Having a ‘Painful’ Personality

Please note the title is not about those really annoying people you can’t stand to be around(although if you suffer chronic pain it can make you incredibly irritable and not that much fun to spend time with).

Tension Myoneural Syndrome is purported to be behind most chronic pain conditions.

Think of it like a maladapted stress response. Thoughts in our minds are enough to trigger the fight or flight response that is usually reserved for fighting off a physical threat or fleeing from it. With the countless things that many of us see as required for modern living, we can end up creating innumerable fictitious threats in our own minds. As an example think of hearing of a news story in which two people have died in a car crash in a certain area of town. Just that morning you had been speaking to two friends who said they had planned to go shopping in the same area. Straight away the instinct would be to worry for the safety of your two friends. Some people in these types of situations can let their imaginations run wild and are already thinking of what type of wreath to get for the funeral. A short time later both friends turn up and all is well with the world again.

For some people, relationships with family, friends and colleagues can take on this dimension where imagined scenarios/intentions/deeds are concocted by the mind leading to all sorts of difficulties. A friend could comment on a negative aspect of your new partner and instead of enjoying their company you can end up fixating on the flaw that was revealed to you by your friend. We have all experienced this phenomenon to a greater or lesser extent.

The problem becomes amplified when the person doing the thinking is a perfectionist, people pleaser who has low self-esteem and cares too much about others. This is a vastly simplified descriptive phrase but helpful nonetheless.

Essentially they are worrying about everyone else without thinking of themselves and their own needs,wants or desires. A truly toxic recipe. Over time this becomes ingrained and could even be the cause of chronic pain in some people. An important aspect to also consider is the role of the Unconscious mind. The Unconscious is illogical, irrational and has no sense of time. Something that was not fully resolved at the time is usually compartmentalised away for future reference. Dr John Sarno’s theory states that the pain begins in order to keep powerful emotions generated by the person at bay as a sort of ”campaign of disinformation” carried out by the brain. The person will focus on the pain(as is the brains intention) and continue fixating in order to distract away from things they really don’t want to think about. This is yet to be validated by evidence based medicine but from personal experience I can attest to some of the incredible developments in my life since I became aware of the extent of the mindbody connection.

These patterns are learned in childhood and the personality traits are not all bad. In fact, many of the people who have experienced Tension Myoneural Syndrome have had incredibly successful careers or achieved great feats in life. See here.

It should be pointed out that Myers-Briggs and Enneagram personality testing is not an exact science but useful in figuring out what type of personality category you fit into. Dr Sarno noticed that patients he was treating with chronic pain all seemed to be polite, eager to please and very driven. This observation led to him entertaining the idea that perhaps these traits generated such internal stress/tension that the body somehow created pain as either a warning or distraction. One other author coined the term ‘Autonomic Overload Syndrome’ which gives you an idea but I’m not sure if that term is right either.

His Freudian interpretation dealt with Id, Ego and SuperEgo was influenced by being educated in the 1950s, a time when psychosomatic medicine and the role of the mind in health was more widely acknowledged. Conditions like Neurasthenia aka Americanitis was a popular diagnosis in the late 19th century and early 20th century. When Biomedical techniques progressed in the 60s and 70s then many illness ascribed to Psychosomatic causes were found to have a pathological basis. They threw the baby out with the bathwater and have been doing it ever since.

“In the 110 years of its existence fibromyalgia evolved from a regional pain disorder to a multiple symptom disorder that was indistinguishable in most respects from neurasthenia, a disorder of the 19th century that was abandoned in the 1930s with the recognition that it was a psychological illness.

Many doctors think Fibromyalgia is at least partially psychologically based and there is evidence to suggest a strong correlation of trauma and onset of the condition. There is evidence to show the condition is real and activating pain receptors in the brain. The insinuation therefore that it is ”all in your head” is deeply offensive to someone in chronic pain and both sides of the argument are united under the Tension Myoneural Syndrome umbrella. It is Physical AND Psychological.

This is so important to understand and why some types of people develop these conditions. The pain and muscular spasms/symptoms are totally real and localised in the tissues.

Steve Ozanich in his book, The Great Pain deception called it the ‘Type T personality’, a blending of Type A and Type B characteristics. His book is the Bible of TMS and highly recommended to people who have already read several books on the subject. Another must read is ‘Pathways to Pain relief’ , a book written by two Psychologists who worked with Dr Sarno and his patients for many years. Their insights are invaluable in order to gain a deeper understanding of what TMS is and how to recover from it. Here is a website set up to promote the book and it provides a helpful introduction to both authors. It is worth noting both are highly sought after speakers within the Psychoanalytic and Somatic realms.

These are some of the personality traits to look out for(bear in mind everyone is affected by Mindbody symptoms but these people seem to have the most extreme manifestations).

  1. Perfectionism
  2. People Pleasing
  3. Very driven to achieve
  4. Low Self Esteem
  5. Stoical(prone to hold in emotions)

The TMS wiki site develops these further here. This is a general guide and it is important not to get too caught up with it as I and many others didn’t initially identify with many of these traits.

Remember that due to these personality traits powerful emotions are being generated in the Unconscious mind and the Conscious mind simply cannot deal with these emotions. The brain then activates neural pathways in order to have the individual fixate on an ‘external’ stimuli resulting in the emotional issue remaining buried.

In essence the body/brain is translating the pain felt in the Unconscious mind into physical symptoms because the person feels unable to fully express these powerful emotions.

The body is so fed up with the person behaving in these ways that it calls a halt to proceedings through the creation of muscle spasms and severe pain. Utterly bizarre, but from what I understand it is an accurate depiction of the underlying mechanism of this disorder.

In fact , calling it a disorder is unfair. It is part and parcel of the human condition and something that has been forgotten down through the years. In 100 years we will probably look back and wonder how we had become so disconnected from this simple truth.

Do you have a ‘painful’ personality?

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