Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Lesson #48: How to be a "Pain Buster"

For years, my good friend and fellow author/blogger, Z Egloff, has sung the praises of Dr. John Sarno and his magical book, Healing Back Pain, which led to the healing of her back pain. Last month, Z blogged about her experience (see: http://lifeinzd.com/ 12/13/11 post). She explained that Sarno's healing philosophy could apply to any number of maladies (back, neck, shoulder, arm or leg pain, headaches/migraines, frequent colds and infections, gastrointestinal trouble, cardiac issues, skin problems, etc) so I decided to check him out. I ended up buying Sarno's more recent book, The Mindbody Prescription: Healing the body, Healing the Mind, which I had the pleasure of reading over the holidays, with surprisingly immediate results.

Let me start by saying that I've always been a firm believer in the mindbody connection---at least in theory. (In the throes of physical suffering, it can sometimes be really difficult to see things for what they are). I'm one of those basically healthy people who has always been plagued by nuisance afflictions, and occasionally more serious health concerns. I could take you on a hypochondriacal-sounding walking tour of my past issues (On your left is shin splints, and up ahead you'll see plantar fasciitis," etc), but suffice it to say that there's virtually always been some distracting physical issue to deal with. They'd come in out of nowhere, and would eventually fade away, only to make way for some new, equally unexplainable and annoying issue. That was just "normal," and I never gave it much thought. That is, until I read Sarno's book.

Dr. Sarno is a traditionally trained Medical Doctor/Professor of Clinical Rehabilitation Medicine, NYU School of Medicine, and  he's been helping patients (and readers like Z) resolve pain issues since the 1970's. (His "cure" rate as of 1998 was around 90%). Unlike many western medical doctors, Sarno was extremely dissatisfied with the poor results he and his colleagues were seeing through conventional approaches, and he set out to expose and effectively cure these chronic pain issues at their roots.

Over years and years of study and observation, Sarno found that much (if not all) of his patients' pain was psychogenic---that is, originating in the mind. He discovered that the brain was responsible for cutting off bloodflow (oxygen) to certain parts of the body, thus creating pain and/or illness. But what makes our brains do this?

What Sarno determined was that deeply painful, repressed emotions were the culprit. It seems that the unconscious mind is so desperate to keep these emotions from leaking into conscious awareness, that it creates a physical disturbance to distract us from what's really going on. (I would add that most addictions, compulsions, obsessions, drama, etc., are also designed to achieve the same objective!) Facing the inner pain can seem too overwhelming.

Is Sarno the first person ever to attribute physical disorders to repressed emotions? Definately not. Sigmund Freud chalked up various maladies to repressed sexual energy, while others have implicated fear (as in "A Course in Miracles") or shame (John Bradshaw). Dr. Sarno holds that repressed rage is the principle cause of most chronic pain issues,  and he's quick to point out that certain personality types are more likely to suffer this sort of disturbance than others. The ironic thing is that it's the "nice" people who are the best candidates for the pain and suffering that come with repressed rage and other emotions.

I have to admit that when I first read the part about rage, I sort of rolled my eyes. As a psychotherapist, while I absolutely validate the repressed emotion theory, I thought Sarno was overdoing it on the anger bit. I saw the culprit as being a more general "yucky emotional stew," or what Sarno also called "psychological poison." But then something interesting happened. When I followed Sarno's advice about dredging up what I might possibly be angry about, I noticed that my malady du jour (hip bursitis) disappeared virtually overnight. Not only that, I started getting little "hello's" from my psyche that validated the repressed anger theory. Very interesting stuff...

I'd like to share more of what I learned, so please join me here next week to continue the discussion. And have a radiantly healthy first week of 2012.