Q&A: I've just read Sarno's books. Now what should I do?

From The TMS Wiki
Jump to: navigation, search


I've read two of Dr. Sarno's books and they really resonate with me. I've suffered with back pain (my SI joint was out of alignment for 8 years) for over 10 years, After I had my SI joint "put back in" - I should have been fine. But I'm not.

I've tried everything - probably twice. I know that this is the program for me, I also know when it started. It was the day we were told my husband had Prostate cancer. My husband has had a series of health issues throughout our 20 years together. I'm the "cheerleader" and handle most everything in our lives.

We own out own business, our finances are terrible, and I am the one who must trouble shoot all of this. I know where my anger comes from. Needless to say, I've figured this out.

I'm on loads of pain medication which I run through too fast on a regular basis. Now I want off of it, I want my life back. I love the outdoors, love to beach comb, walk with my dog, swim, anything that is athletic. I used to run, but after my "back went out" I stopped.

The problem is my husband's cancer (I am afraid) is advancing. So where do I start? I've been in fear all day and crying because I don't want to lose him, or him to lose any of his life. He's a musician that means the world to him.

I want to start the 10 day program. I work with a therapist already for my anxiety disorder, and read her the riot act the other day. Instead of getting better, I'm getting better at hiding my anxiety. I think we're on the same page, and with or without her, I WILL conquer this and regain my life.

Question: Should I forge ahead? We see my husband's oncologist on Tuesday. I'm scared and this fear is holding me back from everything. I'm out of my pain meds and won't exercise yet. I'm too fearful.'


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

Hello Reader,

There are several possible factors related to your unrelieved pain. First, I am assuming that you've been thoroughly evaluated by a physician who ruled out the presence of any serious problems. The diagnosis of PPD must always be established by a physician, even though many patients accurately self-diagnose the condition.

Although the acquisition of knowledge is therapeutic for many patients (that's why Dr. Sarno orignally described his approach to treating PPD as psychoeducational), there are certain life events that are so traumatic in their impact that no amount of knowledge can counteract their harmful effects. If someone is a victim of domestic abuse, for example, or is the parent of a seriously ill or disabled child, all the knowledge in the world will not help the pain symptomatology unless certain concrete steps are taken to ameliorate the problem. Unfortunately, your situation falls under this category. One of the worst situations anyone can ever experience is feeling helpless to protect someone you love. When someone is dealing with a spouse's serious illness, overpowering feelings of helplessness, fear, sadness, frustration, loss of control, and anger predominate. In fact, these very emotional reactions are inevitable, given the circumstances. If someone was going through the situation you describe and didn't experience these feelings, I would not be impressed with the person's strength or resilience. Rather, I would be dismayed at how disconnected the person was from his or her own feelings. The first step for you to take is to develop compassion for yourself.

Drs. Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe are psychiatrists who developed the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale. Essentially, someone tallies up the stressful events he or she has experienced within the last 24 months. The events range from trivial, for example, getting a parking ticket, to catastrophic--divorce, death of a loved one, serious illness, etc. These events are weighted so geting a parking ticket earns l point whereas life threatening circumstances earn 50 or more points. If someone's total exceeds 300 points, then he or she is at a statistically increased risk to develop physical or emotional problems. Not only do you mention your husband's illness but you also refer to financial problems and increased responsibilities. I wouldn't be surprised that if you took the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, your score would exceed 300 points, or hover close to that number! Knowledge alone is just no match against such powerful forces.

Another possible and often overlooked explanation for the persistence of your pain is it's adaptive value in a crisis. Although you suffer tremendously, your mind remains very clear and focused with respect to cognitive functioning. Imagine if you were to experience the full brunt of your emotions, without any filters or distractions. Under such circumstances, it would be highly unlikely that you would be able to think clearly enough to troubleshoot problems and help your husband. Therefore, pain functions like a brownout which averts a blackout. The ability to preserve your cognitive efficiency at your body's expense can occur when someone is deeply devoted to protecting someone he or she loves.

Another aspect of this complicated situation is how you feel about yourself when you experience certain feelings. Even though you describe being aware of your anger, often people feel selfish and petty for experiencing anger towards people who are victimized by cruel diseases or circumstances. Even when these feelings are experienced exclusively as private, internal, emotional events, and the person's behavior is beyond reproach, many people still hate themselves for having such uncharitable thoughts.

Good people always experience anti-social thoughts and feelings. However, good people generally do not act on these feelings. Also, people in your situation typically resent the additional responsibilities imposed upon them by a loved one's illness. Or, people worry about their own well-being when they feel they should be exclusively concerned with the other person's needs. So even if you are aware of experiencing these kinds of feelings, you might feel guilty and ashamed for even having such reactions in the first place. I can emphatically reassure you that such reactions are universal under the circumstances you find yourself in. Perhaps dealing with how you feel about these feelings can become a focus of your treatment.

When there is serious illness in a family, the family is the patient as well as the family member whose body is affected. Therefore, in your own way, you too are suffering from prostate cancer. It might be worth your while to seek out a support group in addition to your individual therapy to help you manage your overwhelming feelings of distress.


It is important to recognize that no information on this wiki can be considered a specific medical diagnosis, medical treatment, or medical advice. Reading information here does not create a doctor/patient or other professional relationship between you and the answering professional. As always, you should consult with your physicians and counselors regarding new symptoms and any changes that you might make in medications or activities.

Our goal is to get multiple answers for each question so that readers can benefit from a diversity of perspectives. To contribute your answer, click here.

Other Resources

DISCLAIMER: The TMS Wiki is for informational and support purposes only and does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment recommendations. See Full Disclaimer.