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New Program Day 17: Leaning in to Your Feelings

Discussion in 'General Discussion Subforum' started by Alan Gordon LCSW, Jul 31, 2017.

  1. Alan Gordon LCSW

    Alan Gordon LCSW TMS Therapist

    Day 17: Leaning in to Your Feelings

    Has anything like the following ever happened to you?
    • Your boss comes in to your office – he wants talk about the “extra-long” lunch breaks that you’ve been taking. Suddenly your back pain starts ramping up.
    • Your boyfriend just asked you to move in with him, and you wake up the next morning with a gnawing headache.
    • Your son dropped spaghetti on the carpet, and as you rush to get baking soda, you feel shooting heartburn.
    These situations are all obviously stressful, but what is stress?

    Stress is our body’s reaction to a perceived psychological threat. And these threats can activate our brains’ danger signals.

    Yesterday we focused on emotions, but there are other feelings that we can perceive as psychologically dangerous as well. Today I’m going to talk about three of them, then discus how to overcome psychological threats in general – in other words, how to reduce your stress.


    Perhaps growing up, your parents fought all the time…or they never fought at all, or for some other reason you came to learn that conflict was not okay. As a result, any time you have a confrontation or disagreement, your anxiety spikes. Maybe you even avoid these situations altogether.

    If this is the case, your brain may have learned that conflict is dangerous.


    Maybe you grew up in an environment where there wasn’t a lot of warmth, or you lost a family member early on, or you were betrayed by someone you trusted. There are many reasons we could have learned to fear intimacy.

    If you have a difficult time making yourself vulnerable, or you don’t seem to get close to people easily, your brain may interpret the feeling of intimacy as unsafe.


    If you grew up surrounded by chaos, or didn’t feel safe in your own house, it probably gave you a feeling of being internally out of control. This is a pretty terrible feeling, and we often overcompensate by trying to control our external environment.

    Do you have a tendency to micromanage? Do you get stressed out when your schedule isn’t perfectly set?

    If so, your brain may feel unsafe when things are out of order – an unchecked email or a piece of trash on the floor might give you anxiety.

    Overcoming psychological threats

    Think about what your mind might perceive as psychologically dangerous: Confrontation? Intimacy? Guilt? Chaos? Stillness?

    In response to these perceived threats, we have a rise in anxiety…and our natural inclination is to run away.

    To avoid conflict, we’ll people-please. To avoid intimacy, we’ll pull back. To avoid disorder, we’ll clean up.

    Avoidance is a short-term strategy. It reduces our anxiety, but it just reinforces that these states are dangerous.

    In these moments, instead of avoiding, we can use somatic tracking to attend to the feeling of anxiety that arises.

    Was there a minor typo in a text that you just sent? What if instead of correcting it, you took the opportunity to breathe in to your anxiety?

    Did your friend ask you to pick up him up from the airport at 2 AM? What if instead of saying yes, you turn him down while attending to your internal state?

    Our instinct is to run from the anxiety, but if we embrace the physical sensations, we communicate a message of safety. And over time, we can come to experience any of these feelings without activating our brains’ danger signals.

    As a fun example of “embracing the anxiety,” here’s a clip from “The Simpsons.”

    Bart – not usually a beacon of emotional maturity – has a sudden burst of insight. With a little help from Lisa, he uses somatic tracking to lean in to the anxiety around his feelings of guilt.

    Last edited: Sep 21, 2017
  2. MicheleRenee

    MicheleRenee Peer Supporter

    alan so does tms = anxiety anxiety = tms. essentially tms is an anxiety state? sorry if youve answered this before. but i am assuming you can just switch out "anxiety" which most people purely connect to general anxiety... with tms pain.
    kim marie and Penny2007 like this.
  3. Ellen

    Ellen Beloved Grand Eagle

    I'm having a difficult time distinguishing between "letting go" and avoidance. For example, in the Simpson's clip above where Homer has borrowed his neighbor's things without returning them--if I tell myself, "it's only "stuff" and not important enough to risk ruining a friendship over, or even destroying my peace of mind over", is that letting go of attachment to material objects or is it avoiding conflict? Have I come up with a spiritual sounding way to rationalize my avoidance? Is the difference in how authentic my letting go or non-attachment truly is?

