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Why does the TMS mechanism exist?

Discussion in 'General Discussion Subforum' started by julzibobz, Jul 24, 2023.

  1. julzibobz

    julzibobz New Member

    Hi all,

    I discovered TMS a few months ago and have so far used it successfully to make progress with my chronic symptoms. This is obviously great.
    I am confused about something and it is actually quite fundamental, which I hope someone can help me with.

    Namely the question: why does TMS exist?

    Closely related to this question is, what actually IS TMS? I have come to an understanding of this through research and this forum, and there seems to be conflicting strands of thought depending on whose work you follow (e.g Sarno vs more modern research vs more spiritual ideas etc). As I understand it, the TMS mechanism exists as a distraction from repressed emotions through physical pain. Ok, fine, simple enough. However, this still doesn't answer my first question: why does this have to happen? Why can't we just feel the emotions? How is this evolutionary advantageous to us? The things I am reading online sometimes seem quite circular and empirically empty - 'we have repressed emotions because of TMS', but this is the same as saying 'we have TMS because we have repressed emotions'. It's a tautology. The answer that lies underneath that is what I am interested in.

    How does lying in bed every day with excruciating symptoms benefit us as humans or enhance survival? I know some people get such severe symptoms they are debilitated for years, for example. This would mean not reproducing, eating, and basically not living, just to not feel emotions. Why is this advantageous? It doesn't make sense to me.

    Many thanks for anyone willing to share their thoughts!

    With warm wishes,

    A curious TMS'er
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  2. Baseball65

    Baseball65 Beloved Grand Eagle

    This is MY theory. I have zero 'credentials' other than being a TMSer who has fought this thing off and documented it for 25 years or so?
    From a scientific reason, what would be the point of a pain disorder that shuts you down? Completely occupies your attention and makes you miserable?

    TMS is an OVER-evolved coping mechanism to deal with the "technological wunderkind".

    I got Furious yesterday. My son made me get an Iphone about two years ago. I was on a flip phone and was totally happy , but we missed some message from a client so he made me 'Get up to date' and buy what I call 'the vain-idiot box'
    So yesterday I Finally 'updated' the phone. It had been pestering me for months to do so...and instantly all of the tools were different. Nothing worked the way it had before. I had to reset up the whole thing. Pain in the ass and time waster.
    I literally felt a strong urge to shatter it and go and get a flip phone again

    What does that have to do with TMS? Tons.

    We as a species have been slowly evolving over millennia. Think of every new technological 'advance'...They are always accepted unquestioningly without us evaluating the outcome. We just assume it is always 'better'. WRONG.

    I used to go out and play when I was a kid. I had no phone or pager or anything. I oftentimes didn't come home all day. No one worried. No one called me and I could go and get deeply involved in 'kid' stuff w/o outside distractions. Later, when I became of working age I could drive 50 miles to a job, focus on it and drive home w/o anybody worrying and me not worrying about what I could not control 50 miles away. It's like Schrodinger's cat...even if something had happened, for ill or nihil, there was nothing to do about it so we could concentrate on the task at hand. We also had NO emotional response to things over which we were powerless!!

    Go back a generation. My Grandfather never got mad about politics because he only heard about them once a week when the paper came out. And he didn't know every single piece of information to react to...outrage! Micro management of our elected officials w/immediate feedback! Non-stop perma-campaigns and flooding us for reaction and opinion.... MUTE opinions that can only vent on a social media page...which of course outrages anybody who 'disagrees' with MY outrage.

    Go back another generation. My Great Grandfather in Mexico. Never had to worry about maintaining a car. His horse was right outside his door. Once he saddled up and went out on the ranch (for days) Never had to worry about ANY news, excepting the occasional stranger walking through rural Mexico...unlikely. No one worried if he didn't come home for a few days
    "He's probably dealing with a calving or fixing some downed fence"
    He had no internet bill
    No car trouble
    No politics
    Not much 'news'
    No worry about the economy
    Never wondered where his kids were, where his Mom was or if there was 'some other path in life I oughta follow'

    In maybe 100-300 years during the industrial revolution we have added all of this technology without asking "Is this a better way of life?"

