on the subject of optimism and health is this 2010 analysis of 83 studies . Most of the studies take a cohort of subjects, score them by questionnaire to rate their levels of optimism, then sit back and watch what happens.

There are no control groups and no intervention to assess – the researchers just trawl the data for a correlation. If links are found, which isn’t always the case, a press release is issued and everyone marvels at how amazing the mind-body connection is.

Even if you find a robust and reproducible correlation, it doesn’t automatically follow that the link is causal. This is especially true if the study was not specifically set up to show the exact link you are looking for, with all bias and potential distractions removed.

I couldn’t find any studies that were set up to look at the effect of becoming more optimistic, or switching from pessimism to optimism, on a person’s disease.

But at least there’s no harm in being positive, right?

There’s not, but it’s possible that being blindly and unrelentingly positive can be a burden to disease sufferers.

US researcher James Coyne makes this point in his 2010 paper critiquing the positive psychology movement in cancer care. Coyne notes that enforcing a cultural expectation of positivity leaves many cancer patients scared that they’re reducing their chance of survival every time they feel scared, depressed or angry about their disease.

The paper quotes Dutch Olympian Maarten Van der Weijden, who rejected being identified with Lance Armstrong’s approach of “fighting” cancer:

What he basically says is that it is your own fault when you don’t make it… You always hear those stories that you have to think positively, that you have to fight to survive. This can be a great burden for patients.

Don’t feel you need to be completely positive 100% of the time. Image from shutterstock.com

Cancer patients should be reassured that their disease was not caused by personality or emotional factors. Such a callous and false conclusion follows logically from a serious acceptance of the myth. It also would follow that cancer, multiple sclerosis, stroke or any other serious disease could be curable by addressing the emotional issues that supposedly underlie it.

So if there’s little evidence that just being an optimistic person is good for your health, there’s even less evidence that forcing yourself to use positive thinking can beat your disease. Positive psychology interventions have only really been studied in mental health diseases such as depression and there seems to be no attempt to use thought to cure disease.

If faced with a serious illness, you’re likely to have a better quality of life if you have good social supports and avoid giving in to complete pessimism. Nobody can tell you the perfect formula to deal with the impact of a serious diagnosis.

But don’t believe those who tell you your illness is your fault somehow, or that you wouldn’t have it if you’d somehow been a better person.

You don’t need to feel that you should be completely positive 100% of the time, because not only does that not happen, it’s not healthy either. Coping the best way you know how to is all you should be aiming to do.

Join the conversation

53 Comments sorted by

  1. Bao-Luo Zhidao

    logged in via Facebook

    And if you react with perceived types of delusions to cope with the issue, can you not have neuroleptics shoved down your throat? Actually what is the go on serious physical illness impacting mental health to point of perceived psychosis? Care to comment?

    report
    1. Michael Vagg

      Clinical Senior Lecturer at Deakin University School of Medicine & Pain Specialist at Barwon Health

      In reply to Bao-Luo Zhidao

      Thanks for commenting Bao-Luo.

      Quite clearly, serious illnesses place emotional and psychological burdens on people who have them. In addition, there can be effects on mental functioning due to the type of disease present. An example of this is the well-documented relationship between depression and pancreatic cancer, believed to be due to secretion of proteins by the tumour affecting brain function.

      Using antipsychotic medications always needs a very careful analysis of the risks and possible benefits, and should always be done with due caution.

      report
    2. Ken Linder

      NA

      In reply to Michael Vagg

      I have an issue in this conversation but it is an odd one.

      Unfortunately in our current political atmosphere, any patient in whom pain is a primary manifestation of their illness, is invariably treated as if they were a candidate for "psych consult" instead of having their very real physical disorders investigated and treated. I see a strong resistance in physicians to even looking at the idea that people who are in pain have real disorders (if they were verifies then they would have to be treated…

      Read more
  2. George Michaelson

    Person

    and not one instance of the acronym CBT, or the word cognitive?

    so.. are you saying CBT doesn't work, or did you want to exclude mental illness from the get-go?

    yup. thats right. mental illness isn't a disease by definition in this article. you even say so:

    "So if there’s little evidence that just being an optimistic person is good for your health, there’s even less evidence that forcing yourself to use positive thinking can beat your disease. Positive psychology interventions have only really been studied in mental health diseases such as depression and there seems to be no attempt to use thought to cure disease."

