The Nervous System – How Emotional Upsets May Result In Illness

The three primitive emotions of man are fear, anger and self-love. During development to maturity, self-love turns into self-respect or unselfish love for others. In any well balanced character self-respect must be dominant or ill health is likely to follow, particularly if the fear and anger elements are heightened in intensity.

“The individual usually tolerates the heightening of anger better than fear,” writes a prominent St. Louis neurologist. “Fear is commonly the factor to tip the balance towards ill health.”

Upset emotions result in functional, but not organic, illness—symptoms, not disease. They cause much apprehension but are usually curable. Frequently before the emotional basis is uncovered, they puzzle both patient and physician. Most of the failures debited to medical treatment belong in this category. The patients go from physician to physician, specialist to specialist, each of whom finds some little deviation in his field, none sufficient to account for the illness of the whole man.

For instance, a woman of 30 had some trouble with one of her eyes and some digestive disturbances. One physician found that she had no hydrochloric acid in her stomach. An oculist found a little thickening of the corner of the eye, but was doubtful whether that could account for her discomfort. Other slight abnormalities were noted but none of them were sufficiently grave to account for the fact that she was a chronic invalid. She took digitalis for her heart, under her own direction, until she had irregularity of the pulse and pain in the heart, which she thought was angina.

An analysis of her life showed that she had constantly made sacrifices for her family, helped support her father and mother, put her brothers through school, and had received no thanks or gratitude in return. Her physical appearance was unattractive. She lost some money and felt her future was insecure and that she was incompetent. When told that the pain in her heart was imaginary, she became very angry. However, on being ordered to stop all medication, to stop helping her brothers and allow them to stand on their own feet, and being put on a course of outdoor exercise, tennis and swimming, she recovered completely.

Another instance is of an insurance salesman who was always complaining of burning and sourness of the stomach after meals. Although there was some tenderness over the stomach, other examinations failed to show the presence of an ulcer which was suspected. In making a complete diagnosis of the case, his physician discovered that he had speculated on the stock market in 1929 and made profits equal to his income from his work; also that he and his wife were having trouble and were on the verge of a divorce. In the years from 1929 to 1933, every time the stock market changed, his stomach got worse.

Finally, after he had obtained a divorce and had decided to with-draw from the stock market and go back to his regular work, all his digestive symptoms ceased. The cause of the symptoms was fear of losing money, anger at his wife’s actions, and loss of self-respect—all three fundamental emotions upset.