    When BELL invented the telephone and decided to mass market it they did an Impact study. Modern 'corporations' do not shell out large amounts of money unless they know what happens and believe me , they do!

    Bell Telephone predicted:
    Skyscrapers (impossible w/o phone lines)
    Alienation and Alcoholism and addiction
    Proliferation of automobiles and Mass transit
    Urban Blight

    and that's just what I remember w/o picking the book back up. They knew it would have a negative impact on society as a whole BUT.. there was a HUGE profit to be made.
    Damn the torpedoes...full speed ahead!

    A species that evolved over millions of years has to drastically alter it's way of life every few years as the 'Old' is tossed in the trash can and the 'New' replaces it. No longer any premium on experience or veneration for age and wisdom...get out of the way grandpa...we're building a Highway through your home and y'all just gotta move !

    That is my 'short version' but essentially No other animal on this planet is as harried or distracted or ANGRY and frustrated as we are.
    We have allowed THOUGHT to be the primary motivation for existence rather than BEING.
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  3. Cap'n Spanky

    Cap'n Spanky Well known member

    It's actually a brilliant question, @julzibobz. Like you, I have thought about it on occasion. I've heard various theories and rationalizations, but in my honest opinion, I don't think we really know... and I don't think we're going to know.

    I agree, that as a protective / evolutionary mechanism TMS doesn't make total sense. I think @Baseball65 is on to something. It seems to be strongly correlated with our hypervigilant fight / flight/ freeze response.

    Personally, I have same questions regarding TMS mechanism, itself. What biomechanical process causes pain, fatigue, skin rashes, etc., etc. The buzzword for the past 10-years or so has been "learned neural pathways" and that may be 100% true. But if you dive below the surface, it's not clear how much that tells us. But it sounds scientific and I can see stuff light up on brain scans.

    The brain is extraordinarily complex. We are not going to understand it in our lifetimes. The only thing that matters to me is:
    - TMS is real,
    - and the principals of healing put forward by Dr. Sarno ... and now carried on by many others... truly work.
  4. BloodMoon

    BloodMoon Beloved Grand Eagle

    What a great thread!
    I too don't profess to have a definitive answer to this and I'm not yet fully recovered so I'm not sure how valid my view of this is, but I have spent time bed bound for many months (7 months on one occasion) due to TMS and my view is that I don't think it is advantageous -- not in the medium and long term anyway. The theory of evolution is about the survival of the fittest and if we're too disabled to function and reproduce because of TMS, as you quite rightly point out of course, our genes don't get passed to next generation. Some people don't get TMS or don't get it badly enough to stop them from reproducing though, so they are the ones that pass their genes on; they are in evolutionary terms the 'fittest' in dealing with modern day life stressors. (But it still begs the question as to whether in the end there will be so much so called 'advancement' that none of us will survive what we have created for ourselves.)

    When they perceive danger wild animals either fight or take flight or freeze (play dead) but only for the short term. I think that the TMS 'mechanism' is there to make us 'freeze' (to keep us from perceived harm by forcing us to take to the relative safety of our beds). However modern day stressors are relentless (as @Baseball65 has so beautifully described) so the crippling pain and/or other disabling symptoms that would normally stop and release us from 'freezing' after a danger has passed, don't stop (unless we realise what's going on and teach our brains that the danger has passed, or that we're not in danger with all the modern day stressors in the first place, or that we're angry about our stressors and it's simply okay to be angry and that it's not dangerous to be and feel angry... not as long as we don't thump someone as we're liable to get thumped back). In modern day life it's not a case of 'freezing' to avoid the occasional passing bear (or whatever) that might kill us and then getting on with our lives until the next bear passes by -- what our brains perceive as dangerous is the ongoing onslaught of modern day anxiety-inducing and anger-making stuff.

    So true - absolutely!
    Last edited: Jul 25, 2023
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  5. JanAtheCPA

    JanAtheCPA Beloved Grand Eagle

    And here's my theory - followed by something I found recently from the Mayo Clinic which offers a very succinct explanation.