    I have developed a practice of noticing when my peace of mind is disrupted, feeling the sensations in my body, acknowledging the emotions, but then moving my focus to something outside myself that helps me return to a state of peace. Otherwise, my thoughts can keep regenerating the uncomfortable, non-peaceful state. Now I'm concerned that this is a pattern of avoidance. Do we stay with the uncomfortable state of mind, body sensations, emotions until we are able to achieve a state of calm acceptance? If our thoughts keep regenerating the uncomfortable state, do we just watch and acknowledge them?

    And thanks, Alan, for sharing these teachings with us. They are making me re-evaluate my understanding of TMS, and that is a good thing. You are very generous with your time and expertise. Much gratitude for your gift.
    kim marie, crshasbba, Amatxu and 20 others like this.
  4. Fabi

    Fabi Well known member

    I have been doing the exercise of noticing pain or discomfort and neutral areas. It helped and I understand I need practice.
    As for the clip, it made me nervously laugh. My brother, with whom I have a dysfunctional relationship, has always called me "Lisa" (my real short name is Fabi). So it put me to think maybe I tried to help others but didn´t do much to help myself.
    Personally, I was checking on the list of things I avoid. I hate conflict. I know why. I just hate it. Isn´t it paradoxical? I can´t have intimate relationships. I am disrupted by not being able to make small plans. I sabotage myself, and make me sick. I can´t sleep with someone else around. It is not safe. I can´t relax.
    This has affected my life and given shape to a way of living that doesn´t make me happy. I was able to recognize them as ways of protecting myself.

    @Ellen, I trouble understanding your difficulty between letting go and avoidance. Personally I believe it is avoidance. But if you can enlarge on the way you think you have learned to rationalized avoidance, maybe I can follow your thoughts.
  5. Ellen

    Ellen Beloved Grand Eagle

    Am I a person who avoids conflict or am I person who seeks peace? Am I able to let go of the conflict or am I avoiding the conflict?
  6. Fabi

    Fabi Well known member

    I believe one part of us is used to avoiding conflic and another part is seeking peace. One part of you is able to let go of the conflict and the other part is used to avoiding the conflict. Different parts of us do different things. Embrace them all. They are all parts who are looking for the vital feelings of feeling safe, connected and satisfied.
  7. NicoleB34

    NicoleB34 Well known member

    i have low-level negativity and anxiety (i cant always feel it, it's more in my mind) all day, but i dont find that sudden stressful events spike my pain immediately. I wish they did, so i could say "ok, this stressful event is exactly correlated to my pain". For me, i'm in moderate pain all day, but my high pain spikes are always DELAYED after physical activity. I wish in some ways, it was immediate so that i could try tricks to break the association. Also, i've noticed that high anxiety moments actually reduce my pain temporarily, because the physical tension seems to leave my pelvis, and go straight to my chest.

    So in cases like mine (and i still believe i have TMS) what do you do if your pain isnt immediately correlated to a stressful event? much of the time, i'll have pain flares 6-30hrs AFTER a physical activity. This is the part i cant get past.
    ErickaLeslie, suky, Kat and 1 other person like this.
  8. joe12stories

    joe12stories Peer Supporter

    Hi. TMS is not the same as anxiety. TMS (think of the T = tension) is where your unconscious self uses your brain to redirect your anger / depression / anxiety into physical pain. Anxiety is something TMS can pull out of its bag of tricks when it sees you're dealing with the pain successfully by courageously facing your emotions.

    The tricky part is: you need to allow yourself to feel the anxiety that itself leads to tension which in turn leads to pain, but here's the grand delusion: it's only temporary. As long as you lean into the anxiety and ignore (or even spite) the pain, the pain eventually goes away. It's like a miracle. And I'm a walking (and soon to be jogging) miracle!

