So, I have this theory. And the reason I have it is because I’m a part of several (and even run my own) autoimmune support groups and communities, where I’ve been privileged enough to connect with such amazing people and hear so many of my fellow autoimmune warriors’ stories.
It’s through these stories and connections that have led me to begin noticing patterns. These patterns have nothing really to do with the condition or disease itself though; instead, these patterns have everything to do with common characteristics that keep coming up amongst us within the community.
EVOLUTION & BACKGROUND OF THE THEORY
I think these common characteristics are part of why I think all of you are my spirit animals (aka my tribe) – because we have so much in common and can relate to how each other are wired. But it also got me thinking: are these common personality traits amongst those of us who struggle with autoimmunity more than just coincidence? Could the way we’re wired actually contribute to our conditions? My gut/intuition tells me yes, and there are studies out there (<<just some Google examples) that corroborate my thinking.
In fact, there is even a relatively new study of science that is gaining traction and attention called Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI), which is defined by Professor Kavita Vedhara, world-renowned expert in PNI as, “the science of the connections between the mind and the body.” Another definition of PNI that Professor Vedhara gives that taps into the relationship to autoimmunity is “the study of the interaction between psychological processes and the nervous and immune systems of the human body.”
By now, I think that this is something we all are at least semi-aware of – that stress and our mental states can, and do, affect the progression (and existence) of our conditions. But what I don’t see is a lot of discussion about what those certain personality traits, characteristics and belief sets actually are. That’s why I want to start this discussion, because I believe that understanding ourselves is the first step in being able to unravel some of the puzzle that is chronic illness.
Before I dive into giving the 15 commonalities I believe may exist amongst those of us with autoimmunity conditions, I need to make three disclosures (please don’t skip over these):
- I am not a doctor, a social scientist (although I suppose I do have a college “minor” in Sociology…hehe), or a psychologist, and I make no claims to be one. This is not an official theory or one that I’ve tested or proven or anything like that. It’s just simply something I’ve been thinking about for a while and wanted to bring into the limelight. So, basically what I’m saying is that I have no credentials to support this theory whatsoever, except my own curiosity and tendency to over-analyze the $hit out of most things, while being really observant and sharply inclined to pick up on the idiosyncrasies of most people I come into contact with. 😉
- Sort of ties in with #1 but again – this is not a tried and tested theory. I don’t even know if you all will find ONE of these true for you, let alone all of them. So, take it with a grain of salt. If I do happen to be super spot-on, then that’s great, but don’t overthink it. All of these traits are amazing qualities to embody and make us all freakin’ superheros! It’s just that when applied to our physical systems, my theory is that these idiosyncrasies may have a rougher time being “digested” by our bodies. In other words, this list is not meant to invoke more anxiety or additional feelings of shame, insecurity or self-blame; it’s just meant to start to unveil some commonalities that we all share. Through this connection and self-empowerment through awareness, I’m hoping that we can all help each other go a little bit deeper into ourselves and use this as a jumping-off point for more advanced healing.
- This list is also not meant to say if you do exhibit some of these traits, that you DO or WILL (or that your children, family members, loved ones, etc. do or will) have an autoimmune condition or chronic illness. Now, I suppose my theory is meant to say if you have MOST of these traits, then yes maybe you’d be more inclined towards those conditions (otherwise why would we be talking about this right now? :)) But still, this is not intended to diagnose, pre-diagnose, or lead to any self-fulfilling prophecies.
Without further ado, here are the traits/characteristics/beliefs that form the backbone of what I’m calling the “Autoimmunity + Personality” theory. I may add or subtract to this list in the future, but this is just where my head’s at right now.
THE AUTOIMMUNE + PERSONALITY THEORY: COMMON THREADS
I believe that people with autoimmunity or chronic illness may possess a number of the following characteristics or belief systems:
- A tendency towards perfectionist tendencies
- Are Highly Sensitive Persons (HSPs)
- Feel more comfortable “playing it safe”
- Lean toward being “Type A” personalities
- Have an ongoing fear of letting people down, or being wrong
- Have a tendency toward introversion (still may be social introverts though)
- Are “Maximizers” or over-achievers
- Have trouble saying “no”
- Tend to be very hard on themselves; expect and push themselves to be able to meet their own high self-expectations
- Self-conscious about who they are; afraid to show people who they really are or let people in
- More prone to anxiety and worry
- Inclined to be more open to having spiritual and “alternative” healing experiences
- Dislike feeling out of control
- Have spent a majority of their life feeling like they “don’t quite fit in” or like they are “misunderstood”
- Have endured some sort of memorable traumatic event or upbringing (remember, “trauma” is different to the beholder; some may experience trauma going to war, some may classify trauma as being in a car wreck, while others may internalize trauma from growing up around alcoholic parents, being bullied at school, or falling down the stairs in front of a large group of people. Chances are, if the event or situation is seared into your memory and can still elicit a psycho-physical reaction in you, then your body and mind may be holding onto it as a traumatic event)
FEEDBACK & FINAL WORDS
So, what do you think? Did any of these resonate with you? Could you relate to any of these? I’d truly love to hear your thoughts about my list, as well as the general topic of how (or if) common personality traits and experiences correlate to a propensity toward chronic illnesses like autoimmunity, chronic fatigue syndrome, etc.
I truly think that if we can continue to get to know ourselves, explore the relationship between personality and disease, and find the links within this “psychoneuroimmunology” area of study, that we are going to be able to take our awareness and understanding of autoimmunity and how to heal it to a whole new level.
And my hope is that by gaining more awareness about the characteristics that make up who we are, we can start to love the heck out of them and find more productive outlets for some of these traits. In this way, I believe we can help our traits and experiences to actually serve our bodies, instead of causing it to fight against itself.