    Our brains evolved to keep us fearful and anxious so that we stay alive and pay attention to dangers. It evolved in primitive times when humans only had to deal with a few very concrete dangers. We also didn't live very long, and did not have to plan farther into the future than the coming winter. This mechanism has not evolved since then, and it works for shit in today's world where most of us are lucky enough to be physically very safe. We are physically safe, but we are barraged all day long and from a very young age by constant little daily stresses, and constant concerns about the future - many of them existential concerns over which we have no control (like climate change and world disorder). We are not in immediate danger, yet our primitive brains still think that every time we feel stress, we're under attack and we might die from some dire physical threat. So we are living in constant fight-flight-or-freeze mode. Which is devastatingly unhealthy.

    I believe that this is the most typical type of TMS. Farther along the TMS suffering spectrum are people with trauma, including childhood trauma (abuse, neglect, loss, or general dysfunction) whose brains create symptoms in order to distract them from having to acknowledge deeply-repressed negative emotions from the time of the trauma. In the case of children, this repression is developed by the child in order to survive, but it continues in adulthood, and it inevitably causes mental and physical health problems in adulthood (which are unfortunately often quite resistant to standard TMS self-help techniques).

    I think that the kind of patients that Dr. Sarno accepted for treatment tended to be people whose symptoms were related more to common stressors, such as avoiding the fact that they are in a bad relationship, or a bad job, or they chose the wrong career, or any other thing they don't want to face - and their primitive brain is happy to help them keep avoiding it.

    Sometimes a new symptom can be the result of something as simple as feeling bad about an interaction with someone, and continuing to worry about it without resolving it.

    We call the symptoms TMS in honor of Dr. Sarno, but it's all about this brain mechanism, and as you can see, there is no one way that it can manifest. Just as there is no one explanation for individual cases, and no one way to recover.

    What we do know is that the entire world is experiencing an epidemic of chronic, stress-based symptoms and outright physiological conditions caused by unrelenting emotional distress.

    I firmly believe that anxiety is at the source of the majority of TMS. I feel like younger generations are being raised to be anxious - in an era where we see an obsession over safety and cleanliness, micro-management of childhood activities and a lack of creativity or spontaneity - never mind the corrosive influence of technology and social media. I am worried about today's young people, and we are definitely seeing the result right here. Back in the day, we hardly ever had members in their twenties - now it's common, with members not even twenty yet.

    From the Mayo Clinic:
    Your brain comes hard-wired with an alarm system for your protection. When your brain perceives a threat, it signals your body to release a burst of hormones that increase your heart rate and raise your blood pressure. This "fight-or-flight" response fuels you to deal with the threat.​

    Once the threat is gone, your body is meant to return to a normal, relaxed state. Unfortunately, the nonstop complications of modern life and its demands and expectations mean that some people's alarm systems rarely shut off.

    Stress management gives you a range of tools to reset and to recalibrate your alarm system. It can help your mind and body adapt (resilience). Without it, your body might always be on high alert. Over time, chronic stress can lead to serious health problems.

    Don't wait until stress damages your health, relationships or quality of life. Start practicing stress management techniques today

    https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/basics/stress-basics/hlv-20049495 (Stress management Stress basics)
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  6. Andy Bayliss

    Andy Bayliss TMS Coach & Beloved Grand Eagle

    I love the replies, and especially love that Baseball is still around here!

    I just wanted to say, for what it is worth that the questions you ask are great, and important in the process. I encourage folks to make as much personal sense of what they're learning as possible. There are different flavors to this, and recognizing this, I encourage you to find a strand which makes sense to you, dive deep, and ignore the rest. The sense of realness, believability, truth, "applies to me" is what you want to strengthen. This might be called "belief," but it is better understood as "understanding." But it is not like physics with one answer.

