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Dr. Alexander What to do with negative thoughts?

Discussion in 'General Discussion Subforum' started by Dr James Alexander, Jan 28, 2013.

  1. Dr James Alexander

    Dr James Alexander TMS author and psychologist

    Chronic pain is being generated by our unconscious for a purpose. It is there to deflect our attention away from some 'emotional truth' (which is invariably negative and painful). We learnt this emotional truth (often/usually not factually true) in a painful context, e.g when we were being traumatised by an accident, or abuse as a child, etc. For example, a child may learn in this context, 'I am not good enough', or 'the world and all the people in it are dangerous'. There is usually an adaptive reasoning to the emotional truth which was learnt in a bad situation, e.g the kid who 'learnt' that they arent good enough has managed to restore some sense of control ('the bad things happen because of my actions, therefore if i just try harder, things will get better'- while not accurate and still painful, it at least restores a sense of control and is less frightening than the realisation that s/he is at the mercy of a psychopathic adult). The person who learnt that the world is a dangerous place is actively taking actions to ensure their safety. As such, the emotional truth (rather than being a 'pathology') is in fact a solution in particular context in which it arose. Because we learnt the lesson well, the same learning then gets unconsciously applied to a whole bunch of situations which it may or may not be appropriate. This can cause problems in our lives.

    The chronic pain results when we fail to acknowledge the painful emotional truth on a conscious level. In stead of doing this, we tend to take up an 'anti-symptom' stance, wherein we do all we can to get rid of the pain. The way to overcome the pain is to acknowledge its role in protecting us from the painful emotional truth. What is our emotional truth? The only way to answer this question is to delve into the negative. This will involve our negative thoughts, beliefs and experiences. If we try to ignore these, via maintaining a positive stance, then this simply plays into the purpose of the chronic pain- there is no reason to think that this is likely to get rid of the pain. And people will just keep on trying harder and harder to strengthen their anti-symptoms position.

    Ironically, the way forward is to consciously acknowledge the negative that is going on for us at an unconscious level. Do we need to indulge in the negative, making us feel even worse? No- we just need to acknowledge it. Do we need to do battle with the negative (as per CBT and RET)? No- this has the effect of just adding to the strength of the negative thoughts, giving them more power. In regards to what do beyond finding and acknowledging our negative thoughts, i think what Acceptance & Committment Therapy (ACT) suggests makes sense- see them in much the same way as we see clouds floating across the sky. Yes, they are there- we can see them; but we dont have to demand that the clouds not hold the shape that they do, trying to change them.

    However, i would add that for most people, i dont see ACT as being a sufficent method to overcome chronic pain- research on its outcomes with chronic pain has not demonstrated this result. I think ACT is instructive in terms of how to respond to negative thoughts, but in order to get over chronic pain, we need to devle into the negative emotions which our pain symptom is trying to protect us from- that is, stop denying it and try to become consciously aware of it. Many of the journaling suggestions and basic TMS tips can help us discover what our emotional truths are. If this is too difficult on your own (we can meet with defense mechanisms which are there to prevent us from becoming aware of the emotional truths), then getting some therapy such as brief psychoanalytic therapy, EMDR, or Coherence Therapy can greatly help. For more info on both EMDR and Coherence Therapy, see my website: www.drjamesalexander-psychologist.com
    Jilly, Barry and veronica73 like this.
  2. Barry

    Barry New Member

    Amending in my case to negative attitude. Not wanting to go off topic this might relate more to a different post that you wrote.Anyway back to my original thoughts before adding this edit.

    Thanks Dr Alexander just finished your lecture for the second time.Exellent and develops what I've read about tms and actually adds many new facets to the understanding of chronic pain. I have suffered over the last 4 years multiple symptoms could hardly walk to my truck as an example.

    I grew up in NYC where a particular brand of negativity is almost a badge of honor and I certainly wore it proudly.
    My now adult children insisted I dial it back as I could be quite confrontational. I honored their wishes to the best of my ability.
    I guess shouting getting angry kept symptoms at bay. But alienated my kids and others.

    To shift gears a bit I am that cheerleader type you desribe in your lecture. Never would have thought that. I might have confused my letting go of anger as the main reason for my chronic pain. As I push the anger further inside (not the right lingo I realize). Now perhaps after listening to your information on this subject, I see my situation from a completely different angle. Speaking mainly about your cheerleading analogy.

    As a single parent self employed for over 35 years now working or trying to work with my son as we are both metal sculptors. I have encountered every road block imaginable always in essence ( and now I realize) unrealistically cheerleading my way through in spite of a sarcastic (as in New Yorker) and an outwardly negative spin on life. I still cheerlead my way out of every trauma trial and tribulation etc. Never recognizing I was continually deluding myself. Always getting the job done as my life was unravelling. The upshot it seems, is this may have been the culprit in my repressing my emotions not my outward negativity which I'm sure contributes too. What I find strange is I could be a dogged positivist and have an outward negative style.I assume that's possible?
  3. Dr James Alexander

    Dr James Alexander TMS author and psychologist

    Hi Barry- well, you obviously know what i am talking about. Its a fine balance we have to strike- expressing anger at everyone is going to alienate others and destroy valued relationships; and keeping a lid on it all is likely to result in it blowing out some other way (eg. chronic pain, heart disease?). So, its not easy to find the right relationship with this stuff. But, i think being aware of it as an issue is the key- with conscious awareness of it you can then make choices which arent possible if it is still all unconscious. You might like to read my discussion of Emotional Styles and chronic pain under About the book, on www.drjamesalexander-psychologist.com Good luck bro! You are heading in the right direction.
  4. Barry

    Barry New Member

    Thank You Dr Alexander.
    Not clear on what does the most emotional damage. Is it the rage suppression or the unrealistic optimism.
    I can't actually connect those two contributors in my mind. I assume they both play their part. How to disect their varying aspects for hastening my recovery which is improving albeit slowly.Want to speed it up a bit in spite of the fact I can't radically change all the circumstances in my life.
  5. Dr James Alexander

    Dr James Alexander TMS author and psychologist

    Barry- read my piece on Coherence Therapy, under Appendages in About the book on my website- this may help.
  6. Barry

    Barry New Member

    Thanks, trying to digest all your wonderful writings you've referred me to on your website.
    It will take a while for it to reveal all the intricacies of varying personality traits and their influences.
  7. Forest

    Forest Beloved Grand Eagle

    This reminds of a portion of Pathways to Pain Relief, where Dr. Sherman wrote:
    “[Children] cannot yet take another person’s point of view, since they can only understand the world exclusively in terms of their own limited perspective. These are developmentally normal cognitive responses, not aspect of the child’s personality. All children are self-focused, including both many who will grow into considerate, well-related adults, as well as many who will later become fulminant narcissists. So when a parent drinks alcoholically, the child can only conclude, it must be his fault; he did something wrong to make mommy or daddy act that way. You can often observe a similar reaction among young children whose parents divorce; the children erroneously believe they are responsible for the breakup of their parents’ marriage...The child’s immature cognition turns to explanations, such as, ‘I’m bad, and I’m being punished.’ After all reward and punishment are familiar concepts to all young children. The parent’s drinking or divorce can therefore only be refracted through the lens of punishment for misbehavior. If you’re bad, it is imperative that you be very, very, good--that is, perfect."​

    It is always interesting to learn how seemingly small life events can shape our personalities.


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