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New Program Day 7: Pressure and Criticism

Discussion in 'General Discussion Subforum' started by Alan Gordon LCSW, Jul 18, 2017.

  1. Alan Gordon LCSW

    Alan Gordon LCSW TMS Therapist

    Day 7: Pressure and Criticism

    Before we dive into techniques to help generate an overall sense of safety (Day 9), I want to talk about two other self-inflicting behaviors that can activate our brain’s danger signals: pressure and criticism.

    Steve Sax's Downfall

    In 1983, Steve Sax was the starting second baseman for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was 23 years old and coming off a fantastic rookie season…life was good.

    Then one game, early in the season, he made a throwing error. It got in his head a little. A few games later, he made another error. He started thinking about it more. Then it happened again. It seemed the harder he tried, the worse it got. Soon, every time a ground ball was hit to him, it was an unmitigated disaster.

    Sometimes he’d throw the ball in the dirt, sometimes he’d throw the ball so far over the first baseman’s head, it’d sail into the bleachers. It became a national joke – opposing fans started wearing helmets to the games as mock protection.

    In practice, he was fine. He could make the throws blindfolded. But come game-time, he was overwhelmed by pressure. It’s as if he forgot how to throw.

    The Cost of Pressure

    Pressure, like fear, can activate our danger signals.

    On the surface, these self-directed thoughts may seem harmless:

    “You need to get an A on your test!”
    “You have to lose five pounds by your wedding!”
    “You need to meditate for 20 minutes a day!”

    But it’s not the words that are the problem, it’s the tone behind the words. When we pressure ourselves, our brains hear the message, “You need to do this, or else…” Remember, the opposite of danger is safety and there’s nothing safe about “or else…”

    When we’re truly in danger, pressure helps us in the same way that fear does – it enhances our ability to overcome threats. But when we’re not in danger, pressure can make our brains think that we are.

    Sunday Funday

    One Sunday, during the height of my physical symptoms, I decided to do everything “right.” For eleven straight hours, I meditated, I stood up to the inner bully, I felt my feelings, I attended to my internal state, and I gave myself positive self-talk.

    And at the end of this marathon session…my pain was even worse! I couldn’t believe it…I’d done everything I was supposed to do, and my pain actually increased. “I’m done trying!” I thought. “I give up.”

    And within five minutes of surrendering, my pain decreased 50%.

    I did all the right techniques, but it didn’t come from place of enthusiasm or joy or self-care, it came from a place of crushing, uncompromising pressure: “You need to do this, or else…”

    Sax’s Redemption

    Steve Sax had a rough year in 1983. He even considered retiring. But once he let go of the pressure, he overcame his throwing issues and went on to make five all-star teams and win two World Series.

    And even though they ended up naming the condition after him (google “Steve Sax Syndrome,”) the moral of the story is that he battled back by from adversity by not battling at all.


    Jimmy Kimmel has a hilarious segment on his show where celebrities read mean tweets that people have written about them:

    As funny as ruthless twitter rants can be, it’s a lot less funny when we’re the ones getting criticized. If you post a picture on Facebook, you can have 20 comments talking about how great you look, but that one comment making fun of your hair is the one that sticks out.

    Like pressure, criticism can activate our brains' danger signals.

    Brain researcher, Martin Paulus, found that when we hear a criticism, our brains literally take it as a threat. So imagine the impact on your psyche if you’re constantly beating yourself up throughout the day. Self-criticism is not only mean, it puts our brains on high alert, making it difficult to attain any semblance of peace.

    The Triad of Pain

    Fear, pressure, and criticism activate our danger signals, prevent our brains from feeling safe, and perpetuate a cycle of pain. It’s important to recognize these behaviors and the impact they can have, so that we’re able to change them.

    Before we start down the path of overcoming these destructive behaviors, there’s one more step in the process: the ignition for change.

