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New Program Day 5: Changing Your Brain

Discussion in 'General Discussion Subforum' started by Alan Gordon LCSW, Jul 15, 2017.

  1. Alan Gordon LCSW

    Alan Gordon LCSW TMS Therapist

    Day 5: Changing Your Brain

    When I first made the decision that I wasn’t going to be afraid of my pain anymore, I felt liberated. I felt empowered. I felt bold. It lasted about 20 minutes.

    Why is it so easy to get pulled back in to a state of fear?

    This actually goes back to the brain. Just as we can develop neural pathways for pain, we can develop neural pathways for fear. If we gravitate toward the same feeling over and over, our brains learn to automatically return to that feeling...so fear can become a learned habit.

    On Day 2 of this program, I said that we ultimately want to help give your brain a feeling of safety. Let me be more specific: We are going to help you develop new neural pathways to fundamentally change your relationship with fear.

    And to start you down this path, I’m going to tell you about a woman named Christie.

    Christie’s Story

    This is Christie:


    Christie is a therapist at the Pain Psychology Center. She’s also the creator of the #FightYourFearChallenge (click here to watch her do a cartwheel).

    Christie was one of our first MSW interns, and not only was she great at getting other people out of pain, she was great at getting herself out of pain! After reading Howard Schubiner’s, “Unlearn Your Pain,” Christie overcame all of her physical symptoms, except one. She couldn’t get rid of the hand and wrist pain that came on every time she typed. The more she typed, the worse the pain got…not an ideal situation for a grad student.

    One night during group supervision we decided to do a brief outcome independence exercise – her typing while I was talking – and by the end of it, her pain had disappeared. It was amazing.

    I was lamenting that we hadn’t gotten it on tape – when our other intern triumphantly held up her iPhone and said, “I secretly recorded the whole thing!”

    So here’s the bootleg recording of Christie using outcome independence to overcome her pain:

    Click here to download the mp3 audio file

    At the end of the recording, Christie felt so sure that this was a turning point for her, she confidently declared, “The pain will be gone in a week.”

    But it wasn’t.

    To Fear or Not to Fear


    Even after her incredible success, Christie was scared of her pain for a very simple reason – she’d been scared of it so many times before.

    Sometimes she wondered if the pain had really gone away at all, but then she'd listen to the recording and realize, “Yep, it happened.” She got to a point where she was able to get rid of her pain but only while she was listening to the recording! What kind of rabbit hole had she fallen down?!

    In the end, it all came down to fear. Her brain had become habituated to fear-thoughts. But she practiced and practiced, and over three months, she developed new neural pathways. She was no longer afraid.

    If your mind has the tendency to gravitate toward fear, that pattern will continue until you do something to change it.

    Catching Your Fears

    I’m giving you your first homework assignment. For the rest of the day, I want you to simply watch the activity of your mind. See if you can catch yourself gravitating toward fear.

    Perhaps even right now you’re thinking, “What do you mean by ‘catch’?” “What do I do when I catch it?” How is this going to help me?”

    Those are three fear thoughts right there. See how sneaky they are?

    When you do catch these fear thoughts, you don’t need to do anything. You don’t need to stop them, you don’t need to fight them; you’re simply noticing them.

    Over the coming weeks, we’re going to take a more proactive approach to confronting your fear, but for now, you’re just an observer.

    This is your first step in the gradual process of teaching your brain to feel safe. You can do this. Like Christopher Robin said to Winnie the Pooh, “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”

    I’ll see you tomorrow.

    Last edited: Sep 3, 2017
  2. plum

    plum Beloved Grand Eagle

    Anyone who quotes Winnie the Pooh is alright by me.

