Hello again. This week, fall has arrived at the Consciousness Playground office, and with it, today’s post, #6 in our Pain Experiment series.
Co-leader, Janice Dietert offers a lot to absorb and before you start, know that in our next post, I’ll share a new audio-recording I’ve made. It weaves together all the key concepts we’ve covered in the Pain Experiment so far, directly applying them to a specific pain you’re experiencing. So you won’t want to miss that.
For now though, contemplate the mind-bending ideas Janice has prepared for you. In 2 weeks, you’ll have my help using them personally. So let’s go!
In Post #5 last week, I introduced you to Dr. John E Sarno, M.D. He worked with over 10,000 patients with varying types of pain and came to a startling conclusion. Most pain syndromes (and more) are not caused by problems that are capable of being imaged like bulging spinal discs, arthritis, etc. Most pain is caused by unconscious emotions. This perspective even worked on him when he suffered dental pain. So, how does this discovery apply to you and me, and what can be done to achieve lasting pain relief? Read on.
Dr. Sarno’s Discovery and his Burning Question – WHY?
- Not all pain is directly related to the conditions that showed up on medical tests (Xray, MRI, CT scans).
- Much pain is directly related to reduced blood flow to the painful tissues.
- Emotions set off a reaction in certain tissues that result in pain and neurological issues.
- Emotionally stimulated oxygen depletion occurs when potent emotions trigger a process in the brain, reducing blood flow to the affected tissues thereby reducing oxygen levels in them. This reduced oxygen level causes pain.
In working with over 10,000 patients, Dr. Sarno discovered that certain emotions were common triggers for this process. The most common emotion responsible was unconscious rage, specifically from these 3 sources:
- Rage generated in infancy and childhood that never dissipated.
- Rage due to self-imposed pressure as in driven, perfectionistic or goodist people.
- Rage that is a reaction to the real pressures of everyday life that we stuff down unknowingly in order to keep going.
Dr. Sarno likened the buildup of rage to banking. “Deposits of anger are made not only during childhood but throughout a person’s life. Because there are no withdrawals from this account, the anger accumulates. This anger becomes rage; when it reaches a critical level and threatens to erupt into consciousness, the brain creates pain or some other physical symptom as a distraction to prevent emotional explosion.”
Is the brain really that powerful that mere emotions can trigger physical symptoms?
Recently, because of some house renovations, I found 34 years’ worth of journals. I started reading and came across one from 1992 during a time when I was in biofeedback therapy for IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). I was wired to BP monitor, oxygen monitors and muscle monitors each session. On that occasion, the therapist wanted me to think about something upsetting. I thought of a recent upsetting conversation and my heart rate went from 74bpm to 190bpm which no amount of breathing exercises would bring down. The therapist couldn’t let me out of the chair until he was certain I wouldn’t pass out. In the end, he had to hypnotize me to get my heart rate to return to normal. I’d say that’s pretty potent proof that the emotional side of the brain is more than capable of intensely affecting the body.
And this was exactly what Dr. Sarno was witnessing. He could see how tightly the mind interacted with the body. Because emotional experiences like anxiety and depression were often interchangeable with physical pain, he became convinced of what the medical community considered medical heresy – that the mind and the body are one unit, not separate things.
So, how does this epiphany help a person become pain free?
Dr. Sarno found 3 ways:
- Thousands of his patients found relief from pain by simply realizing that unconscious rage was actually the root cause of their pain. For many, it was a nearly instantaneous relief.
- For others, after receiving this insight, pain relief is a process. As the powerful, painful, threatening feelings work closer to the surface, the pain intensified in a last ditch attempt to prevent emotional breakthrough. However, for most of Dr. Sarno’s patients, when the feelings exploded into consciousness, the pain disappeared.
- Rarely, the brain succeeds in maintaining the distraction of pain. When the feelings remained this doggedly suppressed and the pain persisted (and there were no serious underlying medical complications like fractures or cancer), Dr. Sarno recommended psychotherapy. Often that helped to finish off the job.