    Also, although the explanations of the inner dynamics the causes may be a little different, the steps to take, the self-treatment is essentially the same. And, within this, it is very individual. Some people don't journal at all, others don't do any real in-depth personal work ---you have to go with what resonates with you, and, again, go deep. Follow your heart and mind, and let them build a new world view which burns down all the old beliefs which keep you bound in symptoms. Dismiss what does not resonate.

  7. julzibobz

    julzibobz New Member

    Thanks everyone for the responses! It is great to be able to talk about it like this :)

    I think for me the hypervigilant nervous system makes a lot of sense, and the persistent ‘Freeze’ response (which occurs due to accumulated stressors and ‘load’ on the nervous system) which has been mentioned seems very fitting. I think what I find quite fascinating - and yet a little unscientific - is this whole concept of “distraction”. That basically our brain on TMS will give us anything to divert away from the emotional pain at hand. Whether that be symptoms or even just convincing you to keep reading about TMS or thinking about it (a common form of ‘TMS-ing I’ve found in myself), when actually you may be angry or remorseful, and this behaviour keeps you from addressing those ‘dangerous’ feelings. The mechanism seems to ‘work’ in this way in my experience; and yet I find it difficult to see why the brain has found such a complicated mechanism for what is actually a simple cause (repressed emotion). As someone who is quite analytical and thrives on understanding, this elusive question is somewhat frustrating (and actually very distracting!).

    As you mentioned @Andy Bayliss , perhaps it doesn’t matter as the solution is the same. Nevertheless I sometimes find myself getting lost in these questions. All the disparate strands of information do not help me to find clarity, and I find myself in a cycle of more and more searching to reach an understanding that doesn’t seem to exist.

    I would like to cultivate an understanding that makes sense to me - but then where is the balance between doing that to obtain knowledge Vs doing that as a distraction away from deeper emotions? Should I stop trying to understand altogether even if that goes against my nature? Or should I actually deepen the understanding I already have or broaden it?
    It seems like an endless road sometimes, and I don’t know whether it is helpful sometimes or not. I’d love to hear how you all navigated this. :)

    (edited for grammar)
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2023
  8. Duggit

    Duggit Well known member

    I have navigated very successfully under Dr. Sarno’s distraction explanation for chronic pain and more recently under a misfiring nervous system explanation. I think you are correct in being concerned that devoting too much attention to figuring out which explanation is correct might itself constitute a distraction and therefore be counterproductive.

    Dr. Howard Schubiner is a leading proponent of the misfiring nervous system explanation. He calls such pain neural pathway pain or neural circuit pain. One of his books is titled Hidden from View: A Clinician’s Guide to Psychophysiologic Disorders. It is coauthored with psychiatrist Dr. Allan Abbass. What the coauthors mean by "psychophysiologic disorders" is the same thing that Sarno called TMS and TMS equivalents. Schubiner is hardly unaware of Sarno’s distraction explanation. When he changed his practice from traditional internal medicine to mind body medicine, he spent some time with Sarno to learn from him. In the Acknowledgments section of Hidden from View, Schbiner and Abbass stated: “While writing this book we lost a major influence on our work, John E. Sarno, MD. Dr. Sarno was a pioneer in the field of mind body medicine and has made great contributions over the past 40 years. He is greatly missed. . . . Dr. Sarno has influenced a whole generation of researchers and clinicians to help patents with psychophysiologic disorders. We are proud to be counted among them.”

    A couple years ago I watched a videotaped interview of Schubiner in which the interviewer tried to bait him into criticizing Sarno’s distraction explanation. Schubiner did not take the bait. Instead he just responded, “I prefer a different perspective.” He did not say any more than that perhaps because of his reverence for Sarno. But maybe there is an additional reason he did not take the bait that lies in his use of the word “perspective.” According to my dictionary, perspective means a viewpoint or way of thinking. Neither Sarno’s distraction explanation nor the misfiring nervous system explanation has been proven correct under accepted standards of empirical scientific proof, but by the same token neither explanation been disproven under those standards. They both are just hypotheses. Neuroscientists have never been able to prove how it is that the brain creates any form of consciousness. There are competing theories about that, but they are just hypotheses rather than analyses that meet scientific standards of empirical proof. It is hardly surprising that within the subfield of pain neuroscience, it has not been proven in accordance with scientific standards why the brain creates the conscious experience of pain when there is no tissue damage or defect.

