Q&A: How do I handle a family member who is not supportive?

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How do I ...deal effectively with a family member who's an emotional support resource and who I believe had TMS herself 30 years ago and is now pain-free with the occasional twinge--but who believes most fervently that her "cure" was all physical?

I am lucky in one sense that my mom went through a lot of what I went through 30 years ago (and is therefore intuitively aware/supportive about the process of living with chronic pain), which others in my life including my professional colleagues don't have any real awareness of. She describes stiffness/pain in her posterior neck muscles that caused a tight scalp sensation and a journey of a couple of years in which she went through agonizing worry about organic causes/etc., until she was ruled out by physicians. However, as much as she supports me on the "chronic pain" aspects, she remains absolutely FIXATED on the fact that her recovery has to do with relentless neck-stretching exercises as prescribed by a pain clinic she visited.

How do I lean on Mom for support in this struggle without triggering her insistence that she cured herself by physical means? If a cure for my own symptoms were as easy as stretching out all of the muscles repetitively, I'd be cured by now (because G-d knows I've tried all the physical measures tirelessly first).


Answer by Eric Sherman, PsyD

An image of PPD Practitioner Eric Sherman
Eric Sherman, PsyD

Eric Sherman's Profile Page / Survey Response / Eric Sherman, PsyD / Psychophysiologic Disorders Association (PPDA) Board Member / Website

When I read about your dilemma, I was reminded of something my mentor, Dr. Arlene Feinblatt taught me early on in my training. Dr. Feinblatt and John Sarno, MD, co-developed the psychologically-based treatment for TMS over forty years ago. Dr. Feinblatt explained to me, "if a patient gets better by swinging a chicken over his or her head, all that matters is that the patient gets better". Put another way, there are many routes to the top of the mountain, but the view is always the same.

Within all close relationships, disagreements, conflict, and disappointment are all inevitable. The fact that someone experiences these kinds of feelings does not necessarily mean someone doesn't love the other person, or that the relationship is in jeopardy. The existence of such feelings only means that the people involved in the relationship, in your case, the parent and adult child, are human, and not characters out of a fairytale.

Not infrequently, people in close relationships agree to disagree. You and your mother can each respect the other's different viewpoints, much the same way people practice religious tolerance. You can still draw upon her for emotional support, not unlike the way people of different faiths can still befriend one another and work together towards a common goal. You can also explain to your mother how important it is for you to focus on the psychological, rather than get distracted by physical symptoms. Communicate to her how she can best help you. After all, I assume she's only interested in seeing you get better, regardless of what route takes you to the top of the mountain.

You might also want to reflect upon how difficult it is for you to stay on course when you are in conflict with someone who is very important to you. Very often people with TMS/PPD are people pleasers, afraid of any conflict with important others. You might want to examine how your fears about being in conflict with your mother are remnants from childhood experiences which are no longer applicable to the situation you are dealing with today as an adult.

The problem you describe is not unusual because people who love one another can hardly be complacent when someone he or she cares about is suffering. If the above suggestions do not help you sufficiently to stay on track, then you might want to consider consulting with a mental health provider who has expertise dealing with issues related to TMS/PPD.


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