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Four Sources of Disease-Causing Psychological Inflammation

psychological inflammationMost in the conventional and alternative health communities accept that chronic, underlying inflammation is a root cause of degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s/dementia, various forms of arthritis and even heart disease and cancer.

Results of medical research have been widely published. If you’re even mildly concerned about your health, then preventing chronic inflammation should be a priority in your life.

What causes inflammation? Most experts agree that lack of exercise and a toxic diet contribute to chronic inflammation, but there is another well-substantiated yet overlooked cause. I call it psychological inflammation.

What is Psychological Inflammation and How Does it Cause Disease?

Women’s Health Magazine published a reader-friendly definition of inflammation:

When you’re injured or sick, your bone marrow dispatches veritable SWAT teams of white blood cells to root out infection and jump-start the healing process. Sometimes, however, the immune system gets a faulty distress signal and deploys an unnecessary first-aid squad. Those misguided white blood cells still mobilize just like they would if you were actually under the weather, but because there’s no infection for them to attack, they end up just hanging around, often for a long, long time.

Problem is, your body isn’t made to accommodate this kind of unfocused immune activity, and eventually those white blood cells can start damaging your internal organs. They can also needlessly assault other cells the body routinely uses to push off disease, leaving the door cracked open for illnesses such as cancer.


Psychological inflammation is this same physical inflammation, but it is caused by psychological stress, which has been scientifically linked to physical inflammation.

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that psychological stress directly interferes with your body’s ability to regulate inflammation, which leads to the progression of disease.

“Inflammation is partly regulated by the hormone cortisol and when cortisol is not allowed to serve this function, inflammation can get out of control,” said Sheldon Cohen, a Professor of Psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, which sponsored the research.

Cohen states that psychological stress causes immune cells become insensitive to cortisol’s regulatory effect. In turn, runaway inflammation promotes the development and progression of many diseases.

In other words, if your life causes you emotional stress that weighs on you daily, then you are on the path toward chronic inflammation and physical disease.

Causes of Psychological Inflammation

1. Stressful Relationships

A ten-year study has made a definitive link in the general population between bad primary relationships and depression. Essentially, the stress and conflict in the relationship, together with the hopeless, helpless feeling that it may go on forever, creates a state of chronic stress that is inseparable from depression.

There is a causal link between chronic stress and depression, according to WebMD, which states:

Sustained or chronic stress, in particular, leads to elevated hormones such as cortisol, the “stress hormone,” and reduced serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain, including dopamine, which has been linked to depression.

Bad relationships equal chronic stress, which leads to depression. The resulting psychological inflammation leads to chronic disease.

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2. Internal Conflict

On the one hand you want THIS. On the other hand, you want THAT. This is a common scenario that you might not think is that big of a deal. True, when the conflict is about whether to get steak or chicken, it’s probably nothing to worry about. However, most people are riddled with deeper conflicts that cause and unending stream of psychological stress. For example:

On the one hand, I want to make my marriage work. On the other hand, I hate my spouse.

On the one hand, I want to be successful at work. On the other, I feel like a total loser and don’t deserve success.

On the one hand, I want to be healthy. On the other hand – well, some part of me just wants to sit on the couch, smoke cigarettes, drink beer and not care if I die young.

On the one hand, I love people and want to be outgoing and help humanity. On the other, I hate people and wish some of them would just die.

On the one hand, I love life. On the other, I sometimes wish I were never born.

One the one hand, I want (insert anything here). On the other (I have no idea why I don’t just do it).

Living in the midst of inner conflicts like these wreaks havoc on your body by pouring on the stress. Nobody enjoys the uncertainty, half-heartedness and failure that inner conflict causes. Worse, most people have no idea where to begin to mediate the conflict and come to resolution, especially when part of the conflict is buried in a subconscious agenda.

The result is a life filled with self-sabotage.

3. Chronic Emotional Angst

Regardless of the sources, habitual states of anger, annoyance, and anxiety are the hallmarks of chronic stress and inflammation. Do people make you mad? Does waiting in a long line raise your blood pressure? Do you fear going out in public, confronting people whom you need to talk with? Do your children get on your nerves?

Living with is leading down the slippery slope of chronic inflammation.

4. Psychic Masochism

And it gets worse. Have you ever wondered why you or those you know don’t just “let go”? Why do we remain in these ultra-destructive psychological states of conflict, anxiety, anger and frustration, even when we know they are not helping anyone and wreaking havoc in our body?

An obscure psychiatrist from the days of Freud by the name of Edmund Bergler answered that very question. So far, the mental health community has shunned Bergler’s ugly truth. Here it is in layman terms:

We (subconsciously) like misery.

Unconsciously, misery and unhappiness are so familiar and self-justifying that we cling to them, regardless of the consequences.

So, we end up subconsciously doing things that give us more of what we hate. When a chance for true happiness and fulfillment appears, we turn away. Bergler called it psychic masochism, or the tendency to take unconscious pleasure in displeasure. The result is self-sabotage, which may be the one universal mental health concern.

Learn how self-sabotage develops and what to do about it by watching this free video. It’s a real eye opener.

Opportunities to Soothe your Chronic Inflammation

None of us lack the opportunity to calm down and radically cut stress. In fact, there has never been a better time. There is more healing information available now than ever before and it is usually just a few clicks away.

Learn to meditate by attending a local class, reading how-to books or getting one of hundreds of cool apps.

Learn to communicate with your loved ones in a way that honors your personal responsibility, draws clear boundaries and encourages respect.

Simplify your life by cutting out non-priority social engagements and allow yourself to spend the majority of time on what is meaningful to you and your loved ones.

Put forth your best effort, always.

Exercise, eat clean and take time to rest.

And so on. You know this. We all do. It’s the self-sabotage that ruins things. We get in our own way. We get lazy. We’re inconsistent. We pick fights, make poor decisions, act on destructive impulses, give power away to others by blaming them and in general do our worst. Why?

Self-sabotage. Bergler was right. We cling to misery, become uncomfortable when things go really well and in general gravitate toward the negative, refusing to let go of the negativity as if our very lives depended on it.

Here’s another sure sign of self-sabotage. When someone points out how you are getting in your own way, you become offended and defensive, which serves to protect your self-sabotage from exposure (and healing).

People often ask me what to do about self-sabotage. I’ve found by working with hundreds of clients from around the world that the prerequisite to doing ANYTHING at all about it is simply understanding it and admitting the truth. This, it turns out, is 90% of the battle and the most difficult part of the process.

Want to cut your chances of getting a degenerative disease? Eat clean, exercise regularly and figure out why you are hanging onto psychological inflammation.

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Can you see your self-sabotage? Do you know how you learned it? Watch this free video to know more.

Four Sources of Disease-Causing Psychological Inflammation

Mike Bundrant

Mike Bundrant is the author of Your Achilles Eel: Discover and Overcome the Hidden Cause of Negative Emotions, Bad Decisions and Self-Sabotage and co-founder at The iNLP Center which offers online certification in Neuro-Linguistic Programming and life coaching.

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APA Reference
Bundrant, M. (2014). Four Sources of Disease-Causing Psychological Inflammation. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 20, 2018, from


Last updated: 1 Apr 2014
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 1 Apr 2014
Published on All rights reserved.