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New Program Day 14: Fostering Empowerment

Discussion in 'General Discussion Subforum' started by Alan Gordon LCSW, Jul 25, 2017.

  1. Alan Gordon LCSW

    Alan Gordon LCSW TMS Therapist

    Day 14: Fostering Empowerment

    So far, we’ve gone over two techniques to help deactivate your brains’ danger signals: Somatic Tracking and Cognitive Soothing. Both of these techniques communicate a message of safety.

    But there’s another way to overcome fear: building up a sense of empowerment. When you’re empowered, you feel confident, capable, and strong. You believe that you can overcome obstacles. Empowerment is actually the opposite of fear.

    Ain't No Mountain High Enough...

    You may remember Christie, one of our TMS therapists, from Day 5 of the program. Throughout her early 20s, Christie suffered from debilitating leg pain. Ever since she recovered, she had the goal of running a half marathon, just to prove to herself that she could.

    She set the date for earlier this year, and began thoroughly preparing: she set a strict training regimen, altered her sleep schedule, and loaded up on carb. She only made one mistake: she forgot to research the course.

    When she got to the event, she was shocked see the tagline for the race: “La Jolla Half Marathon – We Eat Hills for Breakfast.” In all her months of practice, Christie hadn’t run up a single hill!

    The race started, and panic set in. She was bombarded by fear thoughts:

    “Am I going to be able to finish?”
    “What if I collapse?”
    “Why did I tell everybody in my life about this?!”

    Twenty minutes into the race, she saw the first hill approaching…it was almost comically steep. And something shifted inside her. She became determined. She was excited for the challenge. She embraced the opportunity to see what she was made of.

    And she ran.


    Christie took a stance of empowerment that day. When you’re empowered, you're doing something with enthusiastic determination in spite of the obstacles. And it can completely change your relationship with fear.

    Empowerment and Outcome Independence

    A few years ago, I developed heel pain. I didn’t remember banging it, and there was no bruise, but it was incredibly tender. Walking was so painful that it was hard not to limp.

    After a couple days, I gathered enough evidence to know there was nothing physically wrong with me, but I still felt fear.

    Knowing that my fear of the pain was the very thing that was keeping my danger signals activated, I decided to do something about it. I went outside and started walking down the street. I wasn't trying to get rid of the pain, my goal was to confront the fear.

    With each step, the pain increased. And so did the fear thoughts:

    “What if it isn’t TMS, and I end up causing permanent damage?”
    “What if it’s one those bruises that you just can’t see?”
    “Is the brain even capable of causing this much tenderness?”

    In these instances, we have a tendency to push back, yell at the fear, or force ourselves to power through it. But often, this is just pressure sneaking back in. Empowerment involves a sense of joy, not frustration; a sense of liberation, not strain.

    So I didn’t push back, I invited the pain in. I said with a positive feeling of enthusiasm “Bring it on, ramp up the pain as much as you want.” And I meant it. I was enjoying taking such a defiant stance. I was excited that the pain wasn’t dictating my mood - let it increase, let it decrease, let it do what it wants. I was feeling empowered, and when you’re empowered, there’s no room for fear.

    So did my pain go away by the end of the walk?

    It doesn’t matter, because I had achieved outcome independence. And when you’re truly outcome independent, the pain has lost its power over you. And its days are numbered.

    Embracing the Fear

    If you want to overcome a fear of flying, you need to go up in a plane - you can’t do it from the ground. If you want to overcome social anxiety, you need to interact with people - you can’t do it from your house.

    The only way to change our relationship with fear is through exposure. By exposing ourselves to fearful stimuli – while taking a stance of empowerment – we can change our neural pathways.

    Currently, I imagine most of you have pretty negative feelings about your pain. You’re frustrated when it’s there, you’re afraid of it getting worse, and you dread it coming back when it’s gone.

    But pain is an opportunity. It’s something that elicits a feeling of fear. And the more we feel fear, the more we’re able to change our relationship with it.