    Sarno published Healing Back Pain in 1991. I had been suffering from recurrent low back pain since 1967 without obtaining relief from any standard medical treatment I had tried, so I eagerly bought the book upon its publication. It was easy for me to accept Sarno’s distraction explanation back then. Once I accepted that the cause of my persistent back pain was not structural, Sarno’s explanation was the only one available. Later, the misfiring nervous system explanation came on the scene. While there is no definitive proof that this newer explanati0n is the correct one, there is a growing body of bits of circumstantial evidence that tends to point in that direction. For example, as Schubiner pointed out in Hidden from View, fMRI studies of the brain show that emotional injuries or threats trigger firing of the same neural pathways as physical injuries do. There are other bits of circumstantial evidence that are highly technical, so I won’t go into much detail. But for example, the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) consists of more than neurons. Other cells called glia outnumber the neurons by a ratio of 6 to 1. For decades it was thought that glial cells were just “packing” that held the neurons in place. With the advent of super high powered microscopy, it has now been established that glia regulate the transmission of information from one neuron to the next one. Glia can make the nervous system, as you put it, “hypervigilant.” The latest cutting edge research involves internal sensors called toll-like receptors that also affect the sensitivity of the nervous system.

    Based on my experience, I don’t think it makes any difference which of the explanations for persistent pain you commit to--provided you commit to it.

    Last edited: Aug 3, 2023
  9. Smokey73

    Smokey73 New Member

    It took me a long time to learn that when I find myself focusing too long on an intellectual concern, I need to be asking "What am I not feeling? What am I avoiding with all this reasoning?" I believe this came from Baseball and I am so grateful. For way too long reasoning distracted me from dealing with my emotions.
  10. JanAtheCPA

    JanAtheCPA Beloved Grand Eagle

    100%! Thanks for posting this @Smokey73!

    Intellectualizing and over-thinking are just different types of distraction created by the TMS brain to keep us from doing the work.

    Or, as I like to say, "This is your brain on TMS"
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  11. JanAtheCPA

    JanAtheCPA Beloved Grand Eagle

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  12. julzibobz

    julzibobz New Member

    Thanks all for the input.

    @JanAtheCPA this is an excellent post. Thanks for sharing it. I especially like the emphasis on learning to 'be okay' with the symptoms being present. This is something I still struggle with as I see it as a barrier to everything I want to do (hiking, running, socialising etc).
    I need to shift away from this victim mindset I think but I (or my ego) find it challenging.

    Finally, I waiver frequently in my belief. This is because I think I benefit from being sick (at a deeper level). It also feels like I have some autoimmune/other elements to this illness (as yet not totally determined but possible) that are very different to my previous runs with TMS; as in, it won't just flick to "off"/out of fear and I feel normal. Indeed when I have 'clicked out' of primitive brain mode through breaking the fear cycle I don't feel like 'myself' straightaway and still groggy/tired.

    How do you cope with that? If it is more complex do I continue down the same path of believing it is TMS?

    I feel nervous sharing this on here but I also think it I need to open up about my doubts to improve.
    Thanks all.
  13. JanAtheCPA

    JanAtheCPA Beloved Grand Eagle

    Woody Allen famously states that 80% of success is showing up.

    You can't recovery by doing the same old thing, so you have made an enormous positive step towards recovery just by being here and being open, and especially by embracing your fear.

    I have developed a number of techniques over time. Different ones work for different situations, different symptoms, different levels and types of stress, because life is complicated, our brains are unique, and our responses are different depending on what's going on. My mindset is completely different than it was in 2011 when I was suffering from a confluence of TMS stress and symptoms, "Before Sarno".

