The psychological immune system

The strength of our immunity depends upon how open we are to being exposed to an infection.

Children who spend time playing with the dirt and are exposed to a variety of germs are likely to develop stronger immunity. The body learns to develop a natural immune response to the germs that it is exposed to.

The physiological immune system can be seen as a metaphor for that part of our mind that keeps us resilient to negative emotions. These negative emotions – anger, anxiety, gloom, worry, melancholy, cynicism – are all psychological germs eager to invade our mental health. Is it possible to develop an immune response against them?

More than two thousand years ago, far before we discovered our immune system, the stoics, Greek and Roman philosophers, had designed techniques to nurture our psychological immune system. Their solution was to expose ourselves to negative emotions and learn to co-exist with them, just as we learn to co-exist with germs. They did this by using a technique called negative visualization – to close our eyes and imagine that whatever was dearest to us was snatched away from us. By doing so, our minds became open to the idea of these tragedies occurring in our lives.

The root cause of much of our suffering is that we are in denial of several tragedies that are commonplace – disease, failure, ageing, the death of loved ones, moral collapse, political degeneration and our own inevitable demise. The more we are open to these tragedy occurring in our lives, the less they are likely to affect us mentally.

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