    So I invite you to begin changing your attitude toward pain. Let it not be something to stave off or eliminate, rather let it be something to embrace. It may sound counterintuitive to invite in the very thing you’ve spent years running away from, but that’s what empowerment is. You can’t control your pain, but if you change the way you look at it, it won't control you either.

    Last edited: Sep 13, 2017
  2. Ellen

    Ellen Beloved Grand Eagle

    Just a brief reminder that you can substitute any TMS symptom for the word "pain" in using the approach above. I finally recovered from years of insomnia by using just this approach.
  3. LEW

    LEW Peer Supporter

    To me this is the hardest part. I tell myself I'm not afraid of TMS. I continue to exercise and have since the beginning. I have days where I have said this is enough and feel great for a short time...but then have a relapse. I take walks every day, sometimes successfully, then a setback. But I never stopped physically. I'll just keep trying. That's all I can ask of myself.
    Carokitty, kim marie, Bev and 6 others like this.
  4. MicheleRenee

    MicheleRenee Peer Supporter

    For all of those who have had 24/7 pain and have more or less "conquered it".. how do you hold a sense of empowerment when you feel your symptoms as soon as you wake up? For me I find my empowerment grows throughout the day but come morning time I find it more difficult. Maybe this is something i willl learn in time? Thanks for replies!
  5. jjbuckler

    jjbuckler Peer Supporter

    For me, the empowerment comes from not giving in. I try not to alter my day, or change what I need to do for the day. I try to go through the day as if I am not in pain. Its not easy, to be sure. And there are days when its bad enough that self-care is my only option.

    A quick example: One of the things I noticed a bit ago was that, I often hesitate when I perform an action I think might hurt (putting on pants, getting in the car). I was hesitating because I was trying to figure out how to do it without hurting. Invariably it would hurt more because I thought about it first. I've tried to stop doing that for the most part. I try not to do the mental calculus. Still hurts, but less, and I find it makes me feel better to just do things normally.

    And yes, I agree mornings are the worst. That's when my inner bully likes to throw doubt my way or more pain. If I am going to doubt TMS, that's when it happens. What I find works for me is to get moving and get on with it.
    jboo, Katya, Northwood and 14 others like this.
  6. Kerrj74

    Kerrj74 Well known member

    Great post today Alan! Here’s my main struggle with this key concept towards healing… Yes, I am an anxious, worrisome, fearful person. I know that is what probably caused this TMS back pain that I have had for 8 months, and conditioning and the strengthening these pain pathways is probably why it persists.

    However, I don’t FEAR it anymore, but it still never goes away or gets any better! I have been telling myself for 8 months that there is nothing to fear, that nothing is physically wrong, that I can’t hurt myself, that it is just TMS, etc. I force myself to do things that hurt: sitting, exercising, standing, and just plain surviving 24/7 with pain from any physical position or activity. So, why then after 8 months of no FEAR, am I still in pain? It says above that “You can’t control your pain, but you can control the stance you take toward it. And that’s the only control you need in order to recover.”. I have controlled my stance towards it. Why am I still not recovering? I am taking the “empowered stance” against the pain. I keep telling it to “go to hell”. I feel like I am giving the pain no power, but nothing changes. The pain is in my head 24/7 and I can’t get past it. Even when I get a few brief moments of relief, I try to ride the wave and reinforce with myself that this is proof that nothing is wrong, but it never lasts and the pain returns. If I force myself to do what causes the most pain (sitting), I just stay in pain- no matter how UNAFFRAID I am of sitting.

    What am I missing? :(
    kim marie, Laura C., Ines K and 4 others like this.
  7. Lunarlass66

    Lunarlass66 Well known member

    Lew.. This is me, EXACTLY, I keep trying, keep moving... Walk, sometimes recumbent bike and keep up with household chores every single day, despite the pain....
    Waiting for change.. Seems like I need some kind of miracle at this point. It's by far the hardest thing I've ever had to deal with. :(
    I wish you all the best and to be FREE of pain. :)
  8. rbmunkin

    rbmunkin Peer Supporter

    When I push through the pain, ignore it, it just gets worse and worse. Then I'm bedridden instead of just in some pain. So what do you do about that?!
  9. Bodhigirl

