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New Program Day 6: The Fear Matrix

Discussion in 'General Discussion Subforum' started by Alan Gordon LCSW, Jul 17, 2017.

  1. Alan Gordon LCSW

    Alan Gordon LCSW TMS Therapist

    Day 6: The Fear Matrix

    Yesterday I gave you your first homework assignment: start paying attention to your thoughts. As you watch the activity of your mind, you may notice that certain types of fears pop up.

    Perhaps some of them are pain-related:

    “Is my pain ever going to go away?”
    “Is it better or worse than it was yesterday?”
    “Is this program really going to help?”

    Perhaps some of them are non-pain-related:

    “Is my boss mad at me?”
    “Am I going to get enough sleep?”
    “Did I accidentally like my ex’s Instagram picture?”


    Regardless of whether these fear thoughts are about your pain, your job, or your social media faux pas, they all serve a singular purpose: they’re trying to protect you.

    The Purpose of Fear

    A few years ago, Howard Schubiner and I were talking with a producer about doing a reality show, kind of like “The Biggest Loser,” but with pain. We had an upcoming radio interview on the topic of pain, and this interview was going to be used to pitch the reality show to production companies.

    This was a high stakes interview! If it went well, we could get the show, help put this treatment approach on the map, and achieve society’s highest honor – becoming reality TV stars. [​IMG]

    To say I was nervous was an understatement.

    The radio interview was scheduled for 11 AM. We were each supposed to call in to the station, Howard from Michigan, me from Los Angeles.

    Around 10:40 AM, I had the following fear thought:

    “Wait – is it 11 Eastern Time or 11 Pacific Time??”

    I silently answered myself, “Relax, it’s 11 Pacific Time. You’re fine.”

    Then about 30 seconds later, I was hit with another one:

    “What if you get laryngitis and you can’t talk?!”

    “What?” I thought, “That doesn’t even make sense.”

    And then the fears just completely veered off-topic:

    “Did you pay rent this month?” “Did you turn off the oven?” “Did you forget Megan’s birthday?”

    I eventually calmed myself down, and we did the radio interview.

    Fear thought after fear thought popped into my mind that morning, some of them related to the interview, some of them completely random. When your brain thinks that you’re in danger, it will scan the environment for threats. Like a zebra living in a jungle full of lions, your brain is on high alert.


    Fear thoughts are our brains’ way of trying to identify potential threats. This is actually an effective strategy when we’re surrounded by predators, since it maximizes our chance of survival.

    But you’re not a zebra, and there are no lions. Your brain just doesn’t know that.

    The Origin of Fear

    If you grew up in an environment where you didn’t feel entirely safe, your brain may have started scanning for danger early on.

    There are many different factors that can lead to feeling unsafe:

    Maybe you had parents who got angry easily, maybe you had parents who couldn’t tolerate emotions at all. Maybe you didn’t get enough attention, maybe you got too much attention. Maybe you had caregivers who were anxious themselves.

    Maybe your family life was great, but you got bullied in high school, or had dyslexia, or moved around a lot.

    Maybe your childhood was great, but as an adult, you were mugged, or got cheated on, or were traumatized by an earthquake.

    Somewhere along the line, due to a sensitive temperament, environmental factors, or both, your brain got the message: I am not safe. And once it did, it started scanning the environment for threats, and your fear-thought habit was born.

    Even now, you may be thinking, “Does this apply to me?” “Can I really change this?” “Do I need to know where the fear came from?” (Yes, yes, and no.)

    To begin changing your relationship with fear, it’s important to not just watch the activity of your mind, but to decipher it.

    Unmasking the Fear

    The following clip from “The Matrix” is probably the best metaphor for deciphering the activity of your mind. Neo is finally able to see the matrix for what it is, and it frees him from fear.

    You’re not scared because you have fear thoughts, your mind generates fear thoughts because it wants you to be scared.

    Our brains have evolved to protect us, and when your brain thinks you’re constantly in danger, it wants you to be constantly alert.

    And that is the purpose of these incessant, seemingly spontaneous fear thoughts: they are vehicles, a means to an end, a subtle and effective way to bring you to that familiar state of fear.

    And while each of these thoughts seems distinct:

    “Is my pain going to go away?”
    “Will I ever find my soulmate?”
    “Is anyone going to like my brownies?”

    When you realize that all these fears are interchangeable – that they are simply brilliant little storylines to bring you from point A to point B – you can finally see the matrix for what it is.

