• Luli Faber

The Costs of Repression: A Meta-Analysis on the Relation Between Repressive Coping and Somatic Disea


This is a scientific study that I just found that analysed the current scientific literature (using a process called meta-analysis) addressing the effect of suppressing negative emotions and the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, cancer, asthma or diabetes. It was published in 2011 by Mund & Mitte in the journal Health Psychology.

They found that, based on a particular classification of repression of negative emotions developed by Weinberger et al (1979), "repressors’ risk for suffering from one of the diseases is increased by 31%".

In particular, "for repressors the risk of a cancer diagnosis is increased by 51%", and that "repressors’ risk of suffering from at least elevated blood pressure is increased by 80% compared to nonrepressors."

They did not find an associated link specifically between repression of emotions and asthma or diabetes, although the authors attributed this primarily to insufficient data for their analysis.

Again, this lends support to the notion that suppression of painful emotions leads to a higher incidence of physical ailments. Although the authors concluded that the repression came after a cancer diagnoses, and therefore may be an effect of the diagnosis rather than the cause of the disease, they admitted that this wasn't a solid conclusion based on the lack of data of the effects of repression prior to cancer diagnoses.

This is the abstract of the paper:

Objective: When Freud introduced the term repression, he stated its pathogenic potential. Since then, this notion was adapted and continued to date. Surprisingly, there is no attempt to synthesize research on the effect of repressive coping on somatic diseases quantitatively. The current study closes this gap and examines the association between repressive coping as operationalized by Weinberger, Schwartz, and Davidson (1979) and the incidence of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, asthma, and diabetes by applying meta-analytic techniques.

Method: An extensive literature search identified 22 studies that met all inclusion criteria and assessed a total of 6,775 participants. The study set was analyzed both as a whole sample (k=22 studies) and disease-specific (k=2–10 studies; no study found for diabetes).

Results: The results of the meta-analysis indicate a higher risk for repressive copers to suffer from one of the investigated diseases, especially cancer (logOdds after diagnosis: 0.41; 95% confidence interval, 0.09– 0.73, p<.012) and hypertension (logOdds: 0.59; 95% confidence interval, 0.32– 0.86, p<.0001). After application of a continuity correction due to a missing control group the results for coronary heart disease imply an increased risk for nonrepressors to be affected. Results for cardiovascular diseases in general, heart attack, and asthma did not reach significance.

Conclusions: The current meta-analysis revealed significant associations between repressive coping, cancer, and cardiovascular diseases, especially hypertension. These results add to the notion of repressive coping as a consequence of cancer as well as to its important role for the issue of hypertension.

A full copy of the manuscript can be downloaded here.

#emotionrepression #cancer #hypertension #diabetes #asthma