    A little unfortunate. If you exclude all disease not of type <x> from discussion, you can't then generalize that treatment applied in type <x> is not useful, because you removed that type of disease from the input. So, on this basis, surgery is wasted, because in all non-surgical cases, surgery did no good...

    report
    1. Michael Vagg

      Clinical Senior Lecturer at Deakin University School of Medicine & Pain Specialist at Barwon Health

      In reply to George Michaelson

      George,
      This piece was mercilessly cut from over 1500 words to the current size, so it does not attempt to be a review article or academic paper. To clarify, the myth under advisement is that you can't use the 'power of positive thinking' to alter what a disease does in your body. For the sake of this piece I have indeed excluded mental health disorders as the biology of many of the major SMIs remain unclear so there is no way to comment on how the disease processes might be affected. In addition, conditions such as cancer or MS are much better understood and are clearer examples of how positive thinking doesn't affect disease processes.

      By the strict terms of the myth, CBT techniques would also not be expected to improve disease outcomes, though quality of life measures usually improve.

      report
    2. David Collett

      IT Application Developer at Web Generation

      In reply to George Michaelson

      Hi,

      I don't think CBT is the same as positive thinking.

      CBT is a way of challenging and changing unhelpful thinking patterns. As I understand it, it works through recognising patterns (such as oppressive should statements, and incorrect generalisations) and replacing them with more helpful cogitations.

      Positive thinking is repressing or ignoring the negative thoughts or feelings - such as anger or depression - which comes with illness.

      Under these definitions, CBT is not a form of positive thinking. As such, Michael can say that positive thinking has no effect on disease, without refuting the benefits CBT on depression or disregarding mental health issues as disease.

      report
    3. George Michaelson

      Person

      In reply to David Collett

      Thanks for the clarification. As well as re-reading, I did some simple keyword searches in the article and I did not get a sense this piece overtly excluded mental illness as a disease. "Illness" is a pretty widespread term in common usage, as is disease. If inside the profession they are understood to have specific meaning I apologize.

      If there was a lingering sense that positive thinking or ideation could help with healing, it would be behaviour driven. If for instance, it improved sleep, or raised exercise (and so metabolic activity levels, reduced blood pressure, prevented DVT from inactivity, avoided bedsores..) But that invites an observation that physical activity would probably boost endorphins and so people felt happier anyway..

      report
  3. Eric Huttlestone

    Public

    Assuming psychosomatic illness is factual, and I believe it is, then what part has psychosomatice wellness!

    report
    1. Michael Vagg

      Clinical Senior Lecturer at Deakin University School of Medicine & Pain Specialist at Barwon Health

      In reply to Eric Huttlestone

      Eric, you've picked up on a major point I'm making, which is that the very term "psychosomatic" implies an acceptance of dualism, ie that the mind and body are separate entities. Whatever the philosophers may say (and they have said a lot) there is no empirical scientific evidence that supports the idea and a mountain of positive evidence that supports the idea that the mind is created by the operation of the brain. Descartes' ghost has been chased from the machine by neuroscientists!

      It therefore…

      Read more
  4. John Campbell

    farmer

    I would like to point out that our crap media, like TDT and ACA just love pushing this sort of tripe. Standards for broadcasting? What a joke.

    No wonder so many people becomes victims of witch doctoring or 'miracle' water cures mentioned an another article here.

    I'm sure we all know but our media really needs a bomb under it, especially as it appears to be the most believed of all mediums.