    (Alan, is okay for a newcomer to share what they've experienced? I don't mean to answer a question directed to you, it's just I'm so excited about learning and dealing with the diagnosis of TMS and how real and effective it is, that I can't help but share!)
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2017
  9. Lauren T

    Lauren T Peer Supporter

    Thank you is all I can say. It's hard for me to share intimate stresses I have had recently, but your examples and lessons are spot on. Trying to be ok with pain. I have tended to alcohol, distractions or both to soothe pain and more and more now I am staying present and doing self-soothing or somatic tracing. This is an immensely powerful training for everyone!!! Not just pain in the body, but life's lessons! Thank you again!!!!
    kim marie and Laleah Shoo Shoo like this.
  10. Click#7

    Click#7 Well known member

    I went and bought a condolence card for my family yesterday. Inside the card it said,
    "sometimes our deepest feelings are the most difficult to express." Something so simple hit me like a ton of bricks...that plays into this today.
  11. Lauren T

    Lauren T Peer Supporter

    kim marie likes this.
  12. Bodhigirl

    Bodhigirl Well known member

    [QUOTE="NicoleB34, post: 87438]For me, i'm in moderate pain all day, but my high pain spikes are always DELAYED after physical activity. I wish in some ways, it was immediate so that i could try tricks to break the association. Also, i've noticed that high anxiety moments actually reduce my pain temporarily, because the physical tension seems to leave my pelvis, and go straight to my chest.

    So in cases like mine (and i still believe i have TMS) what do you do if your pain isnt immediately correlated to a stressful event? much of the time, i'll have pain flares 6-30hrs AFTER a physical activity. This is the part i cant get past.[/QUOTE]
    These are all great questions that have been posed. My understanding of Sarno is that stress and anxiety are cumulative and they build to a certain level where the brain kicks in to protect us from maxing out.
    I sometimes get migraines on Sunday - the most relaxed day of my week. Not because of anticipating Monday - I love my work - but the accumulated stress has to find an outlet.

    For me, the pain after activity is a conditioned response. I swam yesterday and I used to hate swimming because it made my back hurt. After reevaluating my TMS the past couple of weeks, I told myself no backache after swimming.
    And there was NO backache.
    This isn't magic. It's so simple we can barely grasp it!
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 31, 2017
  13. Bodhigirl

    Bodhigirl Well known member

    Today's topic is very timely for me. We are putting a bid in on a new house.
    I awakened at 4am trying to sleep in that house where I don't live yet. I did not like where my bed was. I was afraid of the big change. I was worried the windows were not secure.

    My heart was pounding hard. I returned my mind to my breath and watched my heart. Watched my thoughts. I labeled them as "thinking" "fear" "dread" "old trauma and loss from many big childhood moves" and I sat at the edge of my pounding heart and acknowledged it with kindness. It slowed down and I slept again.
    The panic returned. Stayed with me till I watched the Friends episode where Monica cannot stand to have the green ottoman moved. While I am "not that bad" I am pretty awful.
    I laughed. I can view my control with compassion. And it act in it to reinforce the anxiety and not learn to surf this stuff.

    My concern and question- which Ellen sort of broached - is when am I stuffing the feelings by not telling my husband the 20,000 Words of Fear I am feeling? Is that going to create more pain down the road? In my experience I need to get the feelings out ON PAPER and not expect him to hear and understand my internal agitation. I believe I need to acknowledge to myself and maybe a friend or support group - and then let go.
    There is confusion as we go deeper into this third week.

    Alan any thoughts? I know Pema Chodron speaks to this in acknowledging feelings and thoughts and practicing meditative mindfulness to acknowledge but not internalize. "Be the sky" is the meditation that helps.

    Is it different for extroverts? Introverts?

    Oh, confused. Really scared of moving. I tell myself stories about how the stress will kill me. That is TMS at its worst.
    kim marie and Laleah Shoo Shoo like this.
  14. shmps

    shmps Peer Supporter

    Alan, In simple words your post is suggesting that stressors from day to day life create bodily sensations. In order for stressors to not end up resulting in TMS pain, just do somatic tracking to feel the sensations of anxiety.

