Pain in the Proverbial
Do you believe in a mind body connection? Can it be possible that what you think, and your emotions can cause pain and alignments in the physical body? The recent passing of Doctor John Sarno, who was a pioneer in the psychological treatment of chronic pain has prompted me to bring this issue into your awareness. Dr Sarno wrote several books from 1982 to 2006 promoting the idea that chronic pain is caused by the repression of negative emotions. Though his books and his work won him much popular acclaim he was largely ignored and marginalised by the medical community. This is because the idea of pain being caused psychologically is not broadly accepted in our materially based western medical practice.
I’m sure most people would entertain the idea that there is a degree of mind body connection. After all that is one of the reasons that new drugs are tested against a randomly selected control group who are not given the test drug. A significant percentage of people will get better anyway, sometimes over thirty percent, simply because they are part of the study. Dr Sarno didn’t subject his work to the sort of rigorous testing popular in the western science, because he said his patients got better, so what was the need of further studies? However, a small study of 109 patients who had herniated discs, visible on CT scans, which Dr Sarno treated with his emotional based methods, was undertaken during the 1980s. A three year follow up with these patients found that 88% of them were still pain free.
Dr Sarno’s theory works like this. We experience emotions in life, it is a natural and normal aspect of our experience. Often in life we experience these emotions when something important to us, like our values, are in some way violated. Feeling negative emotions like, anger, sadness, fear, shame, hurt, and guilt are unpleasant and something that we frequently seek to avoid. However, the emotions are there to tell us something, and paying attention to them, and learning from them is what their function really is. Nevertheless, because they are unpleasant when we experience them in our consciousness our response is often not to pay attention to them, or to learn from them, but rather attempt, with our conscious mind, to shove them back down into our unconscious mind, where we think they came from. Now part of the job of our unconscious mind is to repress negative emotions, so that we can get on with our lives, so that initial reaction to shove them back down again isn’t always wrong, as such. However, another role of the unconscious mind is to represent repressed memories, so that we can let go of the negativity and learn something too. Often times when the unconscious chooses to represent a repressed memory our conscious mind will object “Oh I thought I had dealt with that” and the emotion gets shoved back down again. If this cycle continues the unconscious mind then gets a little more imaginative, and creates pain so that the conscious mind has to pay attention to the emotions. Not that it means that the conscious will do so, if it doesn’t the individual is left with chronic, often debilitating, pain. The solution is to bring the emotion into awareness, learn from it and let it go. One of the ways of letting that pain go is to use Time Line Therapy™, which we teach on our NLP Practitioner training. This is a sure way of letting go of negative emotions from the past.
For me mind-body connection is about recognising that you have both. If you have pain, you do need to seek professional medical advice and ensure that there is nothing physically amiss. If, and only if your doctor says that there is nothing physically wrong with you, then it is appropriate to explore any psychological causes of physiological problems. An adherence to just one model, scientific or ‘new age’ without embracing the benefits of the other is not a sensible way forward. Cultivate a healthy mind which includes experiencing negative emotions, learning from them and letting them go, and if you are in pain, first of all go and see your doctor.
“You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger.” Buddha