    What have you done towards a greater commitment to changing your mindset? What does "used it successfully" look like? Have you completed a program? If not, you are ready for some structure and a way to figure out what works for you on a regular basis. We have tons of recommendations for doing that.
  14. julzibobz

    julzibobz New Member

    Yes I should explain a bit. I started with this whole journey around the end of January when I was having a lot of symptoms (was mostly housebound and felt super bad). I did stuff from Nicole Sachs (JournalSpeaks); looked at Dan Buglio and some other practitioners too. I had a setback around April due to a big family stressor and since May I have been improving again. Currently I feel like I have exhausted things intellectually but I am still stuck sometimes in certain emotions around my past which I find it difficult to move through (grief; rage). I also experience doubt sometimes (is this joint pain also TMS it always happens after I eat should I address that etc). Partly the doubt is due to confusion about the whole TMS mechanism since I have read so many different strands and gotten confused (hence this post), partly due to it being a sort of complex entity that isn't as straightforward as some other symptoms/illnesses have been. And overall I am still giving it a lot of attention I suppose, my main goal in my life is to be better.
    Hopefully this clears things up of where I am at.
  15. theacrobat

    theacrobat Peer Supporter

    @julzibobz you're right, you can't really explain the TMS mechanism 100% in terms of biology, science and evolution. Repression is almost a human universal, but it is often disadvantageous, especially when fear so often creates or engenders the very thing you are afraid of – for example when dealing with TMS, aggressive dogs and certain people – and anger etc can be expressed privately with no repercussions (extroverted anger is also essential for evolutionary 'dominance' anyway; try being the alpha without any aggression!).

    I agree with the above points that repression/distraction (distraction from unconscious contents IS repression) has definitely increased with the march of technological 'progress'. More civilisation=more rules, more taboos and therefore more socially undesirable feelings to bottle up (Freud made the point originally), and more tech means more exposure to contagious, anxiety-inducing information via various proliferating screens: not a good combination. There is undoubtedly an inner psychological 'factor' that wants the human ego to be distracted from the unconscious: the effects are everywhere and absolutely observable (scientifically or otherwise) in the nervous system and most human behaviours/problems. However, the origin of this phenomenon, the inner factor itself, is invisible. You can't get to the root cause (of this and many other things) with science because science can only describe the observable. So as with many fundamental 'why' questions about origins and meanings, the only answers are non-scientific (religious/esoteric/spiritual) and for that, the undervalued faculty of intuition is the best guide. I call this repression-making 'factor' the deceiver, based on Jung's theory of unconscious archetypes. The ancients would probably call it a demon. When it comes to invisible factors, ideas and philosophies, you can only assess the effects empirically ( judge a tree by its fruits).

    The philosophy of it is interesting – and well worth pursuing – but can as has been pointed out ironically be used as a distraction from getting to the root emotional causes of the symptoms. So if you're not fully recovered yet, I'd pick the framework that resonates most with you (as per Andy Bayliss' comment), focus on recovery, then get philosophical afterwards. If you can fully answer the question, 'what am I being distracted from?', then you will have really have learned a very important truth about life. Distraction is not really a scientific concept but it explains everything (not just neurological pain but other symptoms, desire, addiction, and fear) and was Sarno's favoured philosophy and his many, many success stories are certainly evidence of its efficacy. Btw I was in a VERY bad way and am now fully recovered using the distraction philosophy. Also note that Sarno implied fear was as much of a distraction as pain; fear is not at the bottom of things, it generally covers for anger.

    Neural misfire and distraction aren't necessarily totally incompatible; neural misfire is how the psychological distraction manifests physiologically in the brain. The idea of 'accept your symptoms and be calm with them' works because on the spectrum of distraction, it is less of a distraction than freaking out about them. Personally, I prefer to just ignore symptoms altogether and go straight to the root emotional cause instead (the opposite end of the spectrum to being completely distracted by/afraid of symptoms), because for me at least giving attention to symptoms usually makes them worse. Also, belief that the approach you are using works is the common denominator across all approaches, conventional and alternative, to alleviating symptoms. Hopefully this helps resolve some of the confusion and reconcile (as much as possible) the different techniques.

    Interesting discussion btw.
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