1. Alan has completed the new Pain Recovery Program. To read or share it, use this updated link: https://www.tmswiki.org/forum/painrecovery/
    Dismiss Notice

Let's talk about "observing the pain"

Discussion in 'General Discussion Subforum' started by BinLA, Jun 22, 2018.

  1. BinLA

    BinLA Peer Supporter

    Hey all,

    I'm a long-time experiencer of stress disorder. Some would say TMS, some would say stress or anxiety disorder. (Most symptoms have been CNS related.)

    I've made great progress over the years by using the foundations of Claire Weeks, Sarno, other TMS greats, Paul David, Jim Folk, etc.

    That said, I wanted to talk about a nuance in recovery mindset...

    One of the first things I ever read about these states was to "observe the pain, lean into it... describe it... ask it questions... notice it... don't judge it.... etc."

    I remember first reading that from Jon Kabat-Zinn and his great books/audio works.

    So, I'd try these techniques. I'd make time to sit with my discomfort/pain/panic, etc. I'd carve out times each day, I'd meditate with it... recognize it. I always felt worse after. But we're always told... "you'll feel worse at first."


    So, I'd try different versions, for longer times... journaling, adding more and more attention to the pain and discomfort. Of course fear was there, fear is automated for the most part. But I was able to let it be there. After all, you can't force fear away. At the time I was going to work in states of major panic daily. I was used to it.

    But then I met a few people who said... "don't you think all of this attention to the symptoms and feelings keeps it around?"

    That was a new one to me.

    I totally got the notion that we had to lose or blunt fear, especially 2nd fear. But I thought that was done by giving it the attention it wanted. These people who had recovered from stress disorder and returned to normal lives explained to me that the key was indeed losing fear... but that salvation lied in carrying all of that fear and discomfort with you, but resuming regular life as much as possible. That recovery was in living like someone who wasn't sick again, focusing externally... offering full acceptance to your symptoms as non-dangerous, and returning to living your life.

    I have to say, implementing this mindset was what helped take me from being a total mess... to having a very full life again and feeling significantly better. Nowhere near perfect, but much better.

    That said, I still got spikes of symptoms and some rotational issues. In fact right now after one of my best stretches in years, I'm in a 2 month patch of dizziness/balance issues which is one of the biggest challenges I've ever had. So, things still need work.

    But I can't help feeling like there is a bit of a dichotomy between the very common TMS recovery advice of... "journal, be with the pain, give it attention, lean in".... and the alternate (?) view of.... "allow it all to be there and get back to living your life... feeding it attention helps it grow."

    As I now look into mindset help to work through this current, very difficult state of pain/discomfort... I'm now seeing the familiar mantras about pain observing arise. It's so universal with these recovery programs... it seems like it must be rooted in solid logic. But why does there seem to be a bit of a conflict in that advice, and are we all the same? Do we all recover by sitting with symptoms and paying attention to them closely x-minutes per day? Or are some of us hindered by it? Do some of us recover by removing attention from that pain/suffering which seeks to gain our attention so often?

    I hope this question/topic makes sense. It's a bit nuanced but I feel like it's a distinction that's rarely addressed by the practitioners of TMS or mindfulness recovery purveyors.

    Would love to hear everyone's thoughts.....
    Gusto likes this.
  2. Gusto

    Gusto Peer Supporter

    I'd love to hear the experts opinion on this, I struggle with the same dichotomy
    BinLA likes this.
  3. karinabrown

    karinabrown Well known member

    Yes very interested in this too

    Focusing externally was my best strategy so far. But mostky because it distrated me from being so in my head and my fears , my hyperactive nervesystem had a change too calm down in the meantime
    Now that i am having a setback i can see that very clear
    And also noticing that my whole system is wired again. And than the analyzing. Worrying but also being not externally focussed starts too
    So what will work more permanent ?
    BinLA likes this.
  4. BinLA

    BinLA Peer Supporter

    Hi Karina,

    I'm not a professional and while I gained my life back... I can only say I hit about 80-85% wellness over the last few years.
    Enjoyable life, good times... but way more challenges than a healthy guy my age should have. So, I have underlying factors... be it stress, less obvious mindset issues or perhaps good old fear of the symptoms that are unresolved. (Which I suspect is the aim of the "observe the pain" philosophies.)

