Your Brain: Friend and Foe

Recovered_JPEG_3907“Remember, the purpose of the pain is to divert attention from what’s going on emotionally and to keep you focused on the body.”

~ Dr. John Sarno, The Mind Body Prescription, p. 148

How many of you learned to think about your feelings, talk about them, but God forbid, don’t feel or express them? When shared in childhood, you might have encountered a caregiver or loved one who also struggled with understanding and/or expressing  emotions. Your feelings triggered their feelings, the ones they were avoiding. So they shut you down quickly with a dirty look, sarcastic remark, guilt, shame, misunderstanding, or silence. And your brain said “Enough of this.” And it shut down your emotions, too.

Feelings seem daunting. For many years I saw a brilliant but intellectualized therapist, who explained everything to me in great detail. But again I didn’t learn how to express emotions. I could write a treaty about them but still walled them off. I learned a lot, but it was more intellectualizing.

Expressing emotions is a way of releasing the body’s truth. As you express emotions, that teaches the brain that feelings come and go, explains Alan Gordon, L.C.S.W., a psychotherapist specializing in the treatment of chronic pain and Director of the Pain Psychology Center in California. “Your body is trying desperately to get you to feel, but it doesn’t have the power of speech,” says Gordon.

We’re afraid if we allow our feelings, they will overwhelm us, that we might lose control, go insane, and do great damage to someone or something. Terrified of my anger, I maintained a vision that I would grab someone with whom I was angry and beat them to death. That was one way my brain protected me from expressing anger. It offered a terrifying image to stop the anger dead in its tracks. I certainly didn’t want to beat someone to death even if I felt like it. I suspect your brain has fooled you into thinking you could do more evil than good, expressing negative emotions.

In time and with a different therapeutic approach, I learned how to express  my pent-up emotions in therapy where it was safe. You might need to do the same, although not everyone who has trouble revealing emotions needs therapy. You must decide for yourself.

The brain is a remarkable organ. It’s your friend. It adopts not only scary images but bodily pain to divert attention away from what it considers a dangerous emotion or situation. The brain of mind-body students uses pain to divert your attention away from what is perceived as alleged danger.

Instead of feeling angry, sad, anxious, lonely—whatever emotion feels threatening in the moment—the brain reminds you of pain in the body. Now, you are thinking about your back, knees, shoulder, hips, herniated disks, and so forth. The brain has successfully diverted your attention away from your negative emotions.

Now, you are thinking about your pain, not your emotions. Get it?

The brain, however, is not your enemy (even though it leads you down a useless path at times). It’s trying desperately to be your friend, to keep you safe from what it considers an unsafe situation, away from alarming emotions which could result in a potentially harmful situation. It believes it’s job is to protect you from harm.

For instance, you want to punch your sister-in-law in the face for the cruel comment she just made about the size of your hips and suddenly your hip hurts so much, you can barely walk. Your emotional situation might not be that obvious but you get the idea.

Don’t spend futile time in anger toward your brain for using these techniques of intellectualizing and diversion. Thank your brain for caring about you enough to protect you from what it considers a dangerous situation. Merely thank it for the message.

But then let the brain know that YOU are in charge of your life.

Thank you, brain, for wanting to protect me. Thank you for loving me enough to keep me from danger. But now I can handle these emotions. I don’t need this diversion of pain anymore. I can handle this. Thank you.

Be kind. Be gentle. Some people say they have to speak loudly and aloud to get their brain to hear the command. Some might yell “STOP IT!” when suddenly aware that the brain sends a pain signal to avert a threatening emotion. But whatever way you need to take control, use that method. Don’t let it run wild like an unsupervised, out of control three-year-old.

And then report back to me on this blog what happened to your pain. It most likely will take more than once for this technique to work, but don’t give up. Soon your brain will learn that intellectualizing and diversion tactics no longer work with you. They are unnecessary. You are strong. You are ready to deal with your emotions straight away. That also releases your brain to work on your behalf in other areas of your life.

The next time pain pops up in your body, ask yourself:

What am I not feeling? And then allow yourself to feel it, knowing you are safe.

9 thoughts on “Your Brain: Friend and Foe

  1. I read “The MindBody Prescription” about 6 months ago and refer back to it often. Though I cannot claim to be pain free I have experienced a reduction in pain level for which I have no other explanation other than Dr. Sarno’s book. I have also discovered some collateral benefits. I am more patient with people in general. My relationship with my Spouse has improved. M relationship with my Employer has improved. I am more accepting of the “is” of my life and able to realize what I have than focus on what I don’t. My enlightenment through Mindbody awareness is in it’s infancy but I am curious to see where this all leads.


    1. Bill, I think Sarno’s ideas and other mindbody doctors offer suggestions that give us a feeling of power over our body and circumstances. Nice to hear your comments and that life is better for you using the ideas.


  2. Hi there, I was wondering if you could let me know how Dr. Schubiner’s book differs from John Sarno’s. Just wondering if i should get his, I already have John Sarno’s. Thanks.


    1. Maureen, I bought Dr. Schubiner’s book because I went through his classes. I would say his might have a bit more medical information in it than Dr. Sarno’s. However, Dr. Sarno has several books so I probably can’t speak to all of them. I find all of them helpful. Dr. Schubiner’s is like a workbook so you can do the exercises right in the book itself. That might be one advantage you would enjoy? Good luck.


  3. I’m eternally grateful for this blog post. I haven’t suffered so much from pain as from intense discomfort, severe anxiety, and over-intellectualizing. Now… the symptoms are on their way out. I’m able to express my emotions, not just talk about them.


  4. Great article, but is there any chance the font could be darker please as it’s quite difficult to read.


  5. A great blog post. I believe this is such an important message to share with the world. I do hope the word really becomes common knowledge very soon.

    Thank you,


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