    I feel I am reading somatic tracking as almost the key to recovery or the most important tool to familiarize oneself with the bodily sensations of specially anxiety and fear.
  15. jdb49

    jdb49 New Member

    Joe, I find your explanations right on target and clear--easy to understand. Thanks.
  16. MicheleRenee

    MicheleRenee Peer Supporter

    my confusion is that in previous posts theyre now saying tms is more of a danger signal than a protective mechanism. which is the same as general anxiety. a danger signal.
    kim marie likes this.
  17. Alan Gordon LCSW

    Alan Gordon LCSW TMS Therapist

    Although not exactly the same, pain and anxiety are both danger signals in the brain.
    Hi Ellen, the point of the first clip wasn't from Homer's perspective, but from Ned's. Ned was people pleasing instead of confronting Homer. What you're currently doing is great. You don't need to stay with the uncomfortable feeling forever, you just don't want to avoid leaning in to it at all.
    Good question. Some people's pain isn't correlated to stress at all. In these cases, the conditioned response section and the sections on changing your relationship with fear might be the best fit.
    It isn't required to express feelings in order to experience them. Emotions start in the body. It's possible to feel a feeling, process it, and move on, all without expressing it to your husband at all.
    Hi Michele, Danger signals are protective mechanisms. They warn us of perceived threats.
  18. kkcarlton

    kkcarlton Peer Supporter


    I am trying to figure out how to apply everything I am learning to my particular situation. I do have heel pain, but don't let it stop me from going for walks. If the pain is worse I don't have any fear, I mostly ignore it and assume it's TMS. But then there is back pain, headaches, and pain in my upper teeth. I thought those were from potassium and magnesium deficiency but Dr. Schubiner feels it's all TMS. There is also fatigue - supposedly adrenal fatigue in the form of low cortisol during the day/evening, and high cortisol at night. Beginning of July I felt mostly ok during the morning hours and then around 2 PM and 5 PM I would fall asleep if I sat down. I was also pretty tired and somewhat stiff during the evening. I was waking around 3 AM with moderate back pain, would take some kratom for the pain and so I could go back to sleep. If I did have pain during the day I was usually able to tell my brain to stop sending pain signals.

    Over the last few weeks things have gotten worse not better. The afternoon fatigue/sleepiness kept getting worse. Finally, sometime last week, I started having significant pain in the evening and I started taking kratom at bedtime and then again during the night. This weekend, anytime I sat down in the afternoon I would fall asleep. I practically slept the afternoon away. Pain would kick in around 5 PM to 7 PM and get progressively worse. I was also feeling cold in the evening. All typical low cortisol signs for me. I would also fall asleep on the couch around 8:30 to 10:30 PM and then have trouble sleeping because I had slept so much during the day and so I was taking more and more kratom and other stuff to help me sleep.

    I tried somatic tracking, meditation, etc. but I just fall asleep when I get comfortable. Nothing helped. I basically had to keep standing and stay busy to stay awake and it was torture. I couldn't drive my car because it wasn't safe. So yesterday I got so tired (no pun intended) of feeling sleepy all afternoon I started taking adrenal cortex extract (for the supposed low cortisol). It helped tremendously and while I felt a little sleepy, I was able to stay awake and only had mild pain. Today I started taking adrenal cortex extract in the morning and I am not sure that was a good decision, but it is helping me again this afternoon.

    Now I am practically depressed that I have actually gradually gotten worse despite reading here, reading books, following suggestions like somatic tracking, journaling, and more. And I am afraid that things will only get worse and I don't know how to combat that fear. I am also worried about the fact that I am taking adrenal cortex extract again. I had taken it 2015/2016 for adrenal fatigue and while my mom was sick and then died. I just got off of it last year. Am I just "feeding the monster" by giving in and taking supplements to help with symptoms? Although, if adrenal cortex extract helps with pain and other symptoms it doesn't make sense to sleep all afternoon and take pain killers.

