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Dr. Alexander Emotional Style and Chronic Pain

Discussion in 'General Discussion Subforum' started by Dr James Alexander, Jan 5, 2013.

  1. Dr James Alexander

    Dr James Alexander TMS author and psychologist

    hi all. I've just added to my webpage (www.drjamesalexander-psychologist.com) an article which expands on the discussion from my book (The Hidden Psychology of Pain) of Richard Davidson's work with Emotional Styles. Specifically, it discusses the importance of emotional style in relation to chronic pain; as well as the neurological underpinnings of the relevant emotional styles (Outlook, Resilience, and Self-Awareness); the findings from neuroscience research about the importance of a particular neural structures and patterns of neural connections to chronic pain; as well as strategies to create brain changes which can support your movement away from chronic pain. I would have like to have included all of this in my book, but there is a limit to how much information you can put into a book. The Net allows me to constantly add to the information.

    You will find this discussion on my website under the 'About the book' link at the top of the homepage; then scrolling down the left until you see 'Emotional Style & Chronic Pain' under Addendums to the book. Feel free to send any questions my way via this forum.
    Jilly and veronica73 like this.
  2. honeybear424

    honeybear424 Well known member

    Thank you, Dr. Alexander! I'm off to check it out right now.
  3. veronica73

    veronica73 Well known member

    I just got your book and I am looking forward to reading it, especially the sections on EFT and dreams.
  4. Jilly

    Jilly Well known member

    Hi Dr. Alexander, I read the paper and it has so much good information for all of us TMS'ers. I took the personality test and scored high on the resiliency & self awareness which I thought before reading your paper was a good thing, but now I see how those parts of my brain involved in those traits are communicating to each other making TMS a high likelihood for me. These (2) traits are good, but I see now how they can hi-jack the brain (amygdala) and cause all sorts of TMS problems. This is such a great paper, Thank You so Much for sharing it with us, so we can learn and heal ;)

    You gave good techniques of how to tone down those parts of the brain responses...I especially liked "beginning to see the reality that ‘hurt does not mean harm.’ Self-Awareness will still be present, but you won’t be hijacked by it with increasing emotional and physical pain." and "Meditation and mindfulness awareness of the present moment (see Chapter 17 of The Hidden Psychology of Pain) are effective means of reducing the activity of your amygdala and orbital frontal cortex. The goal is quieten your mind to the extent that you can simply observe various thoughts or physical sensations as they rise and fall without attaching a great deal of importance to them" ~ Dr. Alexander.

    "This non-judgmental perceiving can result in breaking the chain of associations which have developed around, eg. back pain and the notion of serious damage. Rather than responding to a flare-up with, ‘Oh no! This means that my spine is getting even worse’, with the aid of meditation and mindfulness, you can develop the ability to respond with, ‘Oh. A signal from my back has reached my brain’. One of the keys to success with meditation and mindfulness is perseverance. Benefits often accrue quickly, and the longer you persevere, the more the benefits accrue." ~ Dr. Alexander

  5. Dr James Alexander

    Dr James Alexander TMS author and psychologist

    Jilly- I'm very pleased that you found the article helpful. I think there is so much information happening in psychology and neuroscience at the moment that can be useful for overcoming TMS- unfortunately, there are very few psychologists who are aware of this approach, or the basic realities it describes. One of my goals is to bring this model to psychologists; and if i can also help to bring useful information from psychology back to this forum, then i think that could of useful service to people as well.

    I would caution to not beat yourself up about being highly resilient and self-aware tho! These are excellent traits to have. I have no doubt that if i wasnt also highly resilient i would not have recovered physically or emotionally from nearly being killed in a car accident as an 18 year old. These are simply some of the personality dynamics (with underlying emotional and neurological correlates) which are of relevance to TMS. Personally, i would never want to get rid of my resilience, self-awareness or positive outlook. I am simply aware now that having these traits can come at a cost- but awareness (of TMS) can begin to minimize the cost (i.e. pain). Fortunately, we can modify these emotional styles without eliminating them, or sinking to the opposite extremes (low resilience, negative outlook, low self-awareness). Reducing these tendencies even just a little (with the strategies suggested) may help to change some of the neurological factors involved which can maintain TMS. I think it is perhaps all about balance- and finding our own within these options. Overall, my sense is that we live in a culture (both Australia and America as leading examples) which heavily promotes positivity and resilience- it leaves very little room for negative realities, or for us to even acknowledge negative aspects of our lives or histories. I dont advocate that we over-indulge in the negative; simply that we allow space for it. I just listened to Peter Zafradies webinar, and find myself in agreement with his emphasis on existential realities- even if nothing else is going wrong in our lives, we are essentially on our own, and we will all ultimately die. Now, we can either become panicked about this reality; deny and suppress this reality; allow chronic pain to deflect our attention away from this reality; or simply acknowledge this existential reality. In creating space for negativity, we are subverting part of the TMS agenda, ie. to not allow into our conscious awareness anything which is emotionally threatening. When our mind/brain begins to learn that we can actually cope with measured amounts of negativity (just through being real) without having the feared meltdown or using defense mechanisms, we are in the process of training 'it' that we dont need TMS pain in order to distract our attention.