    From now on, negative and fearful self-talk shall be met with:

    "Cottleston Cottleston Cottleston Pie,
    A fly can't bird, but a bird can fly.
    Ask me a riddle and I reply
    Cottleston Cottleston Cottleston Pie".
    Pippin74, Joro, Katya and 13 others like this.
  3. MicheleRenee

    MicheleRenee Peer Supporter

    i really like how this program seems to be more about confronting fear than anything. awesomme
  4. spunky

    spunky Peer Supporter

    Me too! The hardest time of day for me is when i wake up and am lying in bed. That's when my Eeyore kicks in. The first thing my brain does is scan my body and take pain inventory: "Where is the pain today? Is it still in my shoulders? Yup, well maybe I really do need a new bed. Or is it just in my head? What if I get the expensive new bed and my shoulders still hurt? How are my feet? Oh darn it, they still hurt too. Are they going to hurt when I step out of bed? Will it be better or worse than yesterday? Do my fingers still hurt? Let me just push on this one to test if the pain is still there. Darn it! They still hurt too." Then I scold my brain, knowing that that type of fear focus is not helpful. But I can't seem to turn the darn loop off! Then my Tigger kicks in and I get out of bed. My feet hurt on and off throughout the day but I push through it, my shoulders ease up with my yoga, and I try to ignore my 2 fingers as I bounce about my day. The pain in those 3 places never completely goes away but I just try to ignore it. What I would really, really, really like is to wake up in the morning and NOT automatically scan for pain. This is the habit or pattern I want to break.
    Katya, paulee304, julians181 and 15 others like this.
  5. Eugene

    Eugene Well known member

    This whole fear thing is excellent and is really getting to the heart of it for me.

    Two things have come out of this big time for me so far, and we're only on day 5.

    1. Nerve pathways

    2. Fear

    Before I've been trying to rationalize TMS or wonder how all this tension stuff is working for me, or how a small change to the oxygen in the blood can cause the weird problems I'm having. That I was struggling with. Nerve pathways and fear I can REALLY relate to.

    Katya, Jossje, Shells and 10 others like this.
  6. MicheleRenee

    MicheleRenee Peer Supporter

    yesss essentially tms pain is an anxiety response... so regardless if the anxiety is from emotions its a fear based response.
    Notsosupple, MWsunin12 and Norrie like this.
  7. spunky

    spunky Peer Supporter

    I totally agree Eugene. This focus on neuro pathways and fear is so accessible. I am not fooling myself into thinking it is going to be easy but it makes sense to me. Like you, I can relate to it.

    Thank you Alan for simplifying really complex ideas with such simple analogies, expalanations, videos and examples.
    butterfly_queen, billiewells and plum like this.
  8. spunky

    spunky Peer Supporter

    And thank you to everyone who posts responses. It is so helpful to read about peoples' experiences.
  9. Christie Uipi MSW

    Christie Uipi MSW TMS Therapist

    Hi everyone! Just wanted to drop in and let you all know that I love reading through your comments on this program as it rolls out. I'll be checking in on this post throughout the day, and am happy to answer any questions you might have about outcome independence, fear, or my TMS work in general.
  10. sio

    sio New Member

    Absolutely agree!!
  11. Forest

    Forest Beloved Grand Eagle

    ^^^^ This is actually the Christie from the recording. :) I asked her to drop by in case anyone has any questions and she graciously agreed. Thank you for sharing your story with us, Christie!
  12. Eugene

    Eugene Well known member

    That's terrific and so kind of you - and awesome impromptu recording. So good that it captured what happened.

    So has your hand/wrist pain totally gone now?
    butterfly_queen and plum like this.
  13. Fabi

    Fabi Well known member

    Well how did you do it Christie? Practical tips. For the past two days when l wake up l think What is important to me today? How do l want to feel? What is my deepest desire? Usually the answer is l want to feel safe
  14. hambone

    hambone Peer Supporter

    Alan- I love your approach, great series. As a layman I've coached a lot of pain sufferers over the years and one thing that makes them reject the Sarno approach is if they think he's saying "the pain is all in my head." I try to slay that notion by quoting Dr. Sarno who said TMS sufferers have some of the worst pain he'd ever seen in any kind of patient. You aren't saying the pain is all in the head, are you? Steve
  15. bman

    bman Peer Supporter

    I am 66 years old, good health, exercise almost every day and retired.

    I have had TMS for many years - started with back pain. I have attended Dr. Sarno's lecture by Dr. Gwodz, a student of his, on two occasions. Although my back pain has come back off and on since then I am usually able to get rid of it in 1 -2 weeks. I also have had peripheral neuropathy since 2002 - it went into remission after about 6 months but then I developed RSD in my left foot in 2005. That took three months to go away and a year to get rid of the limp I developed. For the most part the neuropathy has been in remission for 12 years - I would get burning after about 2.5 - 3 hours of walking and no pain at night. In 2013 I had a heart attack that was due to a long-term stress event. Since my heart attack I had a 4 month battle with kidney stones culminating in an operation. In addition, I developed bullious pemphigoid. - an auto immune disease.