    Any suggestions are appreciated.

    Thank you,
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  19. joe12stories

    joe12stories Peer Supporter

    Since you ask for suggestions, it appears to me there are two main camps of TMS'ers: (1) firm believers in the diagnosis and (2) fearful doubters in the diagnosis.

    Sure, some will fall in-between, but I can see how many are definitely one or the other just by reading the comments. The firm believers seem to make progress, often with astounding speed (as I am experiencing), and the latter seem to struggle with worsening pain. I am in quite exquisite tailbone pain as I type this, but I will not be intimidated now that I know it's TMS and not a structural problem.

    Your doctor is telling you these other symptoms are TMS-related, but you don't sound convinced. Maybe you really are "feeding the monster". Remember, this monster lives in the unconscious, so it is slow to learn. I dare not suggest you stop taking your meds (I'm not a doctor), but I do suggest you ask your doctor how safe it would be to ween off of them for 2 to 4 weeks, since they don't seem to be addressing anything but temporary symptoms. (Yes, I know. You will face a possibly unprecedented level of pain and suffering. But it's only temporary.) Then (assuming he says it's safe), have faith in the diagnosis, be ready to see the monster grow (i.e., the pain will get worse before it gets better), but then expect that monster to miraculously loosen its grip on you.

    You asked for suggestions. That's mine. No amount of books, meditation, tracking, journaling, etc... can substitute for the vital first step of putting your faith - all of it - in the diagnosis. (Being one stubborn S.O.B. also helps) ;-)
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  20. Forest

    Forest Beloved Grand Eagle

    Heya, Kristina,

    I'm glad you are reaching out to get help. Figuring out how to move forward can sometimes be a real challenge, and it can be terrifying when we have setbacks.

    Assuming that you have been diagnosed (it sounds like you have - and really this program is really only for people who know that TMS treatment is an appropriate option) you may want to consider working regularly with a coach or therapist. If you have setbacks, they can help you maintain your outcome independence - focusing on doing the internal TMS work rather than thinking about the day-to-day or week-to-week ups and downs.

    I noticed that you are talking a lot about your symptoms and the non-mindbody approaches that you are taking to them. Unfortunately, I think that this may be holding you back. Both in the mindbody program that this thread is about and in TMS treatment in general, it isn't helpful to spend a lot of energy thinking about one's symptoms or pursuing non-TMS treatment.

    From a TMS treatment perspective, I think the thing is to ask why you are feeling the need to take the supplements. It might be that you aren't convinced that you have TMS. It sounds like you have had one of the leading TMS doctors diagnose you with TMS, though. In that case, I think you need to decide for yourself whether you think that TMS treatment is right for you. If you are struggling with this, you might find it very helpful to post in our support subforum. I'm sure you'd get great advice. If you'd like, I'd be happy to help and show you how.

    If you decide that you want to try TMS treatment, I think a key piece of advice is to choose an approach and commit fully to that approach. Half-measures can sometimes take us backward.

    If you want to not only do TMS treatment, but want to do the program that this thread is about, then Day 3 of this program, "Overcoming Doubt," is where you want to focus your energies.

    Remember how I mentioned that choosing an approach and committing fully to it is key? For this program, that means that when concerns about symptoms come up, you use the concept of outcome independence. Rather than concerning yourself with the fluctuations in symptoms, you focus your energy on regulating your fear and anxiety. The other steps of the program show you how to do this, and if you decide to use this program, you should employ those steps.

    In general, for most TMS treatment strategies, it's not a good idea to dwell too much on our histories. The real question is whether we have TMS. If we do, we need to choose a treatment approach to commit to. Within the treatment approach that this thread is about, the goal is to overcome our fear, using, particularly, the strategy of somatic monitoring.

    I wouldn't expect somatic monitoring to work quickly. It is a skill that you will need to learn and it will take time to learn to use it to regulate your anxiety.

    Remember, you are stronger than you think.
    suky, Lizzy, Amatxu and 9 others like this.

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