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A Psychologist's Thoughts on Clinical Practice, Behavior, and Life

The Anxiety of Physical Illness

Physical illness involves feeling different, disconnected from the usual experience of possessing control over oneself, having the ability to reason, and considering oneself omnipotent in the world. While unrealistic, feeling all-powerful is needed for it enables one to function in the world, to engage in needed routines without anxiety. Yet this critical sense can be disrupted by physical change, even one so insignificant as suffering a conventional cold or stomach upset for these deny the person the feeling of intactness and affect reasoning.

 

Suffering a severe illness can be far worse as thinking processes change and helplessness ensue, the latter being the scariest of all feelings: when the ill person becomes passive, and his body no longer respects his commands.

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The Normal Psychological Pain of Serious Illness

A TV celebrity recently spoke of the anxiety and depression he felt upon learning his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. These normally occur when serious illness threatens. And also, for that matter, following a cognitive or physical disability for either can reduce a person's normal functioning ability.

The diagnosis of cancer may well have a unique anxiety-bearing capacity for it possesses similarities to those of the unconscious mind, which are widely feared: its occurrence is unexpected and arising from nowhere; seemingly irrational; and experienced as all-powerful. But this is false since every unconsciously-derived act has a valid reason, even those which appear senseless. In one published case a surgeon felt compelled to repeatedly, publicly expose himself despite the legal and reputation risk until psychotherapy revealed that, by doing so, he was boasting to his mother how powerful he was, as he had wished to do when a toddler.

One member of the clergy, a three-time survivor of cancer, advised the following: that, when afflicted by serious illness, pray, but also get the best medical advice possible.

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