The bottom line is that when the blood flow is temporarily decreased (or Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS) as he called it), the condition “teaches us that only feelings that the mind perceives as dangerous, and therefore represses, induce physical reactions.”
Why Does Pain Break Through When It Does?
Dr. Sarno perceived that there was a rage/soothe ratio playing a role in the physical symptoms, particularly in when the pain started. Often, the rage had already reached a critical level and the addition of a trauma or external life stress would create the right conditions for pain to break through. Theoretically, soothing factors “in a persons’ life would modify the threat posed by rage and make symptoms unnecessary…the occurrence of symptoms reflects too much rage and not enough counteracting soothing elements in one’s life.”
Dr. Sarno’s Steps to Being Pain free
1. Repudiate the physical diagnosis by saying out loud to yourself,
“I have a normal _____ (insert area that hurts). I now know that the pain is due to a basically harmless condition initiated by the brain to serve a psychological purpose. Any structural abnormalities found on X-ray, CT scan or MRI are normal changes associated with activity and aging.”
This realization is essential to thwarting the brain’s strategy of distraction.
2. Understand the mind is aware of everything that goes on in the body…[and] the brain will initiate TMS pain where a structural abnormality exists…
3. Think about the rage rather than the ‘where’ and the ‘how bad’ of the pain. Logically, you might prefer to deal with the rage rather than have the pain. “The unconscious mind is apparently terrified by the rage and reacts accordingly.
4. Accept that the unconscious is often illogical, like a child having a temper tantrum; it’s part of being human and universal. “Consciously think about the repressed rage and reasons for it whenever [you] are aware of the pain. This is a contradiction to, a counterattack…to undo the brain’s strategy.”
5. Talk to your brain out loud. Have the conscious mind address the unconscious. The more forcefully the better.
“You tell your mind that you know what it’s doing, that you know the physical pain is harmless and is a distraction from the repressed rage, and that you no longer intend to be diverted and intimidated. You might even tell it to increase the blood flow to the involved tissues.”
-6- Prevention comes from consciously changing the unconscious mind’s reaction to emotional states. When this has been accomplished, pain will cease.
“By changing the focus of the attention from the body to the psyche, we render the pain useless, take away its purpose and reveal what it was trying to hide.”
Since that’s a lot to take in,
- Many pain conditions are not actually caused by what can be picked up on X-ray, MRI and CT scans.
- Powerful, unconscious emotions, in particular repressed rage, stimulates the reduction of blood flow to parts of the body. This in turn creates pain.
- Onset of pain often occurs after a trauma, mild injury or stressful life event.
- Knowing that the repressed emotion is causing the pain can trigger near instantaneous, lasting pain relief.
Dr. Sarno’s Painfree Steps
-1- udiate the diagnosis (unless it’s something like a fracture, cancer, etc). Know that normal wear and tear usually produces conditions that can be imaged but by themselves rarely cause the pain you’re experiencing.
-2- ause the mind is aware of everything happening in the body, it frequently triggers the pain to associate it with a known structural abnormality or injury.Place your focus on the rage rather than the pain. If possible, find the source of the repressed rage.
-3 and 4 – Place your focus on the rage rather than the pain. If possible, find the source of the repressed rage.
-5- Talk out loud to your brain letting it know you’re aware of its strategy and that no longer works for you.
-6- Follow this protocol to effectively change the unconscious mind’s reaction to emotional states to both rid yourself of the present pain and to prevent it from using this strategy to create more pain in the future.
I give Dr. John Sarno a lot of credit for focusing away from the pain and the imaging studies and everything else he was taught in medical school and recognizing both the power of the mind. In some ways I’m less certain that the mind is trying to continue the repression of the emotions; might it not also be that the mind is trying to bring attention to the internal pain being caused by the unconscious emotions by yelling a bit through physical symptoms? However, you choose to perceive his work, the fact that it was effective for over 10,000 patients speaks volumes for itself.
[All quotes taken from Dr. John E. Sarno’s book The Mindbody Prescription: Healing the Body, Healing the Pain.]
Thanks, Janice, for summarizing this complex body of work! See you all back here on November 1, with Post #7 and my audio tying everything together ~ Wendy