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Alex B. How do I feel my feelings?

Discussion in 'Ask a TMS Therapist' started by Guest, Jan 27, 2015.

  1. Guest

    Guest Guest

    This question was submitted via our Ask a TMS Therapist program. To submit your question, click here.

    Hello - can anyone help please? If I have identified an event in the past, which I think may be contributing to current pain (migraine), but when I recall the event I actually don't feel anything, even though I think it is a sad, traumatic, unhappy event and that I should surely feel sad, scared, angry etc. How do I know what I am feeling or if I feel nothing, how do I make use of this intellectual connection between the event and current pain?

    Many thanks.
  2. Alex Bloom LCSW

    Alex Bloom LCSW TMS Therapist

    Hi there, thanks for the question.

    The experience you are describing is very common within the TMS community. What often happens is that in doing reading and investigation of TMS people will come to understand that they need to "feel their emotions". So naturally, being TMSers, they take an analytical, systematic approach just as it sounds like you are. You have reflected and thought about things in your past that could be good candidates for powerful emotions and you have come up with this incident. This is a good start. Unfortunately, you are using the same approach to this "task" that got you in this mess in the first place. You are approaching your emotional life as though it were a problem to be solved, and you want to hear specific steps to take that will lead you to relief. This is a very understandable perspective, as of course you want to be out of pain, but as I said, this is the kind of approach that gets you in trouble in the first place. From this perspective, emotions are means to an end, a hurdle to overcome and deal with on the road to recovery. The problem here is that from this point of view, you are engaging with your emotions not as a way to support yourself and enrich your life, but rather in service to "fixing" your pain. The pain is still calling the shots!

    We don't want the pain to be the center of your focus. The pain is nothing more than a side-show, your unconscious mind's way of keeping you distracted from the emotions. So what to do? Of course I can't tell you how to feel. Many people that I work with ask me to tell them how to feel their emotions, concerned that they simply don't know how to do it. So you're in good company. The problem is that no one can tell you how to feel, you have to decide to do it yourself, you have to decide to take an open and honest look at what is going on inside and open yourself to the experience. The good news is that everyone is born knowing how to feel. It's a natural part of being human. The problem is that many of us learn how to repress our emotions because at some point it can be a means of protecting ourselves. This self-protective pattern then gets stuck and eventually, long past its usefulness, begins to cause suffering, in your case manifesting as TMS. The emotions cause so much distress that your unconscious mind has decided that it is better off distracting you with a migraine. All this is to say that if you suffered a traumatic event and you think that you have no emotions around it, you almost certainly do but they are being repressed. Your task, which is admittedly challenging, is to decide firmly that it is your will to allow yourself to get in touch with and to feel these emotions. Now this will require patience and practice; after all, you have been spending a long time doing the exact opposite. But there is not a shred of doubt in my mind that you can do it. I have seen many, many, many people do so who have very much doubted their capacity.

    I hope this is helpful.

    Any advice or information provided here does not and is not intended to be and should not be taken to constitute specific professional or psychological advice given to any group or individual. This general advice is provided with the guidance that any person who believes that they may be suffering from any medical, psychological, or mindbody condition should seek professional advice from a qualified, registered/licensed physician and/or psychotherapist who has the opportunity to meet with the patient, take a history, possibly examine the patient, review medical and/or mental health records, and provide specific advice and/or treatment based on their experience diagnosing and treating that condition or range of conditions. No general advice provided here should be taken to replace or in any way contradict advice provided by a qualified, registered/licensed physician and/or psychotherapist who has the opportunity to meet with the patient, take a history, possibly examine the patient, review medical and/or mental health records, and provide specific advice and/or treatment based on their experience diagnosing and treating that condition or range of conditions.

    The general advice and information provided in this format is for informational purposes only and cannot serve as a way to screen for, identify, or diagnose depression, anxiety, or other psychological conditions. If you feel you may be suffering from any of these conditions please contact a licensed mental health practitioner for an in-person consultation.

    Questions may be edited for brevity and/or readability.

  3. North Star

    North Star Beloved Grand Eagle

    What a great question, Guest. You brought up some issues in my mind that are also a "dead spot" emotionally.

    Alex, your reply was very helpful and helped me to see how repression is so stealthy. I never even thought of those areas as being repressed…just dead. Like I read an account from someone else's life.

