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Psychology of Disease


written by: Kosjenka Muk






Official medicine recognizes more and more often that psychological processes influence certain diseases, as well as recovery from a disease. Stress is most often mentioned as the main cause of chronic psychosomatic symptoms. Yet, psychological background of a disease can be much more complex than stress by itself. In Soulwork Systemic Coaching, we explore such complexities in depth. Here I will describe some of our conclusions and experience.

Many physical symptoms, whether acute or chronic, can bring unconscious benefits. Some of such benefits can be:

- avoiding unwanted chores,

- avoiding emotional stress within unhealthy relationships,

- attracting attention, sympathy or help

Some people can feel offended with such a statement. "I suffer enough already, are you trying to tell me that I created this on purpose? Do you claim that I manipulate people around me?" Others are more prone to guilt and self-blame: "Yet another of my mistakes / faults!"

It's important to understand that the benefits of a disease are usually not conscious. Some people learn about them instinctively, as children, by observing important adults and their behavior. Just as with other problematic patterns within families, the goal is not to find somebody to blame, but to recognize and resolve causes and their consequences.

Perhaps you lived with a sick grandparent who other people tiptoed around and who received a lot of attention and support? Or a family member suddenly fell ill and received health benefits, consideration and care by the rest of the family? As a child, perhaps you spontaneously perceived it as a legitimate, acceptable escape from otherwise unavoidable expectations.

Many people, when they become parents, spontaneously start repeating their own parents' behaviors. In a similar way, when we get to a certain age or circumstances, we can unconsciously feel that disease is the obvious next step.

Consider the following questions:

  • What can you do, or avoid doing, if you are ill, which you couldn't do or avoid if you were healthy? (This includes not only obvious, physical activities, but also direct or indirect communication with other people.)

  • What do you receive from other people if you are ill, but not if you are healthy?


Some parents give most love, attention and compassion, and least criticism to children when they are sick. If children feel significant relief and emotional pleasure in such circumstances, they can spontaneously and unconsciously start using diseases for such purposes and continue to do so as adults. Some children might perceive that conflicts and tension between other family members decrease when a child is sick. Such children can develop chronic physical symptoms or a succession of acute symptoms as a strategy of diverting other family members' attention.

Of course, we pay a very high price for such advantages. However, it is similar with many other emotional problems which are commonly created in one's childhood as defense mechanisms from stress (such as: anxiety, guilt, OCD, ADHD, anger, victim games...). They also replace original suffering with other kinds of suffering. This can by resolved when you reach your unconscious mind and help it finally recognize that there is no more need for this, that you are not a helpless child anymore, and that there are other, healthier solutions.

Just as with emotional issues, physical pain or other physical symptoms can be attempts of our bodies to warn us about certain problems, for example relationship issues, outdated emotions or beliefs, imbalance in our thoughts, behavior and lifestyles. Sometimes physical symptoms can be expressions of passive aggression against our own selves, similarly as when people unconsciously sabotage their own goals.

While keeping this information in mind, do not neglect other aspects of your lifestyle: nutrition, exercise, stress levels etc. Many people only focus on one aspect of a problem, forgetting that a disease, just like many other parts of life, is a complex issue. Be also aware that psychological background of a disease itself is usually not simple. Most of the time it reflects a cluster of unhealthy emotional patterns, not just one or two.

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