    Last edited: Sep 2, 2017
  2. jjbuckler

    jjbuckler Peer Supporter

    Over the last few days, it seems like the stuff that Alan is writing and speaking about was done specifically FOR ME. Its resonating with me in ways that few TMS things have (though The Great Pain Deception comes close). For example , this morning I woke up with to my typical morning ritual. I wake up feeling ok, but as I contemplate and get ready for the morning commute, the symptoms begin to kick in: first in my legs, then my shoulders, until I walk out the door to my car limping and in pain.

    This morning though, I observed how much fear plays a role in this. As I get ready for work, I begin cataloging my pains, then the fear kicks in. What if walking hurts too much? What if things hurt when I try to climb up on the train? What if there is a delay and I have to sit there on the train, unable to move, getting stiffer and stiffer? How will I feel when step off the train? Better? Worse? I watched internally how I hesitated to do movements I thought would cause pain. Getting in the car, I first tried to figure out how to get in without pain, instead of just getting in the car.

    All the while I was trying to think positive, to move my thoughts, to think the right things. Getting more irritated when things wouldn't work. I was putting EVEN more pressure on myself.

    Buts its fear. Its all fear. When I sit at work and lose myself in a project, the pain falls into the background. When I get up the fear kicks back in, and the pain returns.
    Last edited: Jul 18, 2017
    thessa63, KimB52762, Katya and 24 others like this.
  3. Click#7

    Click#7 Well known member

    Holy crap Alan...are you talking about me ? I sit here crying because you hit the nail on the head. There are bully type people that can see this in a person and take advantage of it and feed into the fear, criticism and pressure. It is so hard to tune them out. But by you bringing this all out with the excellent example of the baseball player ? it helps a ton. Like the saying goes ...we sometimes are our own worst enemy.
  4. jodib

    jodib Peer Supporter

    linnyc87 likes this.
  5. hsbarry

    hsbarry Peer Supporter

  6. Bodhigirl

    Bodhigirl Well known member

    Oh, gosh, I remember Steve Sax! How humiliated he was. So young. So much promise. A golden boy. Glad to be reminded he did come back from his Dark Night of the Soul.

    Recognizing when I am pressed for time, when I am pressuring myself to be perfect (often) (just five pounds thinner is the saddest of them), I am letting the bullets of the superego blow right through me. In fact, I am pulling the trigger. It's like a form of passive suicide.

    Where I found solace and structure was in The Book of Recovery in a 12 step program for workaholics. It's about adrenaline addiction which cannot be fed without anxiety and fear, pressure, criticism and the three P's: perfectionism, procrastination and paralysis. Once frozen in paralysis, the TMS kicks in and the pain party is ON.

    Today, I have a daily routine that places my ego, id and superego into the care of my greater Self. It took years to cultivate this Self and it's still a work in progress. Without community - what Buddha called Sangha - were cannot stay enlightened. I am grateful to this village that is so open and vulnerable and willing to awaken.
  7. gutter3

    gutter3 Peer Supporter

    I totally agree. I have started to observe more and noticed how I was instilling fear in almost everything I did. I have also put unnecessary pressure on myself. I used to try and make myself get better by a certain time frame (ie a visit, a wedding, a vacation) and I would always just stress myself out and make it worse. I am learning to put less pressure on myself to get better. I find myself getting mad at myself for not being able to figure it out. I was in a comfortable spot a month ago, but then I hurt my neck and I've been spiraling out of control. The fear is back, but I am observing it now and trying to address it. This post is very helpful as I didn't realize how the unnecessary pressures we put on ourselves could feed the chronic pain.
  8. Eugene

    Eugene Well known member

    For the first five days of reading this new program I was do brilliantly. I was really feeling positive and noticing a marked decrease in the discomfort, but over the past few days the discomfort has got worse again and not it is REALLY hurting and I am feeling seriously fed-up.