    I remember being congratulated from some family members over how well I weathered some of the trauma I experienced growing up. Dad called it "wisdom beyond my years." Ha. I think it's called repression. 12-year-olds having wisdom beyond their years should be a red flag. But in our alcoholic home, those of us in co-dependent roles just sojourned on.

    Thank you for sharing your insight and expertise, Alex.
  4. Andy Bayliss

    Andy Bayliss TMS Coach & Beloved Grand Eagle

    Hi Guest, Alex, and North Star,

    This is a great discussion and it goes to the heart of "how much do I have to feel?" Thanks Alex for your response, especially about the utilitarian outlook which can cloud real feeling! What I hear you saying is that parts of us really want to be felt, regardless of the outcome about pain. That is my experience too.

    I wanted to add another piece that I was taught and use: Feel into the "nothing there." Explore the "dead spot" gently, allowing yourself to go there as much as you can (with compassion) tolerate. Without believing there "should be more feeling!"

    I have seen so many times that simply exploring numbness or distance or "blank feelings" reveals the next layer of feeling. By being exactly where we are, there is a natural unfoldment. Also, being with the numbness is a gentle way of self intimacy in itself, regardless of outcome.

    Andy B.
  5. balto

    balto Beloved Grand Eagle

    I think if that event in the past didn't create any feeling for you then that event probably no longer able to create any negative emotion. Your body translate any negative and traumatic events as a sign of danger. Negative emotion only arise if you still give those events any weight. Mom and dad divorced, so what, it was 30 years ago for god sake. Being bullied back in high school, so what, that kid was stupid and he was raised by an addict and it was 20 years ago.... those event are not important to you now. you already experienced it, processed it, and move on. It can only hurt you if you keep dwelling on it. Don't blame your back pain on being bullied 20 years ago. Look at the present, look at what happen recently and right now. Are you under any stress, any obligation, any responsibility, any fear about the future, any fear for your health ?..... When your body is under chronic stress, chronic fear and worry... for a long time, bam, tms can appear.
    If we keep blaming tms on what happened in our past then those people who live through the holocaust, those that live in the slump of India, those that live in North Korea, Somalia, ... will all be walking around with back pain our paralyze from tms ills.
    Your past can only hurt you if you keep dwelling on it or re living it.
  6. njoy

    njoy aka Bugsy

    Alex, I liked the point you made that "Your task, which is admittedly challenging, is to decide firmly that it is your will to allow yourself to get in touch with and to feel these emotions. Now this will require patience and practice; after all, you have been spending a long time doing the exact opposite."

    I thank you and my ISTDP therapist thanks you for the great pep talk!

    Balto, I think that you are right that TMS is self-indulgent (mayhe you weren't saying that but I'm saying it!) and might not exist for people with real trouble like you described. But I am not criticizing because we live in incredibly stressful times and feel there is very little we can do about that fact. No wonder our unconscious mind distracts us from our feelings about our past, the mess the world is in, and our future.

    I have believed for a long time that our entire civilization is collapsing. Most people prefer to disagree. I don't self-identify as a prepper but I've been expecting trouble (and preparing for it) for a long time. Now, I'm too old to give a hoot but am pleased to be able to pass on some of the means of survival to my grandchildren if they are interested. One, at least, may have the capacity to take his nose out of his games and adapt if he chooses. Will he? I have no idea but I've done what I can.

    This post probably seems grim but sometimes common sense really is a better way than indulging in fantasy. I expect that on the day before the Nazis entered Warsaw, a lot of people had severe TMS and Gabor Maté says the doctor told his mother, "All the Jewish babies are crying." A few people even had the sense to do something about it but most waited until it was too late.
    Last edited: Feb 6, 2015
  7. njoy

    njoy aka Bugsy

    @Alex Bloom: I read your post to my husband (a mystic) who said, "Emotions are knowledge (joy and understanding) of the heart being repressed. The mind wants control but it is not up to the task. The gifts come to the unconscious and must be tested to be manifested. Avoiding the testing causes anxiety and TMS. The tests can't be stopped, the gifts (attained through contemplation) must come out. "

    Add-on: Viewing the tests as the problem is the same as medicating the symptoms without treating the disease. The tests are not the problem, they are the solution.

