“It is more important to know what sort of person has a disease than to know what sort of a disease a person has.”
Have you ever thought that people with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome might have some personality traits in common? There might be some truth in this, as is suggested by numerous studies. In this post I am going to try to add a comment on the idea that personality and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome may be related.
If the cause of CFS has not been found in the body, nor has it been ascribed to a virus, a very natural question arises: “Could it be related to some personality traits?” Indeed, the relationship between personality traits and CFS has been widely researched. Most of the research seem to suggest that there is a relationship between Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and personality traits like perfectionism, neuroticism, conscientiousness, vulnerability, and introversion.
“Among clinical psychologists, consulting physicians, scientific researchers and society in general an image has emerged of patients with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) as perfectionist, conscientious, hardworking, somewhat neurotic and introverted individuals with high personal standards, a great desire to be socially accepted and with a history of continuously pushing themselves past their limits.”
I must say that I have identified many of these traits in myself. I think that having these traits may really be a risk factor of CFS. It seems that being overly concerned for what other people think of you, how they see your performance and how you look in the eyes of the world is unhealthy. It is not to say that people should not be concerned what others think of them, but it is important to be able to relax in order to cope with the sensitive built-in mechanism of stress response. And I don´t mean relax in a superficial way (e.g. relaxing your muscle tension), but in a more profound way – relaxing in the sense of letting go certain fixed points of view about life events and situations. If it is true that certain personality traits are factors that lead to CFS/M.E. then it is important to pay attention to and deal with the stress created because of these personality types or disorders. Dealing with those things can be the solution to CFS/M.E. Even if stress and tension are a result of having CFS, as some studies suggest, I think it is useful to try and relieve the stress.
Another study states: “Twenty-nine percent of the CFS cases had at least 1 personality disorder, compared to 28% of the ISF cases and 7% of the well controls. The prevalence of paranoid, schizoid, avoidant, obsessive-compulsive and depressive personality disorders were significantly higher in CFS and ISF compared to the well controls. The CFS cases had significantly higher scores on neuroticism, and significantly lower scores on extraversion than those with ISF or the well controls. Personality features were correlated with selected composite characteristics of fatigue.”
But there have also been studies that have found no relationship between CFS and personality.
However, there seem to be more studies that have found a correlation between personality and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Here is another conclusion: “The present study confirms the link between neuroticism and fatigue and finds a link between unhealthy perfectionism and fatigue. A ‘healthy trait’, such as healthy perfectionism, when coupled with evaluative concerns is not necessarily healthy in a fatigued population.
Introversion and extraversion are traits of the nervous system that people are born with and they don´t change during the course of a lifetime. Introverted and neurotic (hypersensitive) personality types seem to have a higher risk of becoming ill with CFS/M.E. If that is really the case then what can we do? If we cannot change our personality type, then what can we do to prevent or heal Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
I think that people who tend to be perfectionist, demanding, neurotic and introverted need to find effective ways to relax and free themselves of inner tension that goes with symptoms. It is not possible to get over a neurotic personality, but it is possible to learn to live with it. I have noticed that stress can be directly responsible for symptoms of CFS/M.E. Although I am feeling well (and have been for the past few years) most of the time, I sometimes have CFS-like symptoms in major stressful situations. During stress I may feel tired, unmotivated, listless, have some pressure in the eyes and the head and may feel the need to sleep. In these times I have often wondered whether I have really recovered from CFS or am I still dealing with the residue of it? Having been in this situation for many times, I can now come up with the conclusion: the symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome are directly related to the feelings of stress in the body and mind. When I was suffering from severe CFS, there was a greater amount of stress in my body and mind, and I rarely felt good. There were a great number of unresolved issues from the past and a lot of other unnoticed causes of stress. When I had dealt with a critical mass of these issues, symptoms vanished along with them. Healing Chronic Fatigue Syndrome meant healing traumas, overcoming deep pain and stress.
Whenever I experience the CFS-like symptoms now, there is also some tension and stress that is usually related to an ongoing life situation. And whenever I have dealt with the stress (and/or whatever causes it), the CFS-like symptoms have vanished. I am grateful for being able to deal with stress effectively using TAT (Tapas Acupressure Technique). This is a technique that enables us to overcome any tension or stress relatively easily, and I recommend anyone to try it. If a neurotic personality and introversion are an issue for you, TAT can be of great help in dealing with its results, whether emotional or physical.
To learn more about how to use mind-body healing methods to deal with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, please check out my e-book “A Manual for Dealing with CFS: A mind-body healing approach.”