    Mental and physical health are certainly related, but causing people to feel guilty from not being positive enough is likely to adversely affect the former.

    report
    1. Citizen SG

      Citizen

      In reply to Noby Leong

      Hi Noby,
      A hypothesis to explain the placebo effect is the release of neurotransmitters that correlates with the belief that the therapeutic ritual is beneficial. This effect (neurotransmitter release) is real.
      It does nothing to alter the course of diseases such as cancer etc but can certainly modify the perception of pain, alter mood disorders etc.
      placebo related neurotransmitter release is counter to mind-body dualism, or rather it reflects how changing the concentration of chemicals in the synapse can alter mind-states.

      report
    2. Michael Vagg

      Clinical Senior Lecturer at Deakin University School of Medicine & Pain Specialist at Barwon Health

      In reply to Monika Merkes

      It's relevant to the point I'm trying to make here that the phenomenon of 'placebo sag' means that positive improvements due to the wide range of context effects are short-lived and the symptoms tend to return to baseline over time. So even if you can get your neurotransmitters to produce a brief improvement due to cognitive or operant conditioning effects, these are lost over a relatively short period and don't affect the overall outcome of the disease.

      report
    3. Monika Merkes

      Honorary Associate, Australian Institute for Primary Care & Ageing at La Trobe University

      In reply to Michael Vagg

      Thanks for your reply, Michael.
      Isn’t placebo sag associated with treatments that did NOT work?
      “Placebo sag is a decrease in the placebo response rate seen in patients who have experienced a number of treatment failures” The Massachusetts General Hospital Handbook of Pain Management https://medtextfree.wordpress.com/2012/02/09/3-the-placebo-effect/
      On Pub Med, I could only find one article on placebo sag, and it’s a relatively old one from 1991 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1721730
      Can you point me to studies that found positive placebo effects are short-lived, or are you speaking from your personal experience?

      report
    4. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Hugh Dickson

      The placebo effect is about a subjective sense of improvement or greater sense of wellbeing - generally for self-limiting conditions or pain.

      I've not seen any evidence that placebo can actually alter the course of a quantifiable disease - if it could, it would be real therapy, not placebo.

      report
    5. Michael Vagg

      Clinical Senior Lecturer at Deakin University School of Medicine & Pain Specialist at Barwon Health

      In reply to Monika Merkes

      Absolutely Monika, it's not just my clinical experience, but there are a number of high-level papers along the same lines.

      Here's one systematic review from NEJM
      http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM200105243442106
      Another review http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15257721
      or this http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12535498
      All indicate that placebo effects are shortlived and don't indicate changes in the underlying disease process.

      The term 'placebo sag' has become a bit debased in common use among pain researchers, and tends now to be used to describe the general regression to the mean that occurs when the initial neuropsychological context effect becomes attenuated.

      report
    6. Monika Merkes

      Honorary Associate, Australian Institute for Primary Care & Ageing at La Trobe University

      In reply to Sue Ieraci

      Sue, do you consider a subjective sense of improvement for people with depression, irritable bowel syndrome or Parkinson's disease as trivial? It's not as if we had a magic pill to 'cure' these conditions.
      Irritable bowel syndrome --- Kaptchuk, T. J., Friedlander, E., Kelley, J. M., Sanchez, M. N., Kokkotou, E., Singer, J. P., et al. (2010). Placebos without deception: A randomized controlled trial in irritable bowel syndrome. PLoS ONE, 5(12), e15591. Available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0015591

      Read more
    7. Monika Merkes

      Honorary Associate, Australian Institute for Primary Care & Ageing at La Trobe University

      In reply to Michael Vagg

      Thank you Michael for the references, I'll study them in detail.
      So these reviews found no changes in the underlying disease process, but some beneficial effects for continuous subjective outcomes and pain - doesn't that warrant the use of placebos to alleviate symptoms, in particular as placebos do not have negative side effects as many drugs do?

      report
    8. Monika Merkes

      Honorary Associate, Australian Institute for Primary Care & Ageing at La Trobe University

      In reply to Monika Merkes

      BTW, all three reviews are by the same authors, though it's hard to argue with the Nordic Cochrane Centre :-)
      On the other hand, it's been argued that clinical trials are not the best way to study the placebo effect, as Dr Fabrizio Benedetti explains in this interview on the Brainscience Podcast http://brainsciencepodcast.com/bsp/neurobiology-of-placebos-with-fabrizio-benedetti-bsp-77.html (link to transcript included) and I've summarised in my previous article on the placebo effect https://theconversation.com/not-just-smoke-and-mirrors-placebos-place-in-modern-medicine-4587.
      Anyway, I think we're in agreement that placebos can be beneficial in certain situations.

