Friday, December 21, 2012

The Physiological Cost of Not Talking About It

Abstract
Results from a series of studies are summarized in support of a general theory of inhibition and psychosomatics.

According to this view, to inhibit thoughts, feelings, or behaviors is associated with physiological work.

In the short term, inhibition results in increased autonomic nervous system activity. Over time, inhibition serves as a cumulative stressor that increases the probability of psychosomatic disease.

Actively avoiding thoughts and feelings surrounding a trauma and/or not discussing a trauma is a particularly insidious form of inhibition.

The results from recent surveys and experiments indicate:
  • (a) childhood traumatic experiences, particularly those never discussed, are highly correlated with current health problems;  
  • (b) recent traumas that are not discussed are linked with increased health problems and ruminations about the traumas;  
  • (c) requiring individuals to confront earlier traumas in writing improves health and immune system functioning;  
  • (d) actively talking about upsetting experiences is associated with immediate reductions in selected autonomic activity. Implications of these findings for our understanding of disclosure, trauma, and disease are discussed.
...trauma may cause slight anxiety and cause us to think...If we were molested as children, fired from our jobs, or mugged, far more physiological and cognitive activity would ensue.

A fundamental psychological question concerns how we come to find meaning in traumatic experiences.
In this paper, we present the results from several studies that indicate that talking about---or in some way confronting--traumatic experiences is psychologically and physically beneficial.  

DISCLOSURE OF TRAUMAS AND PSYCHOSOMATIC PROCESSES
By JAMES W. PENNEBAKER and JOAN R. SUSMAN
Soc. Sci. Med. Vol. 26, No. 3, pp. 327-332, 1988

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