    Bodhigirl Well known member

    Conquering TMS is a moment by moment process for me. It's not an event that occurs and stays put. I tell myself to get used to impermanence and that reduced expectations of perfection.
    When I awaken I sometimes have either a headache or muscle pain. I used to set my day up as "This is gonna be awful." Now I say "This is either TMS, aging or sore from exercise. Either way, I am not hurt" ... and the more I move the faster the pain loses its grip on me.
    Hope that helps.
  10. hambone

    hambone Peer Supporter

    I've cured many bouts of TMS: some with a fierce defiance Alan describes but sometimes that fails to work so I go Plan B: the gentle approach: keep positive attitude that I know what it is, it will go away, get on with my life and just wait it out. Plan B sometimes takes a Long Time but worrying about how long it's taking just feeds it.

    PS Positive affirmations- sincerely felt, repeated strongly, over and over- helped turn the tide, I am absolutely convinced. They can sound contrived, trite, touchy feely. Too bad. But you gotta sincerely believe them:

    I am healthy and strong; I fully and completely accept myself Just As I Am; I love biking; I love walking; My leg-feet-back-whatever is healthy and strong. (thanks to Dr. Schubiner for these). Then I add my own: I walk gently through life (Elizabeth Hay).
    Last edited: Jul 25, 2017
    lindyr, Duana, Katya and 10 others like this.
  11. LEW

    LEW Peer Supporter

    Alan often refers to Howard Schubiner. I've read many books on TMS, but have not read Schubiner's stuff, though I think I had his workbook. But I recently found on this tmswiki site some self-talk tips from Dr. Schubiner. He says to try to stay as positive as possible. Here is a link to his tips for curing TMS: http://www.tmswiki.org/ppd/Affirmations#Silent_Self_Talk (Affirmations). I've started to implement some of these that feel right to me. Let me know if this helps anyone. Of course, I curse as well on occasion when I'm really frustrated. Short-term relief, but it's something.
  12. nele

    nele Peer Supporter

    Maybe "Waiting for change" is the crux?
    I remember my first attemps to run (after having endless years of backpain): it hurt, but I felt empowerment: I was so happy to dare to run. After three runs my pain shifted in another place - and again I was so happy - it was the proof of TMS.
    But now I am stuck in my IBS symptoms. It looks for me much more difficult. Has anybody of you overcome IBS? I would be very grateful for any advice.
    chemgirl and Lunarlass66 like this.
  13. NicoleB34

    NicoleB34 Well known member

    this weekend i rode 27 miles on my mountain bike. that's my biggest ride in years, including before my awful pudendal diagnosis, nevermind after. I would have never imagined i'd have the bravery to do that, but i did it anyway. I had some pain during, but usually it's the delayed pain that gets me. It takes about 24 hour for the pain to kick in, and in the back of my mind, i sorta expected it to come, but tried really hard not to think about it. 24 hours came and went, and i had no increased pain. Here i am 2 days later, and i dohave an uptick in pain, but i cant tell if it's a "flare" or my usual baseline. Either way, to do what i did with pudendal neuralgia is pretty much unheard of. I feel so much better knowing i'm capable of more than imagined, as long as i dont live in major fear after every activity that i "damaged" something.
    So far, the increased activity without pain is the only part of mind/body techniques i've been able to employ with success. The rest of the day, when i'm lounging, or at work while sedentary, is where the pain is still pretty bad, so i have to figure out how to tack that.
    kim marie and Camberwell like this.
  14. LEW

    LEW Peer Supporter

    IBS is another form of TMS. I recently went to a TMS doctor and he gave me some drops that you put into your mouth when your stomach feels upset. It is called "Calming Essence." It worked great for me. IBS diminished within a day....of course, I'm still doing all the other stuff, somatic tracking, brain talking and so forth. So not sure which was working. You can order Calming Essence through Amazon.
    kim marie and nele like this.
  15. nele

    nele Peer Supporter

    Oh please do not ignore the pain, see "Day 9 - Somatic tracking": Alan writes: "By attending to these physical symptoms mindfully – without fear, without judgment, and without motive – we’re communicating to our brains that we’re not in danger....By doing this, you’re literally developing the neural pathways to regulate your anxiety and deactivate your brain’s danger signals."
    It is not easy - though I hope it helps us in the end :)
    kim marie, suky, plum and 1 other person like this.
  16. Lunarlass66