      report
    9. Michael Vagg

      Clinical Senior Lecturer at Deakin University School of Medicine & Pain Specialist at Barwon Health

      In reply to Monika Merkes

      Monika, I'm assiming you'll be very interested to know that Prof Benedetti is our international guest at the Faculty of Pain Medicine ASM in Melbourne this very weekend which I'm convening!
      http://www.anzca2013.com/scientific-program/refresher-course-day-2013/

      There's still time to register, for both the Friday and weekend sessions! Prof Benedetti and A/Prof Damien Finniss are presenting across the weekend, with a major talk on the Sunday morning plenary by Prof Benedetti. I'd welcome the chance to catch up!

      report
    10. Monika Merkes

      Honorary Associate, Australian Institute for Primary Care & Ageing at La Trobe University

      In reply to Michael Vagg

      Thanks Michael. I’m sure it’ll be very interesting. I’d love to hear what Prof Benedetti and others have to say at the panel discussion “Can placebos be ethically used in clinical practice?”. Also, a couple of sessions on hypnosis look very interesting. But unfortunately it’s too short notice for me to attend.
      An interesting program indeed of the Australian & New Zealand College of Anaesthetists 2013 Annual Scientific Meeting http://www.anzca2013.com/scientific-program/program-grid/ . I was surprised about some of the topics though. There is one workshop on how to make a good cup of coffee and “play with latte art” (“Caffeination: Savour the bean, experience the coffee”) and two workshops on bike maintenance, one for beginners, one advanced. Do anaesthetists get CME points for attending these workshops, or are such workshops aimed at the partners who come along to the conference?

      report
    11. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Monika Merkes

      Monika - I don't consider any individual's sense of wellbeing as "trivial", whether they have a diagnosed disease or not.

      I do consider the intentional use of placebo as dishonest and unethical, however.

      Must people with IBS, depression and Parkinson's disease be tricked into feeling better? Why not offer company, friendship, counselling, massage, pets, good food - any of the many real things that can improve wellbeing?

      Do you consider it ethical to intentionally deceive a patient?

      report
    12. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Monika Merkes

      Wow - that program is packed with hundreds of topics and workshops from perioperative fluids to research design, from infant hernia repair to new anti-diabetic medicatons, from ultrasound use to end of life care, minimally invasive cardiac surgery and obstetrical emergencies. One would think a brief break for a good coffee would be essential to absorb all that stuff!

      report
    13. Monika Merkes

      Honorary Associate, Australian Institute for Primary Care & Ageing at La Trobe University

      In reply to Sue Ieraci

      Sue, the use of placebo doesn't have to involve deception. For example, Kaptchuk and colleagues presented the placebos to their patients as “placebo pills made of an inert substance, like sugar pills, that have been shown in clinical studies to produce significant improvement in IBS symptoms through mind-body self-healing processes”. I understand that the effects come about via classical conditioning and this happens at the subconscious level.

      Kaptchuk, T. J., Friedlander, E., Kelley, J. M., Sanchez, M. N., Kokkotou, E., Singer, J. P., et al. (2010). Placebos without deception: A randomized controlled trial in irritable bowel syndrome. PLoS ONE, 5(12), e15591. Available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0015591

      report
    14. Monika Merkes

      Honorary Associate, Australian Institute for Primary Care & Ageing at La Trobe University

      In reply to Sue Ieraci

      Indeed, a diverse and interesting program with plenty to choose from. A brief break and a workshop at a conference aren't the same thing though.

      report
    15. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Monika Merkes

      "the use of placebo doesn't have to involve deception""

      But it almost always does.

