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Christie U. Preoccupied with the Pain

Discussion in 'General Discussion Subforum' started by Guest, Sep 26, 2017.

  1. Guest

    Guest Guest

    This question was submitted via our Ask a TMS Therapist program. To submit your question, click here.


    I am often aware that I am entirely preoccupied with the pain but can't seem to take my attention away from it. It feels like something biting at me, poking me, or hitting me and I don't know what to do to stop giving it attention, as I know it fuels the pain. Does anyone have any advice?

    Also, are there any tips for going to sleep as well? As it is taking me a long time to drop off while still in this mental loop.

    Thanks a lot,

    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 18, 2017
  2. Christie Uipi MSW

    Christie Uipi MSW TMS Therapist


    Hi Will! Thanks for your question, and you're bringing up a very common struggle for people working through TMS, because we have all learned that preoccupation will perpetuate our symptoms. Preoccupation is a form of fear (i.e., "Is my pain going to get better in the next half hour?" or, "Why is it worse now than it was this morning?!).
    I believe that the pressure we put on ourselves "not to preoccupy" over the symptoms sometimes gets confused with this notion that we must "ignore" our symptoms. I don't know about all of you, but when I was in daily and near constant pain, there was no way that I could ignore that physical sensation. IT HURT! For you, I imagine it is virtually impossible to ignore a sensation that feels like biting, poking, or getting hit. Putting pressure on myself to ignore the sensation only made me feel like I was failing, which scared me ten times over. Pressuring myself to "ignore" the sensation was actually just preoccupation sneaking up on me in a new form, because "trying to ignore" the pain was a full-time (and, again, virtually impossible) job. In my tremendous efforts "not to preoccupy," all I was doing was preoccupying!

    So, the opposite of preoccupation is not ignoring. The opposite of preoccupation is simply noticing these sensations without fear. Somatic tracking is a great way to learn how to do this -- See Alan's post on Somatic Tracking in the Recovery Program here. This technique will help you notice the pain sensations objectively, confront them confidently, and knowing that it is safe to do so. It's okay if your mind wanders to the pain, so long as you are not injecting fear in to the circuit. It is not the attention that fuels the pain, it is the fear.

    As for sleeping, I suggest incorporating mindfulness practice in to your day-to-day life to help teach you how to let go of thoughts that might be "looping," as you mentioned. Here's a good mindfulness meditation that will help you get started.

    Best of luck and know that you can do it!

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    Ines likes this.
  3. ladyofthelake

    ladyofthelake Peer Supporter

    I hear you. This is the exact purpose of TMS. It is extremely hard to stop obsessing about the pain when it HURTS. When I was in constant horrible pain I certainly couldn't ignore or relax or "mindfulness" it away. I was always trying squirm my way out of pain (but that didn't work). I'd try this or that stretch or research piriformis syndrome and on and on and on. I'd avoid sitting.

    Here is what I finally did and it worked for me. I think I got this basic idea from Alan Gordon and made it my own. I think I was finally successful about a year ago.
    I talked to my brain to challenge it to make the pain worse. I had bilateral sciatica for years. If the pain was only shooting from my hips halfway down my leg I'd cheer it on "Come on! You can do better than that! Go all the way down and wrap around my heel-get bigger! I can take it! You are my feelings and you need to put my in pain for some reason so go for it!"
    Now, here is where you practice outcome independence. When I did that the pain would reduce by about 90% until I was pleased and then did something else and stopped cheering it on. At first the pain would come back. But this method worked to prove to me that I had TMS and not a structural problem to stretch/inject/exercise/roll away.

    I think my subconscious has the same personality as me. Sure I'm a people pleaser and overacheiver, but if somebody tells me to do something I'm less likely to do it. I had to return my fitbit because if it told me to take more steps...I wanted to take less; I'll take as many or as few steps as I want! And heaven forbid somebody tells me I cannot do something...that basically guarantees I CAN do it. Reverse psychology works great on me.

    Anyway, I still get twinges/bad days and sometimes I still squirm away from the pain or start the silly thinking that "there has to be something wrong with me because it hurts so bad." That thought process is really hard to extinguish.

    As far as sleep: fast forward a year to now. When I get into that obsessive mental looping about anything laying in bed I sorta dive my awareness into my body. I leave my thoughts at the surface of the water and pay attention to every sensation my body is having. I don't actually try to stop the annoying sensations: the tight jaw, the minor heartburn etc. I just notice them and know they are my emotions in physical form. I don't try to figure those emotions out...just say hey. And often I go to sleep quickly. This is sorta a new thing for me, I bet there is a name for it...somatic awareness? Anyway, it helps me. If somebody had TOLD me to do that a year ago I wouldn't have. It had to be my idea.

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