Gabor Mate, M.D. (2003) describes a study done in 1984 where cardiac and cancer patients and a control group with no medical illness were shone slides designed to elicit psychological distress. These people were also asked to note their subjective level of how calm or disturbed they felt on reading each statement. The researchers then compared the physiological data with the subjects’ subjective reports. Mate says, “This study demonstrated that people can experience emotional stresses with measurable physical effects on their systems—while managing to sequester their feelings in a place completely beyond conscious awareness.(p.124)” When The Body Says NO: The Cost of Hidden Stress. He goes on to say,
“It was in relationship to melanoma that the notion of a “Type C” personality was first proposed, a combination of character traits more likely to be found in those who develop cancer than in people who remain free of it. Type A individuals are seen as “angry, tense, fast, aggressive, in control”—and more prone to heart disease. Type B represents the balance, moderate human being who can feel and express emotion without being driven and without losing himself in uncontrolled emotional outbreaks. Type C personalities have been described as “extremely cooperative, patient, passive, lacking assertiveness and accepting. . . .The Type C individual may resemble Type B, since both may appear easygoing and pleasant, but . . . while the Type B easily expresses anger, fear, sadness and other emotions, the Type C individual, in our view, suppresses or represses ‘negative’ emotions, particularly anger, while struggling to maintain a strong and happy facade.”(p.125)
Other studies which Mate references enlarge the list of traits. “In 1991 researchers in Melbourne, Australia, investigated whether any personality traits were a risk factor in cancer of the colon or the rectum. Over six hundred people, newly diagnosed, were compared with a matched group of controls. Cancer patients, to a statistically significant degree, were more likely to demonstrate the following traits: “the elements of denial and repression of anger and of other negative emotions . . . the external appearance of a ‘nice’ or ‘good’ person, a suppression of reactions which may offend others, and the avoidance of conflict. . . The risk of colorectal cancer with respect to this model was independent of the previously found risk factors of diet, beer intake, and family history.” Self-reported childhood or adult unhappiness was also more common among the bowel cancer cases. We have already noted similar traits among patients with breast cancer, melanoma, prostate cancer, leukemias and lymphomas, and lung cancer.”(pp. 125-126)
Mate is suggesting there is a relationship between how we adjust to our environment psychologically and the resulting stress such adaptations create in the body. “While we cannot say that any personality type causes cancer, certain personality features definitely increase the risk because they are more likely to generate physiological stress. Repression, the inability to say no and a lack of awareness of one’s anger make it much more likely that a person will find herself in situations where her emotions are unexpressed, her needs are ignored and her gentleness is exploited. Those situations are stress inducing, whether or not the person is conscious of being stressed. Repeated and multiplied over the years, they have the potential of harming homeostasis and the immune system. It is stress—not personality per se—that undermines a body’s physiological balance and immune defences, predisposing to disease or reducing the resistance to it. (p. 127)”
All of this takes us back to our childhoods and how we responded to our environments. Although there might have been a semi-conscious decision at age four or five, the choice to adapt in a particular way establishes a pattern of behavior, which soon becomes unconscious. Whenever we wake up to the fact that such an unconscious pattern has been running our lives, we can then begin to change the pattern. Of course it helps to be able to talk to friends and counselors about this new awareness. Often we can learn from people who have traveled the road before us and hiring a guide is frequently the most effective aid to change. The man who was mentoring me in Jungian dream interpretation was dying of cancer. Malcolm had a dream which he shared with me, because he knew my abilities and background. The dream said that if he were to heal from the cancer he had to take Bill Barnes with him. So of course my first question was “who is Bill Barnes?”
When my seventy-four year old mentor was seventeen, his dad was a Baptist missionary pastor of a small church in Colorado. A rather unsavory character in the town was a retarded, and frequently violent, Native American by the name of Bill Barnes. He was the typical drunken Indian and Malcolm was afraid of him. At the barber shop the cowboys teased Malcolm by saying, “Bill Barnes is looking for you.” Having grown up in a similar town in Idaho, I knew exactly what the seventeen year-old was feeling, fear. The flight response is instinctual and Malcolm was fleeing just as he ran head on into the man he was trying to avoid. The irony was that Bill wanted Malcolm to write a letter to the bank, explaining that he would pay the mortgage when his cattle were out of quarantine. Of course the boy, being a good Christian, swallowed his fear and wrote out the letter for the scary Indian.
When I asked Malcolm to tell me more about the character and family history of the man he had to “take with him”, he explained a very sad, tragic story. Bill Barnes’ father was a rancher, who had an affair with a Native woman. This was complicated by the fact that he was committing adultery. The elder Barnes had a wife and a son at home. According to the story the mother did not want the baby. When she came to term she delivered the baby alone, and evidently standing up, so the baby fell on his head. She then nursed the child and took him to the father’s ranch. She handed the baby to the rancher announcing “this is your son” and left. The rancher’s dutiful wife raised the boy without love and, according to the custom with Native children, without education. He never learned to read or write. He worked on the ranch, which he eventually inherited. He didn’t go to school. He was a model of what we now call attachment disorder, with its attention deficits, avoidance of intimacy and addiction to alcohol.
Malcolm’s shadow, in Jungian terms, was everything he had denied about his childhood and the dream was demanding that he integrate those characteristics into his conscious personality. It seemed easy enough for me to see that at forty-three, and I gave my mentor the perfect book for his illiterate inner child. Seven Arrows by Hyemeyohsts Storm was written by a half-breed Indian, who had a vision during the Sun Dance that he was to share his people’s stories with the world. The book was written at the reading level of the author, who had completed eighth grade. The editors corrected the spelling and grammar and added lots of photos of Native Americans from the beginning of the 20th century. There were also several beautiful plates of original Native American mandalas, which illustrated the sacred/psychological concepts being elaborated. It was perfect. Reading the book was the way he could take Bill Barnes’ culture into his inner world. Bill was everything Malcolm had denied and repressed. By accepting these things about himself, Malcolm could take his Shadow into his heart and love him. He and Bill could be friends at last. That is what Bill said in the dream, “this time you have to take me with you.”
I was heart broken to hear from Malcolm’s wife a few months later, that he was soon going to cross over into the spirit world. “Did he read the book I gave him?” I asked in disbelief. “No he didn’t. He chose to follow a guru’s macrobiotic diet. I’m sure he will want to see you. I’ll call you back after I talk to him.” she said, hopefully. When she called back, she was obviously choking back the tears, “I’m sorry Michael, he doesn’t want to see you. He’s abandoning all of us.” I explained to her about his dream and why I had given him the book. She thanked me and said, “it’s difficult to do the Work. God shows us the path, but we have to choose to go down it. You pointed him in the right direction and I wish he could have accepted his Shadow. He always had difficulty with that. When he left the Presidency of the Baptist college to become a Jungian analyst, it seemed like he had found the balance he needed. We moved to Santa Monica and Anais Nin was one of our close friends. But the Native American shadow was something he couldn’t integrate. I’m sorry, Michael, I know he loves you, he just can’t show it, he turns off his feelings and goes into his head. You will be his last student. He’s very proud of you. Continue his work. Integrate your shadow. Don’t repress your feelings.” As I also discovered, it is easier said than done.
Dreams diagnose in their magical mirroring way. Synchronicity puts people in our path, as if the Dream Maker were orchestrating our life story. But we must pick up the magic thread, if we are to find our way out of the labyrinth of dis-ease.