    To clarify: Tests are what happens to us in this world. Without them, there's no growth.
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2015
  8. spoonhead

    spoonhead New Member

    @balto: I'm sorry, but I have to disagree with you. I remember Sarno specifically saying that there's no such thing as time in the unconscious. Here's the quote from The Divided Mind: Anger, hurt, emotional pain, and sadness generated in childhood will stay with you all your life because there is no such thing as time in the unconscious. Feelings experienced in the unconscious at any time in a person's life, including childhood, are permanent. Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse will leave large amounts of pain and sadness. But not receiving adequate emotional support, enough warmth and love will also result in anger, sorrow and pain, maybe never felt as a child, but always there in unconscious. Such things as excessive discipline or unreasonable expectations will also leave emotional marks. Anything that prevents a child from being a child falls into the category and should be put on your list.
    NNava, Angela8888, Laudisco and 2 others like this.
  9. njoy

    njoy aka Bugsy

    There's a balance, here. There may be times when doing your best to put pain behind you makes sense. For example, if I hadn't done that as a teenager and become audacious instead of the total fraidy-cat kid I was, I would not have had much of a life. Later, I certainly had to deal with the bad memories and the unconscious decisions but I don't think I regret putting them aside for a few years! It might have been a lot better for my kids, though, if I'd found good help in my twenties.
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2015
  10. EricFeelsThisWay

    EricFeelsThisWay Peer Supporter

    In my experience, emotions from the past will bother you and affect you until you process them fully. Trauma is not defined by what occurred externally but rather the internal response. What is traumatic, or at least emotionally distressing, to one person might not be to another person. It's easy to rationalize the pain and invalidate your own experience, saying "It wasn't that bad" or "Other people had it a lot worse." But if you're still getting symptoms like anxiety, anger problems, addiction, or chronic pain, then something is still bothering you. Current life stressors only serve to remind you of the repressed emotions from years ago, when you were helpless. A busy day at work or a long line at the post office shouldn't cause you to become symptomatic, but chances are they are mini "reminders" of much larger life events that brought out very intense feelings of anger, helplessness, guilt, or sadness.
  11. balto

    balto Beloved Grand Eagle

    I don't see how one can go back and try to identify which "emotion from the past" that were causing this tms symptom one is having right now from thousand and thousand of "emotions from the past". How do we know which one. After years of observing and learning about tms/anxiety, I have never seen anyone ever get rid of tms symptoms by identify which emotion from the past that bother them then "process" it "fully". By doing that, they usually get worse, not better. A few get better have declared they get better because they journal and "realized" it was the divorce of their parent or the lost of a love one to cancer were the cause. I believe they just got lucky. They got better not because they found and "process" the emotion. They got better because they believe doctor Sarno and not longer focus on structural cause, they no longer "fear" their symptoms because Sarno said tms is benign and reversible.
    Chronic stress, traumatic emotion is the trigger for tms/anxiety. Fear of the symptoms is what keep the symptoms alive. Without fear the symptoms will disappear. 99% of doctor Sarno's patient got rid of their tms/anxiety symptoms by loosing their fear of the symptoms. NOT by identify "emotion from the past" and "process it fully".
    No one can ever get rid of tms/anxiety without getting rid of their fear of they symptom. NO ONE EVER.
    3apples55, Sylvia.., Cara and 2 others like this.
  12. mncjl123

    mncjl123 Peer Supporter

    When expressing how I am feeling now, or what I am feeling…and I can't do it to the person. ie…my significant other, my mother, my sister because it will cause great conflict, is it the same as just expressing it out loud to yourself? Is this feeling the feeling or emotion of anger, sadness, disgust, sadness?
    KRHW likes this.
  13. TG957

    TG957 Beloved Grand Eagle

    Alex, this is right on money! Ever since I learned about TMS from Dr. Sarno's book, I have been trying to get in touch with my emotions. Unfortunately, my response to all the challenges of life had been to push my feelings aside and plow my way through, with migraines, chronic fatigue, depression, anxiety, back pain, neck and shoulder pain being my life-long companions. Result? Pain there, emotions are gone, including joy, excitement, pleasure.... I often "tell" myself how to feel, knowing that in the past I used to feel this and that on a similar occasion. I used to be an emotional person - but I am feeling emotionally flat, even though people tell me that I am a warm person. They may feel the warmth of my personality - but I don't. Stuck and can't figure out what to do.
    cathcnz and honey badger like this.
  14. CandyLu

