“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 parent or caregiver 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 psychologist, who explained everything to me in great detail. But 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 like a college education which was great but not helpful with emoting.
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. Has your brain fooled you into thinking you could do more evil than good by 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.
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 diversion. Thank your brain for caring about you enough to protect you from what it considers a dangerous situation. Thank it for the message. Say something like this:
“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.
Granted, 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.