    It is perhaps no fluke that existentialism arose in Europe, not Australia or America. In Europe (probably before TV and other distractions), they had plenty of time to sit around in the dark months feeling miserable, and acknowledging that we are all gong to die- they are more natural existentialists just due to where they live. In Australia and America, we have way too much sunshine, and historically the opportunity/reasons to be out there doing stuff- eg. country building, rather than sitting around moping about how cold and dark it is for so much of each year. I think Europeans and Brits are more comfortable with the negative, and they also happen to have half the rates of TMS than do Americans. I dont think indulging in negativity is the go- but acknowledging and creating space for it (as do existentialists) is a psychological step forward. Information about emotional style can help with this.

    I'm really enjoying this forum, and the whole TMS Wiki site- it is such a fantastic resource. What an excellent effort by all those involved to bring it together.
  6. Eric "Herbie" Watson

    Eric "Herbie" Watson Beloved Grand Eagle

    this is a vast amount of knowledge-stop running from our emotions and embrace them
    stop acting like these negitive emotions dont exist,be aware of them-look at it in a better acceptable light
    and we have an avenue to heal in-like the bear -or fight and flight scenario
    when were threatened all our meridian points are stimulated,we have just seen the bear
    its as is we have already experienced a true fight with the bear and our adrenaline skyrockets
    but when we calm doun-at the end of the run and we made it-youll feel exilerated-
    when we face our fears ,we dont want to ,just like we dont want to face the bear-but when we do-
    we get an instant state of change-now we didnt set there and think it up-no it happened
    we can enter this healing state when we face our past -present and future perceptions
    this is a good read-
    Jilly likes this.
  7. Jilly

    Jilly Well known member

    Hi Dr. Alexander,
    It's an interesting concept to provide some space for negativity, not to dwell on it of course but to allow it so it doesn't become frozen and unreachable leading to TMS expression. Having a guest room that's not too comfortable comes to mind - don't over stay your welcome !! I agree we Americans do have a rosy way about us. Whats wrong with you if you're not smiling all the time!

    In Europe before t.v. the locals were farming and trying to keep their family alive. There were no supermarkets or supermodels ! They had distractions of another sort, staying alive and not much spare time on their hands for sun or surf. Pretty gloomy times. You mentioned Britain and Europe having less TMS than the US, could it have something to do with the access to health care as a component ? They look at hospitals as a place to go as a last resort. Here in the US we have resort hospitals for the rich making it kind of prestigious and en vogue.

    Today, most families are fragmented and no longer farm as industry and big business has made our lives so much easier to think about other things... I do think we were wired to endure a certain amount of environmental struggling ( hunting for dinner, protection from the saber tooth tiger etc). I think our brains are in a constant state of evolution through the generations as our minds decipher the environmental stimuli and adapt accordingly allowing new evolution (new connections) and primitive parts slowly loosing genetic expression into the next generation. It's amazing to be here in this time space expression right in the middle of it all !

    I am so glad you came to the forum as you enlighten us and share with us your work as we navigate through the TMS maze. I must say I am doing much better as I now am making new connections and I know how to calm down / slow down the resilience and self awareness components. ( I liked the brain info in your paper, it broke it down perfectly ! ) You have a really comprehensive web site with really great interviews and tons of material. I hope psychologists adapt the TMS model you have outlined ... you and a handful of other are the great hope. ;)
    eric watson likes this.
  8. Dr James Alexander

    Dr James Alexander TMS author and psychologist

    thanks Jilly. I'm not sure about Europe, but in the UK they have access to free universal health care- so, i dont think hospitals there are a last resort- they are probably more used there than in America, simply bec they are free to everyone. I think culture has a very large role to play in the causation of chronic pain (along with everything else). I try to emphasise this in my book as well. Where people have cultural permission to moan and whinge (what you call whining i think), or to be angry, they seem to have less TMS (note: again, i'm not advocating that we all become relentless whinghers/whiners). Cultural messages can be both benign and not so benign. I think all of us who have suffered from TMS have internalised many of the less benign messages, and combined them with our own unconscious psychological issues. Fortunately, these dodgy ideas are demonstrably faulty, and there are other things we can do with our own psychological issues rather than just try to keep them deeply buried.
    Jilly likes this.
  9. Jilly

    Jilly Well known member

    This is so true....I've noticed certain cultures are much more expressive than the Westerners when it comes to experiencing their pain and fear in the Emergency room setting. It is frowned upon it in the ER because it can set off a chain reaction.

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