      Monika - as an author on the topic of placebo, do you think it is ethical to intentionally trick a person in the pursuit of health care?

      report
    16. Monika Merkes

      Honorary Associate, Australian Institute for Primary Care & Ageing at La Trobe University

      In reply to Sue Ieraci

      Sue, to answer your question: in principle, I do NOT think it is ethical to intentionally deceive a person in the pursuit of health care. I DO think it's important that we explore ways to use placebos ethically and with informed consent.
      'In principle', because there are grey areas. I've been trying to describe a few scenarios for such grey areas, but I find it difficult to do this in a few words.
      The use of impure placebos, for example, seems to be common in medical practice, as a recent survey…

      Read more
    17. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Monika Merkes

      In principle no - but in practice?

      The "therapeutic relationship" underlying most psychological treatment is based very much on the notion that the shrink knows what's going on in there. Do they really? Not bloody likely. Hunches, suspicions and theories but far from absolute knowledge and fact.

      Not exactly a deception but not exactly the truth either - a cultivated false sense of security at best. But for some at least it seems to work - or do some good.

      To insist on absolute truth - to preface each session with an admission of ignorance and confusion - would break the spell I reckon and cast many psychologists and similar onto the scrap heap - not to mention their patients and clients.

      Too complex for absolutes this health business.

      report
    18. Michael Vagg

      Clinical Senior Lecturer at Deakin University School of Medicine & Pain Specialist at Barwon Health

      In reply to Monika Merkes

      I'm pleased to report that it went very well! There was a very interesting extended panel discussion on Saturday about ethical placebo use which was both nuanced and robustly presented. I have made some notes to add to my 'must write up' list.

      report
    19. Monika Merkes

      Honorary Associate, Australian Institute for Primary Care & Ageing at La Trobe University

      In reply to Michael Vagg

      Hi Michael, you're probably exhausted now after the conference, but if you ever find the time to write up your notes, I'd be very interested to read them.

      report
  5. Sue Ieraci

    Public hospital clinician

    The most destructive effect of this "think yourself better"" myth is for those who don't succeed in getting better.

    Why should a dying person have to feel that they somehow failed or didn't try hard enough - adding further misery to grief?

    report
    1. Michael Vagg

      Clinical Senior Lecturer at Deakin University School of Medicine & Pain Specialist at Barwon Health

      In reply to Sue Ieraci

      That's a fair point Sue. If you accept that positive thoughts can beat the disease it's logical to conclude that failure to beat the disease means failure to try hard enough. I've been part of the care of several people where this has been a heartbreaking issue in their care.

      report
  6. John Kelmar

    Small Business Consultant

    Perhaps the research is rather scant on its sample size. Believe what you wish, or design a research project to support your theory. It depends on how open minded one is, and who you know.

    I can control the impact of the flu virus on myself, and my late Aunt was very good on telling people how to overcome their own health issues (she left school at 14). My cousin also has some ability to control her own health, and we are in our mid 60s.

    There was also an interesting book written some year…

    Read more
  7. Stephen S Holden

    Associate Professor, Marketing at Bond University

    Bravo, well said.

    (In other words, I agree wholeheartedly with Michael's point ... AND (to address another comment), I believe that positive feedback can be helpful in shaping behaviour and thought (eg CBT) ... AND that CBT is quite distinct from what Michael was discussing.)

    report
  8. Dianna Arthur
    Dianna Arthur is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Environmentalist

    Thank you, Michael Vagg

    "But don’t believe those who tell you your illness is your fault somehow, or that you wouldn’t have it if you’d somehow been a better person.

    You don’t need to feel that you should be completely positive 100% of the time, because not only does that not happen, it’s not healthy either. Coping the best way you know how to is all you should be aiming to do."

    The last thing a person with a chronic illness needs is increasing the burden of guilt (for becoming ill) by telling…

    Read more
    1. John Quintner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Dianna Arthur

      Thanks for the discussion, Michael. My take on this topic is that we tend to reify ilness as a "thing" that has invaded our body and taken up residence therein. This way of thinking enables us to then employ a military metaphor that has us waging war against the illness and trying to expel it from our body. Perhaps this is just a modern version of a primitive belief system, albeit one with moral overtones.

      report
    2. Michael Vagg

      Clinical Senior Lecturer at Deakin University School of Medicine & Pain Specialist at Barwon Health

      In reply to Dianna Arthur

      Thanks for your comment Dianna

      I couldn't agree more with your approach as it is exactly in accord with our current 'best practice' recommendations for living with chronic or disabling conditions.

      report
    3. Dianna Arthur
      Dianna Arthur is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Environmentalist

      In reply to Michael Vagg

      Thank you.

