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Denial of Death and Szasz

Discussion in 'General Discussion Subforum' started by EricFeelsThisWay, Apr 2, 2016.

  1. EricFeelsThisWay

    EricFeelsThisWay Peer Supporter

    Hi everyone,

    I'm currently re-reading, of all things, The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker. While unrelated to psycho-physiological disorders as a whole, the book offers one paragraph relevant to TMS sufferers where Becker compares physical pain to transference, of all things. Saying essentially that we endow our physical sensations with power and information that actually isn't there:
    "In the absence of persons for our dialogue of control [transference figures such as parents, bosses, political leaders, religious figures, therapists], we can even use our own body as a transference object...The pains we feel, the illnesses real or imaginary give us something to relate to, keep us from slipping out of the world. from bogging down in the desperation of complete loneliness and emptiness. In a word, illness is an object. We transfer to our own body as if it were a friend on whom we can lean for strength or an enemy who threatens us with danger. At least it makes us feel real and gives us a little purchase on our fate."
    Becker references Thomas Szasz' pamphlet "Pain and Pleasure: A Study of Bodily Feelings." While I haven't read it, I would be interested to get my hands on it. The reviews say it talks about people being "married" to their pain and other concepts that I think Sarno would agree with. Does anyone know if this piece of literature was used by Sarno and his colleagues, or is it considered outdated? (It was written in 1957).
    Didn't Sarno say in Divided Mind that patients are healed simply by reading his books because they are able to use him as a transference figure? Saying to themselves, "If Sarno says this is what is happening to my body, he must be right because he is the authority on this subject." And then the pain goes away. Crazy, but it works.
    I know from personal experience that my physical pain flairs up when I am in the presence of or thinking about someone who I have unconsciously endowed with the power of a parents or even of God. Perhaps if I am able to let that imagined power go, I can continue living as myself and not rely on their "authority". Any thoughts?
    Simplicity likes this.
  2. Forest

    Forest Beloved Grand Eagle

    Interesting ideas. For those who aren't familiar with the concept, transference is a concept from Freud for when we transfer feelings from important figures in our life (often from our childhood) onto figures in the present. For example, we may relate to our boss like we relate to an authoritative parent and want to rebel against them.

    This brings up Dr. Sarno's idea of how the pain is there to protect us. Specifically, our unconscious is trying to protect us by distracting us from feelings that scare it. In that sense, our unconscious can cling tightly to the symptoms and stubbornly refuse to let go. Perhaps that is what Szasz was noting when he referred to people being married to their pain.

    The core psychologists that Dr. Sarno worked with at Rusk were tremendously well read and erudite. (I'm thinking of Dr. Feinblatt, Dr. Sherman, and Dr. Sommer-Anderson.) I haven't heard them mention Szasz, but I'd bet that they've come across him. I wouldn't consider him out of date in the same way that I wouldn't consider Dr. Sarno or Claire Weekes to be out of date. There's so much wisdom in those practitioners with wide-ranging minds.

    I think your point about authority figures is extremely important. These TMS authors get to have so much power in our lives. We are so desperate for relief that we want to get every last little bit of truth from everything they say. If knowledge is the penicillin of TMS, then the sources of that knowledge can feel like our saviors, and we can bend over backward to believe everything they say. This can get to feel a bit like transference, where we imbue these figures with the same sort of awe that we previously felt toward our parents or other authority figures.

    I've been on the other side of this and it can be weird. Periodically, someone will meet me and they will say that they are super excited to be speaking with me after watching my videos and reading my posts. I feel honored and lucky to be a part of their life. However, while I know that while I may represent hope (via transference) to someone else, in reality, I'm just a guy who happened to recover from his TMS. If you think about it, we are all like this, and I worry that people are able to keep their feet on the ground when people are building them up so much. All of the people in the TMS movement are just regular everyday individuals -- there are some amazing people, but they're all just fellow human beings. Yet people, via transference (and sometimes skillful marketing) sometimes build us up to be so much more than that (only in their heads). It doesn't happen often, but sometimes they/we become gurus and superheroes, able to cure and inspire and diagnose even though we aren't trained to do so.

    .... which brings up the question of how we manage it when it happens. Do we exploit it for our own needs, whether emotional, financial, or even romantic (hopefully not!)? For business reasons, there may be a reason to puff ourselves up and make ourselves into the important figures that people may make us into. Integrity pushes us in the other direction, though. How do we handle it? I think it's something that we all need to be aware of so that we can actively work to avoid it. In general, I think everyone in the TMS community does a great job of this, but it's always something to be very mindful of.

    The therapists, of course, put a lot of effort into this issue of keeping their feet on the ground in the face of the special role they play in people's lives. It is widely understood that clients may transfer emotions on to them and that this can provoke feelings in them as well. They refer to this as countertransference and put a huge amount of work into it.
    http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/psychpedia/countertransference (Countertransference in Therapy)
    For therapists, countertransference is a particularly important issue when sex comes up, as the above link explains.

    What you are writing reminds me a lot of existential psychotherapy, which says that our tension arises from the existential anxieties regarding death, freedom/responsibility, meaning and isolation. If you type "zafirides" or "existential" into the search engine, you might find some links you enjoy.
    Last edited: Apr 8, 2016
    Simplicity likes this.
  3. Andy Bayliss

    Andy Bayliss TMS Coach & Beloved Grand Eagle

    Hi Eric and Forest,

    My studies of transference, and my experience, is that it is indeed pervasive. Whether it is the lawnmower that doesn't start and therefore becomes my withholding mother, or whether it is a God who is making my life miserable because I did
    "something wrong." Or a God who is "not there for me."

    The other piece mentioned here is "object." Object Relations theory postulates that there is, in our "egoic consciousness" a constant set of "object relations" which consists of a "self and and an other and affect" --or tone to the relationship. The object is needed to cement in a familiar sense of our self on the other end of the pole. It creates a whole "relationship," which places us in the universe. There is a "me," an "other" and there is an affect such as "we're both good," or "you are rejecting me," or "I want more of you."
    If you begin to contemplate the pervasive, subtle experience of transference and object relations in our everyday experience, you begin to understand the degree to which we are overlaying experiences from the past on all of our experience. It only becomes more obvious in close relationships. To contemplate that pain is an "object" makes absolute sense in this context. It is an experience, and then we imbue it with qualities, based on relationships that echos from our past. How can it be any other way?

    The idea that we relate to pain with these patterns makes sense to me. That we create it to have a familiar sense of self (though not expressed in this discussion) is a deeper question that perhaps begins to border on "secondary gain," in that we are creating pain to have needs met. I am glad Dr. Sarno dispenses the secondary gain explanation for pain, if only to eliminate the guilt trip/trap that we are "doing this to ourselves."

    When I read this, Eric, I can see my own experience with superego pressures in relation to an inner child. I can put pressure on myself, with the superego/Inner Critic in order to stay in the "field of love" with the powerful "other"--the idealized parent projected onto God or a person. This is obviously a recipe for symptoms! So disengaging from the superego relationship to child would help relieve symptoms. This disengagement consists of a release toward "being myself," rather than "giving myself up in order to maintain relationship." I take myself out of the pressure cooker. Does that make sense to you?

    Andy B

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