    This whole 'fear' thing really struck a chord with me, and I felt I was making progress, but now I feel like I am back at square one and don't have a clue why :-(
    Balsa11 and Click#7 like this.
  9. plum

    plum Beloved Grand Eagle

    Hey lovely you, take this experience as an opportunity to practice self-compassion by not criticising yourself or applying undue pressure. Healing is not linear. It ebbs and flows and each soft wave can gift you with fresh insights and deepening awareness. We've all been where you are and I assure you that you will have better days. If nothing else this sense of feeling fed-up invites you to do a bit of gentle emotional or psychological work. My best advice is get thee to YouTube, search for your favourite comedian and spend some time laughing.

    Sending you a big, silly cyber hug :)
    Diana Lynne, Dahlmann, Cat H and 27 others like this.
  10. Alan Gordon LCSW

    Alan Gordon LCSW TMS Therapist

    Plum, you took the words right out of my mouth! Eugene, there are several different reasons why you could have had a set-back, perhaps it's an extinction burst (which I'll be writing more about later). For the time being, try to take solace in the fact that you've been given legitimate evidence that you can feel better. You'll get there again, you've proved that it's possible.

    When you get to a point where the pain can no longer successfully bring you to a place of fear, despair, and hopelessness, it will have no power over you. Remember, the goal is not to get rid of the pain, the goal is to break free from its emotional grip.
    Diana Lynne, Dahlmann, Cat H and 22 others like this.
  11. Eugene

    Eugene Well known member

    Thank you Plum and Alan.

    Your words were a real comfort to me. I need to keep focused on them at the moment as it is so disheartening to take such a step back. It was the best I had felt in a a year.

    And strangely, it came at the same time as our offer on our dream house was accepted. We got the good news yesterday. So you'd think I'd be happy today, not hurting.

    I really thought I'd reached that point you speak of Alan, where the pain could no longer bring me to fear, despair and hopelessness, but then wham, it hits me again right where it hurts most.
    kim marie, Tilli and plum like this.
  12. Char83

    Char83 New Member

    Alan, I agree with the pressure to get better. I try everything, relaxation, breathing etc etc and often dedicate certain days doing nothing but that to see if my symptoms decrease but as you say its nearly as if I am focusing on it more. So what do you advise to just do nothing and accept the symptoms?
    kim marie and juderocketqueen like this.
  13. Click#7

    Click#7 Well known member

    It helps a lot when reading the GPD. Steve O. walked in our shoes and totally understands what severe nerve pain is and how it brings you to your knees. Hope is what the GPD brings to the table.
    Diana Lynne, kim marie and Lucy like this.
  14. deborah24/7

    deborah24/7 New Member

    Hi Alan
    I am just on 7 months of TMS healing.... It has been quite the journey and learning curve... I feel like I have been sitting at the 90/95% healed stop for the last few months.... unable to quite feel comfortable enough or confident enough to say YES I'm done! I know I CAN be "done" as I HAVE been on numerous occasions and it's hilarious and maddening that when I AM pain free and not thinking about my body I will catch myself and think "Hey.. I'm free..."

    but my litle old friend FEAR pops up and starts with the
    "will this last? can you trust this feeling? "please dont gooooooooooo Is it for real? etc etc

    and sure enough my ol mate pain reappears.... JUST enough to keep me "alert"

    Your posts have been AWESOME in lifting this lingering fear.... It is EXACTLY how I have been living... ie with just a BIT.. but with enough FEAR to keep me looking for danger.... it was a lightbulb moment... and now I can say to my muscl es... what you feel is NORmal but my brain wants me to be scared so it's telling you to be on alert for danger... well forGET about it muscles.... ok... Im turning the danger switch to OFF "

    and I imagine a big old flip switch with DANGER written in red all over it and I see myself flick it off "

    I cycle up a hill to work each day and as I climb I imagine the hill is TMS and it's a slow climb up.. but with a low gear and some pedal power and consistently moving forward I get to the top.......... it feels great.... You have a great way of explaining things... thank you :) from Australia
  15. Bodhigirl