      It is very hard to stop beating up on myself as I used to be very active and capable.

      Also, I am very concerned at proposed changes to DSP and the probable backlash to said changes should the Libs win in September.

      Anxiety is a killer. It has an immediate physical impact on us - whether we are consciously aware of it or think we are bravely "soldiering on".

      One needs to develop both kindness towards oneself and knowing when to ignore criticism by ignorant people.

      report
  9. Peter Ormonde

    Farmer

    Excellent Michael.

    I have actually encountered folks who reckon that all illness is a manifestation of your worldview. And that one can "think onesself well". Trouble is - like with most bad ideas - there's a grain of truth to it. The relationship between mind and body is complex, iterative and little understood.

    That's not to say I'd be founding a pharmaceutical company based solely on manufacturing placebos just yet. But there is an effect. The power of wishful thinking.

    Speaking of which - good news that the homeopaths will apparently come under some decent evidentiary scrutiny. Can't wait. Should be televised. Monty Python does Question Time.

    report
    1. Michael Vagg

      Clinical Senior Lecturer at Deakin University School of Medicine & Pain Specialist at Barwon Health

      In reply to Dina Ralt

      Actually Dina I haven't heard of Pema Codron before, and I'm not sure what to think of someone with that many umlauts in her name who wasn't born in Scandinavia!
      Less facetiously, I would go along with the generally Buddhist idea of living realistically and mindfully in the present and striving to accept with equanimity the challenges that life throws up.

      report
    2. Dina Ralt

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Michael Vagg

      I am not a budhist expert so can't explain the umlauts (I am a scientst) but I was really moved br Pema Chodron book - "When Things Fall Apart". Untill reading it I was promoting optimism (I am managing a health social net in Israel ) as a tool for better health and it made me change my view.

      report
  10. Janeen Harris

    chef

    Thanks for this article Michael. I've had a serious spinal cord injury and I'm sick to death of physios and psychologists telling me that I could get more improvement with a better attitude. My physio believes in unconditional positivity and it is doing my head in. The psychologist thinks that with hypnosis we can bypass the damage and I can become more functional. I wonder how long it will be before I'm supposed to feel like a failure if it doesn't work. I wish I could stay away from these well meaning crackpots but then I wouldn't be trying at all.

    report
    1. Michael Vagg

      Clinical Senior Lecturer at Deakin University School of Medicine & Pain Specialist at Barwon Health

      In reply to Janeen Harris

      That's exactly it Janeen! There seems to be an assumption among many that if you haven't tried literally every implausible treatment then you're somehow not interested in getting better.

      Health professionals are often acting out of their own fear of mortality and sometimes, if we're honest, mindless optimism is easier to go with instead of a truly empathic feeling of discomfort.

      report
    2. Janeen Harris

      chef

      In reply to Dina Ralt

      I looked at the link but my issue is nerve damage and the article did not address actual cord damage. sorry, but it wasn't enjoyable.

      report
    3. Tweeting Technology

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Janeen Harris

      There's a wonderful book called 'Smile or Die', by Barbara Ehrenreich, which woud probably have you nodding in recognition. Ehrenreich is a scientist. She was assailed by the 'think positive' crowd when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She preferred to go with science.

      report
  11. Iris Carden

    logged in via Facebook

    This myth (and the spiritualized equivalent "if you had more faith you'd get better") is used so much against people with chronic illnesses. I get it a lot, and so do many other people I know who have lupus. There seems to be some idea that if we can be blamed for our own health problems.

    I can see the appeal of this idea for people who don't have a chronic illness: if your immune system becomes self-destructive, it's not a disability, it's a personal or moral failing. Therefore all the people who consider they don't have such failings can feel safe knowing that it will never happen to them. It's a false sense of safety, but it must be very appealing to those who have the luxury of convincing themselves of it.

    report