    In January of this year I developed sciatica for the first time - very painful, from a pinched nerve at L4, SI. It got better in about 3-4 weeks but it triggered a flare up of my neuropathy. I have radiculopathy in my right leg with pain and numbness in my left foot; as well as pain and less numbness in my left foot.I also have a pinched nerve in my neck with pain and tingling in my right arm.

    The pinched nerves seem to be improving a lot - but the neuropathy is still painful when I walk and at night. I strongly believe the pinced nerves are TMS and but am not sure about the neuropathy. To date, the neurologist has not figured out why I have the neuropathy - thinks its hereditary.

    This course appears to be better than the repressed emotion exercises that I have done for years.

    Any feedback is welcome.
  16. plum

    plum Beloved Grand Eagle

    Those are some damn sweet cartwheels. Bless you for your contribution to this program.
  17. Forest

    Forest Beloved Grand Eagle

    That's a great question that I'm sure is on everyone's mind. It sounds like she developed new habits of mind, like Alan is describing. She probably started with developing awareness of how her mind was driving toward fear thoughts, like in today's homework. Given that she works with Alan, she was probably following the steps that will be covered in this program (we still have 16 days!).

    I think that the very toughest problem in all of this is in the implementation. It's easy to grasp the concepts when they are laid out so clearly. The hard work is in developing the new habits of mind (i.e. new neural pathways). That takes time, willpower, focus, and discipline. Developing awareness (or mindfulness) of your brain's current habits is always the first step. :)
  18. Alan Gordon LCSW

    Alan Gordon LCSW TMS Therapist

    Howard Schubiner likes to say that all pain is in your head. That even if you stub your toe, the pain is processed in your brain.

    The term "in your head" generally implies that the pain is imaginary. I’ve always found the idea that some pain is considered real and some pain isn’t rather bizarre. Pain is pain, and it is always real.

    A study at the University of Pittsburgh investigated this very phenomenon. Researchers used an electrical device to induce pain in a group of subjects. While doing so, they watched the pain center of their brains on an fMRI machine to see what areas lit up. Then, they took the same subjects, hypnotized them, and induced pain through suggestion. The same areas of the brain lit up!

    They showed that whether the pain was induced physically or induced through hypnosis, the sensation was the same as far as the brain was concerned.

    Pain is pain, and it is always real, regardless of whether it's induced physically or hypnotically, regardless of whether it's caused by structural damage to the body or neural pathways in the brain.
    Pippin74, AMarie, Angel8 and 17 others like this.
  19. hambone

    hambone Peer Supporter

    OK so far so good, but if a pain patient's back hurts you do not (or do you) try to convince them that the pain is all in his/her head?
  20. Christie Uipi MSW

    Christie Uipi MSW TMS Therapist

    Hey Eugene! I've kicked a number of symptoms, as Alan mentioned, with the hand/wrist pain being the last to go. I am always honest with my patients, so I'll be honest with all of you guys, too. My pain is, for all intensive purposes, gone. It doesn't interfere with my daily life, it doesn't cause me distress, and I am definitely not afraid of it coming back. That being said, those neural pathways in my brain are still there somewhere. Once or twice a month, I'll notice my wrist/hand pain pop back up (or maybe I'll notice my neck pain, or my leg pain, or one of my other symptoms). But that doesn't scare me. When I notice a pain symptom come back to say "hi," I just say wave at it as it goes by me. I use it as a chance to check in with myself and say, "What's going on? Where's my anxiety?" Because I have no fear that the pain will "stick," and I have no fear around the pain sensation itself, the pain will dissolve/disappear within a couple of hours.

    For me, I don't feel pressure to make sure the pain is "totally gone" forever. It can pop up here and there, that's okay. I know what to do when it comes on, and it doesn't scare me anymore :)
    DonnaH, Katya, Gojab and 31 others like this.

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