    Lunarlass66 Well known member

    I would also like to hear people's responses to rbmunkin.. I have exactly the same issue.
    If I try to face my fear head on and "do it anyway", I usually wind up in spasm and in bed for five days to a week, sometimes even in the ER, seeking relief.
    I wish I knew why I'm not getting anywhere with this and it's been several months with my low back, but have had many other manifestations of Tms in the last three yrs, all coinciding with HUGE personal losses an
    Yes Nele, I suffered with IBS through most of my 30s. I had back surgery, lost my mom, and moved out all in 6 month's time.. And of course, my stomach rebelled. I went for a scan and had labs done, looking for H-Pylori, a bacteria known to cause stomach ulcers and bleeding. I couldn't eat anything without cramps, heartburn and bouts of constipation and daily diarrhea.. (sorry for the graphic description..) I had lost weight and always had to be near a bathroom, the pain at times doubling me over. All my tests were normal, which relieved much of my anxiety about it and as my back continued to heal and improve and I sought counseling for my nerves.. (plus I had good suport from friends) I slowly recovered from the stomach issues and they rarely cause an issue now unless I am very distraught over something emotionally... The IBS was CLEARLY mindbody syndrome...
    So, take heart my dear. Chances are that's all that's going on with you as well. I normally don't have much confidence in identifying symptoms, but that one I KNOW is TMS... Now, if ONLY I could solve the mystery of my never ending back pain and all over tense muscle pain... (mostly right side)... Someday.. :(
  17. nele

    nele Peer Supporter

    Thank you LEW for your quick answer. Yes, IBS is a form of TMS. And - I have heard of "Calming Essence." They write, it helps to put the mind on ease.
    In my case - I take some drops ("Iberogast", its German, drops from some herbs) and some pills. They help to reduce the symptoms, but only a bit.
    I fear to eat - because during the day and especially during the night I get pain and cramps in my bowels. Automatically I connect them with eating. Nevertheless I try to eat and to laugh about my fear. I am eating mostly healthy food.
    I would like to know: If IBS is TMS, which I am convinced, how can I take a stance of empowerment?
    Last edited: Jul 25, 2017
    kim marie likes this.
  18. shmps

    shmps Peer Supporter

    Fear can show up in silly ways....

    I struggled with shoulder neck forearm wrist carpel tunnel RSI rotator cuff etc etc to an extent where I could not turn door knobs, was on diability from work, had completely stopped lifting weights where as had been working out for 10 years before. But once i understood the true meaning of empowerment.. Nothing stopped me from typing, going back to work, going back to gym. living my life fearless from the fear of pain or TMS symptoms.

    But recently, I came back from a business trip to Asia and developed ear pain, throbbing, pressure, blocking, and some noise. For my work, I am expected to travel twice a year and I dont love it but i neither do hate it. But now the moment someone at works mentions about my travel, I can feel pressure pain anxiety in my chest, my ears pop and block right away, I feel claustrophobic the same thing that I feel inside the plane.

    Any advice on how to make my flying possible?
    kim marie likes this.
  19. LEW

    LEW Peer Supporter

    I think you do the same thing. Tell yourself that food is not hurting you...your mind is causing the IBS. I'm a bit IBSy today, but I know it is TMS. Make sure you also drink plenty of water...that also seems to help me. But overall I think the process is the same. Try to understand what stressor is causing this at this time. I know all of this is easier said than done.
    kim marie, chemgirl and nele like this.
  20. Gigi

    Gigi Well known member

    Agreed. Recovery for me is not a one-time event, but a commitment to continue addressing each new manifestation of TMS until I find something that works.
    suky, MWsunin12 and Lily Rose like this.

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