    Bodhigirl Well known member

    Goodists and overachievers, type A's fill the pages of TMS-Wiki and we are surprised that we work hard at recovery. Funny, really, when you think about it. I hope I never give a whole day to working at anything any more. This recovery process has taught me moderation - and consistency - in meditation, exercise, diet, emotional swings, sleep and staying away from over-exposure to the news. Self-regulation is my daily goal so that I may be of service to others, authentically.
    There really is nothing TO DO. Though early on DOING the Schubiner workbook was helpful, certainly, as this program and the earlier one was. But in little chunks. Hell, I've been reading The Divided Mind for six or seven years now. I dip in, I get nourished, I recalibrate and try to stay out of the story of Poor Me and Despair which are a trance I cannot afford.
    I hope that helps!
    We have great threads here on relapse and relapse prevention. Bits and pieces of wisdom that the search engine can guide you to.
    So glad we're here!
  16. James59

    James59 Well known member

    Pressure and criticism are just different ways that fear manifests itself. Pressure is the fear of disappointing others. Criticism is other people placing their fears about you onto your shoulders. So it's all just fear.

    Pressure and criticism are particularly insidious, though, because we have to live with the those we want to please. We have to take their concerns seriously if we want to live in harmony. Therein lies the difficulty.
  17. Benjuwa

    Benjuwa New Member

    Thank you all for reminding me to not do to much at one time. Everything I do I want results right away. When I started the Unlearn your pain course 18 months ago for back pain, it derailed me with strong anxiety and panic attacks that I have not had before it is very scary, When reading though this course my anxiety and all the pains are back with force. I have been laughing at myself in a mirror it helps with the fear. Every time the anxiety and pain come back it creeps up on me in a different way and a different feeling it hard to know how work with it. Someone said it is the layers of anxiety that is peeled away, It seem like each time it comes back at me harder, but after getting though the first one I know I can get though this one. Is this what we all must go though to start having more good days then bad?
    kim marie and Bodhigirl like this.
  18. Bodhigirl

    Bodhigirl Well known member

    We seem to be so similar some of us, and others not so much.
    For me, it's like peeling a never-ending onion that has lots of rewards and some setbacks. So long as I trust that my greater Self (soul, higher power, whatever it is that's bigger than my ego) can absorb the anxiety and get me through it, so long as I tell someone the truth about how bonkers I feel, so long as I trust that no feeling is permanent, so long as I don't act out to numb the anxiety and block my development, I have to believe that every feeling comes in service to our growth. That bears repeating: Every Feeling Comes In Service To Our Growth. If I were never anxious, I would be the most arrogant woman! I have achieved tremendous success! I have a wonderful life! If I floated around grateful and perfect all the time, I would not be human (except that, like everyone, I must age). Did you ever read Rumi's "The Guest House"? He was a poet in 13th Century Persia.
    I will copy and paste it here.

    The Guest House

    This being human is a guest house.
    Every morning a new arrival.

    A joy, a depression, a meanness,
    some momentary awareness comes
    as an unexpected visitor.

    Welcome and entertain them all!
    Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
    who violently sweep your house
    empty of its furniture,
    still, treat each guest honorably.
    He may be clearing you out
    for some new delight.

    The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
    meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

    Be grateful for whatever comes.
    because each has been sent
    as a guide from beyond.

    — Jellaludin Rumi,
    translation by Coleman Barks
    Diana Lynne, Katya, linnyc87 and 23 others like this.
  19. hsbarry

    hsbarry Peer Supporter

    Funny thing - this TMS. Last week I was in San Francisco on vacation with my husband. We had a grand time. We walked, climbed, shopped, ate - no pressure - just fun. Basically, we played hard. My symptoms were there off and on but definitely in the background. My husband, who doesn't even know or care about TMS, told me that his ear ringing had stopped. Now, we are back home. I bet you can guess what I will write. TMS is BACK front and center along with bills, meals, laundry, kids, dogs, work, etc. I certainly see that play and fun help, pressure and criticism don't. How do you live like you're on vacation even when you aren't?
  20. Benjuwa

    Benjuwa New Member


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