    Thing is, for me it's a catch 22... when I focus externally... my brain calms down, which actually allows me to look at everything more logically. (A good thing.)
    But, in doing this am I missing some of the "core fears?" (As Jim Folk calls them.) I used to have terrible mornings due to ramped panic and anxiety right out of sleep. I found by allowing them to be there and express themselves... without adding additional fussing over them (the best I could) ... it generally shook out and I could see things more clearly by midday. By PM, I'd often lose all concern I was ever in that state. Over the years, the mornings calmed down... and the notion of anxiety as a disorder was almost gone.

    I'm finding some of the same things with this long bout of balance/dizziness issues which have come on recently. Worse in the morning, and seem to be something I have to try to let be there. Whereas, it seems if I sit and focus on the symptoms, even with a mindset of "ok this is interesting and not dangerous".... it tends to cement their importance. It makes them more real. It almost (for me) seems to remind me they ARE REALLY there to a larger extent.

    So, am I doing it wrong? Are we all different?

    Alan Gordon says all of our issues are based on a platform of hypervigilance, and I believe that's correct. So perhaps that's what I'm doing right now by rasing this question. But it seems to be such a core concept (observing) for a % of those teaching recovery... that clarity is a good thing to aim for. I've actually faced this question from a lot of people I've tried to help with recovery in the past as well.
  5. Gusto

    Gusto Peer Supporter

    Jim's program (anxietycentre.com) talks of passive acceptance of the symptoms and not reacting to them although does not advise focusing on them as this TMS program does. Ashok Gupta seems to take a simillar approach to Alan on some part of his teachings with a "soften and flow" mediation which is all about going in to the symptoms. I think the purpose of the attention on the symptoms for a period of time (during meditation, etc) is to learn to not fear them in the long run, which teaches your limbic system to slowly stop reacting to them by releasing stress hormones, and thus perpetuating them, but I think inversely being hyper vigilant to them throughout the day is counter productive (I know hard when they are present all day long) as you also want your brain to lose the focus on them.

    The bit i struggle with is that Jim's program focuses on effectively calming the nervous system with rest / relaxation/ stress reduction. Whereas the TMS approach seems to be more of a "push through the pain" approach. I'm lost as to should I baby my body back to non Hyperstimulation, or should I push through the pain to convince my brain there is no problem?

    BinLA likes this.
  6. BinLA

    BinLA Peer Supporter

    More on this later, but the “resting the CNS” concept is another point of possible contention or at least misunderstanding. I’ve also done work with AC and I buy in (to an extent) to the notion that a maxed out nervous system isn’t going to stop sending stress hormones and negative messaging. I think it’s common sense. I used naps and resting the body as a major cog in improving over the years. Pushing through is a necessity at times. But physically ignoring what your body is telling you is another.

    To me it’s a question of where does it come from? Is it from a place of fear? If you’re resting to “get rid of anxiety” it’s never going to help. If you’re resting because it’s common sense to rest a taxed system I think it’s logical.

    I guess this is where the observing symptoms question comes back around. It’s a rather “active” way to passively approach symptoms. But so many swear by it. Again... makes me wonder if I just am not understanding fully. Or maybe we are all different?
  7. Ellen

    Ellen Beloved Grand Eagle

  8. Gusto

    Gusto Peer Supporter

    I'd suggest we may all be slightly different, yet largely the same. I feel it's a combination of the two approaches, I think (for me atleast) I benefit greatly with rest and relaxation in calming my system, but feel this only takes me so far.. as when I'm not resting and im going about my daily duties fully symptomatic I tend to rebel against and get frustrated by my symptoms and find myself wanting to be at home relaxing, I know logically this is a type of avoidance and i should be "passively accepting" but my sytmtoms can be so dibilitating that i long for relief. I think this is where time spent actively going in to the symptoms and exploring them during downtime will teach my brain to not fear them, so when I am active throughout the day this will assist me dismissing them, and thus remove he sting.. and in time diminish thier effect and then eventually them.

    I'm not sure the ask a therapist forum is very active.. but yeah an expert opinion would be great on these matters.
    BinLA likes this.
  9. Gusto

    Gusto Peer Supporter

    Also, everyone I've ever spoke to who recovered stoped analysing it as much as we are now, they rested and knew thier body was stressed, but they also just got out there and lived thier life to the fullest, with or without symptoms. They started acting like a healthy person, and thier body got the message. To an extent you need to listen to your body, but this is a two way street, your body/physiology also listens to you, if you keep reinforcing to it that you are healthy it will follow suit, we all know it has reacted this way for us and our negative emotions to our detriment
    BinLA likes this.

Share This Page