    CandyLu New Member

    You may never figure out what causes pain. I just except that something happened and it caused my tms. I tell myself everyday that it's tms and try not to get down with emotions. I tell myself let the blood flow and breathe and let the oxygen flow. I stop concentrating on my body period. Go outside. Stop thinking so much. Thinking and worrying and fearing is causing all of this. Let it all go. Life is too short to hurt. Find some true joy think about what makes you really happy and concentrate on that. Even if it just gets you through the moment. For me it's when my daughter really hugs me. Keep on. You're healing. Just remember that's why this is happening because you're healing. The body is scared of the new.
    Candy(I am healing too)
    Sylvia.., Coffeeplease, AntB and 2 others like this.
  15. honey badger

    honey badger Peer Supporter

    Thank you for this Andy. No matter what I read, life often ends up bringing me back to exactly what you're saying: being with yourself where you're at. It sounds simple and trite, but it is so soothing and helpful. I stop "trying" and stop chasing that next goal or hurdle that I must overcome. It is a door to acceptance of the moment and acceptance of who/where we are. And as TMSers, we don't often do that; we're used to pushing ourselves when we don't even realize it. Your post reminded me of being with myself and that that alone suffices, and I thank you very much for it!
  16. Andy Bayliss

    Andy Bayliss TMS Coach & Beloved Grand Eagle

    Hi honey badger,

    I am glad my post is helpful to you. I can relate to your words as well.

    We tend to keep believing that the goodness we want is in the future, or "out there," or will come to us if only we can be, or feel, certain (conditioned) ways. "Being myself" as you say, is actually very available, deeply satisfying. It seems we need to keep reminding ourselves of this. Thank you.

    My teacher Elias Amidon describes that we can be "tender-hearted and ordinary." I guess that's not so hard!

    Andy B.
  17. honey badger

    honey badger Peer Supporter

    "Tender-hearted and ordinary" sounds very doable. I agree with you! For me it goes back to the old saying, "wanting what you have" instead of "having what you want." Striving to have something outside of ourselves leaves us with a constant feeling of deficit -- we just don't have, and feel we need to keep pursuing something. But if I were to want what I have, and were happy with it, boy, that would be just great. I like the idea of being happy with "ordinary". I'm always attracted to that when I see stories of people, whether on TV or other, who may have "regular" lives and are perfectly content with themselves. I aspire to be there mentally. Totally agree with you.
  18. Rainbowdash

    Rainbowdash Peer Supporter

    For me, the feeling comes after I have journaled and thought about an event and placed myself back in that event. It is fairly easy because traumatic incidents always caused flashbacks for me, so I'd be instantly transported into that situation. And then I wait. I focus for a few seconds on my body, where the emotion is stuck and then boom, the floodgates open. The rage or the sadness I feel is overwhelming and I get into hysterical sobs, all the while, my brain thinks "I don't feel anything. Why am I reacting this way". Then I stop the brain and let it watch and that's when I can truly feel the pain from the incident. I watch myself feel the pain that I made myself repress all those years ago and after the hysteria subsides, I'm able to reframe it gently, with kindness. For me, the blankness/numbness in the mind and the body reacting shows that I'm feeling something. There are no words to describe it. Its just a feeling
    Coffeeplease, Durga and honey badger like this.
  19. vvill

    vvill New Member

    Alex, thank you so much. This is really helpful and I'm glad I read it.
  20. Celestialstar

    Celestialstar New Member

    I think so. I went to therapy over a medical event that happened. I found that I was also upset about an event from my childhood, one with a lot of 'circumstances' that any discussion around would cause great conflict today. When I verbalized it to the therapist, I just cried. But it was not until I began writing about it, with no one else to hear me, that I found the anger that I intellectually suspected was there but could never really connect with. I wrote a letter to the persons involved (one each) and wrote the circumstances AND how it felt. It was hard at first but I was surprised at how I could feel the emotion when I removed all of the barriers- worry about what the therapist might thing, worry about speaking horribly of someone aloud.... I don't consider myself censored but we are all conditioned to being nice and doing what's right, which can equate to repression I think when 'nice' and 'right' aren't necessarily fair.
    NNava likes this.

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