    Last edited: Sep 2, 2017
    Pippin74, Nzl, jon10 and 23 others like this.
  2. MicheleRenee

    MicheleRenee Peer Supporter

    i can most definitely connect with this!
    Nzl likes this.
  3. CarboNeVo

    CarboNeVo Well known member

    Hey Alan, if I get this correctly, you mean those fear thoughts bring me from a calm, anxiety and pain free state - to the fight/flight/freeze state?
    hjlboai, Nzl, Tilli and 3 others like this.
  4. Fabi

    Fabi Well known member

    So we are actually living a "I am not safe epidemy". Wow. I can definitely use the video and visualize myself confronting the fears. I am the one!
  5. Yael

    Yael New Member

    I live (and have always lived) in constant fear and doubt about absolutely everything- my mind rambles on constantly. Is it really possible to change this? I need help.
  6. Taz

    Taz Newcomer

    I had four out of six of those fear thoughts through the night and this morning when I realized I didn't get enough sleep. I'm working through Unlearn Your Pain, but these fear lessons are invaluable. Thank you.
    kim marie, Salsara18 and anastacia42 like this.
  7. danielle

    danielle Peer Supporter

    “Do I need to know where the fear came from?” (no.)

    Alan, could you say anything more about this or refer me to your other writing? I've been finding trauma therapy deep and fascinating, but it hasn't freed me from pain (besides momentarily)... I don't think it's the intention of the therapist but perhaps my over-focus on healing the past is getting in my way now... then again I'm attached to the idea of healing early trauma... When do you think it's necessary to address the past and when not, such as in widespread chronic pain of fibromyalgia? Thank you!!
  8. Emerson

    Emerson New Member

    So helpful and clear.
    Sometimes when I wake up in the morning I am scanning for "what's wrong" (danger) -- my brain wants me on high alert. Then I meditate and come to a more relaxed "safe" space and much of what I was worried about dissolves. I'm really starting to see how this connects to my physical pain (it's like another worry my brain is creating to keep me on high alert? Trying to protect me when I don't need protection.)
  9. Lauren T

    Lauren T Peer Supporter

    Very very helpful! Thank you. Sometimes tho I wonder if fear thoughts, ego, isn't really my friend and gets alarmed and excited when I challenge the habitual patterns of fear.

    Since doing this program I have had rashes, the tinnitus has gotten as bad as it's ever been and my sciatic nerve is acting up. Could it be b cause I'm dismantling the brain/ego/fear mind?

    I won't quit - this is mighty powerful stuff! Not just for pain.
    James53, Kerrj74, Lily Rose and 2 others like this.
  10. jodib

    jodib Peer Supporter

    On second thought guess i do have fear.
    A lot of it so even more hopeful now
    Bodhigirl likes this.
  11. MentorCoach

    MentorCoach Peer Supporter

    I'll tell ya, just going from a mentality that "my pain is a distraction from some unbearable emotion(s)" to "my pain is based in Fear" has already helped me to feel less pain. Just by starting to understand that pain is just a sensation and to start treating my chronic pain with "I just don't give a $hit about you, pain!" has REALLY helped me. I know I have a ways to go, but I have so much more patience now in getting myself to a pain-limited life. :) Thank you so much Mr Gordon and others who have contributed so far to my healing!
    Katya, Shine4me, Felekis and 13 others like this.
  12. Char83

    Char83 New Member

    "Our brains have evolved to protect us, and when they sense danger they want us in a state of alertness"... so how do we let our brains know we are not in danger?
    linnyc87, nele, grateful_mama and 2 others like this.
  13. zaqxsw

    zaqxsw New Member

    The best post of the series so far. Thanks!

    It's the constant fear of whatever......... It's fear. It's really tough to face, especially if you like feeling good, but that is exactly what you need to do. It's so ironic.

    A few sayings about fear that I've read ..........

    "There are really only two positions one can take toward anything in life: hope or fear. Hope strengthens, fear kills."

    "Every problem has two handles. You can grab it by the handle of fear or the handle of hope."

    "Fear never wrote a symphony or poem, negotiated a peace treaty, or cured a disease. Fear never pulled a family out of poverty or a country out of bigotry. Fear never saved a marriage or a business. Courage did that. Faith did that. People who refused to consult or cower to their timidities did that. But fear itself? Fear herds us into a prison and slams the doors."

    "I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain." - the novel: DUNE

    "Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth."
    Lisasmiles1, Janey, suky and 5 others like this.
  14. Eugene

    Eugene Well known member

    I agree 100%.

    That has been an amazing paradigm shift.
    ter456, suky, Bodhigirl and 2 others like this.
  15. Lauren T

    Lauren T Peer Supporter

    Nice Dune quote!!!
  16. hsbarry

    hsbarry Peer Supporter

    I have TMS that currently shows up as digestive issues. When it comes to fear, do you try to eat a healthy diet (Paleo, no sugar, etc., etc.), or do you just let go and eat whatever. I also have acne. Do you focus on perfect cleansing routines and acne medicines or just let go and never do those things? I'm having trouble figuring out what is good for healthy living vs. obsessing. Many Websites would have you believe that you MUST follow certain diet and exercise principles in order to be healthy. This usually involves buying a supplement, powder, or cream. I've fallen for a lot of these, I must confess. How does one strike the right balance, especially when you have a fear-based mentality?
  17. Alan Gordon LCSW

    Alan Gordon LCSW TMS Therapist

    Exactly. Either that or they help keep you in a fight/flight/freeze state. If your brain thinks you're in danger, then it actually deems you being in a calm state as a bad thing (for the same reason that a zebra shouldn't be calm if it's surrounded by lions...) By learning to teach your brain that it's safe, it no longer has the need to take you to a fight/flight/freeze state.
    Hi Danielle, there are many different paths to the same outcome. All of these modalities work toward the same goal, to teach the primitive brain that it's safe from perceived dangers. For some people, focusing on the specific trauma is helpful in getting there, for some people, they are able to heal this part of their brain without even having to focus on the trauma.
    Good question! I'll be focusing on that specifically this upcoming week.
    That's fantastic to hear! Keep up the good work.
    Katya, suky, chemgirl and 6 others like this.
  18. balto

    balto Beloved Grand Eagle

    I don't know what Alan would say about this but for me I think we can learn and unlearn any thing if we really want it to and act on it persistently. All of us were born innocent just like a blank piece of paper. Everything we know, everything about us we learned it, we acquired it from people and the environment around us. So try to pick good companies to be with, choose a peaceful environment to live in, follow the right teachers (Alan, Sarno, Steve, Weekes, ....) then start living a new life.
    Think of "quitting" fear just like quitting cigarette or Alcohol. They are all habits we want to get rid of. It is not easy quitting something we live with for so long. But it can be done. Lots of people have done it successfully. Make a commitment to work on it and start to replace your bad habits with new and good habits. Day by day, one by one, chipping away your fear.... then boom, one day. One bright and beautiful day you will get there. Fear just melt away before you know it.
    I used to fear everything just like you. What if this, what if that all day long. I couldn't eat many kind of food, I couldn't fly, I refused to drive over high bridge (and they are all high) or go through a tunnel. I afraid to open the mail. I worry about every body sensations I've had, fearing it is a sign of something bad is going to happen. .... I worry and fear everything. That was 15 years ago. And now, no more. I am fearless. I have walk the Golden Gate bridge. I Flew to Thailand and many other countries many times. I ate all kind of queer foods, just like Bourdain. I laugh at pain in my body....
    You can do it Yael. I was the most fearful person on earth and if I can do it so can anyone.
    Katya, Shine4me, Erbear and 17 others like this.
  19. itmsw

    itmsw Peer Supporter

    Hi Alan, Like everyone else, I am enjoying this program and learning and relearning. I enjoy how you incorporate different teaching approaches which includes the videos and audios. I never did see the Matrix movie, so since I am not familiar with it, I am not sure what took place for me to understand. I just got that someone was being shot at with many bullets and he has some power that is able to stop the bullets and fall to the floor, but I am not making the connection to fear because if someone was shooting at me, I would be afraid. LOL. I too seem to have an overwhelming amount of fear of numerous thoughts. When asked to just notice them, what I realized is that I think they are like a loop in my subconscious and sometimes I am not aware of them, because the fear loop has been there from the beginning of time. If that makes any sense at all. I think there are so many, it would be impossible to stop them all or even be aware of all of them - which is a concern to me.
    kim marie, shira and nele like this.
  20. MicheleRenee

    MicheleRenee Peer Supporter

    i wonder if fear as opposed to anger is the primary emotion? for me i definitely think it is. i was chipping away at emptions and BAM fear beyond anything. literally turned into a fear monger over night. or if it really makes more sense that TMS is essentially a pain anxiety as opposed to a substitution or defense. i think to me that makes more sense anyway. i wish in a way this was more of the way of thinking when i first started TMS work.(check out that fear thought!) @balto its nice to hear of someone getting through intense fear because i thought i was the only one who felt such intensity, but i believe we all think were that person lol.
    Pocahonta, shira and Kerrj74 like this.

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