Dr John E. Sarno: quack or Jedi Master?

This was my first thought upon coming across this man’s work. He had written a book that other’s raved about and told me was the truth and the light. Sounds a bit like the Bible, eh?

At the present time I can only go on my personal experience. A major part of me accepting the TMS theory involved noticing anomalies in my pain whenever I employed Sarno’s mind over matter tactics. Suddenly I would have windows where I became completely pain free and loose, no longer a ball of tension and discomfort. Meditation helped a lot with this. One day I recall being totally fine enjoying my pain free day and whilst sitting on the toilet I experienced an almighty sphincter spasm unlike anything I can remember. Proctalgia fugax* is the term I found that most suitably fits the situation.

Proctalgia fugax involves fleeting rectal pain. This disorder occurs more commonly in women and in people younger than 45 years. Although the exact cause of the pain is not known, many doctors believe spasm of the anal sphincter muscle is the origin of this pain.

Another medical condition that is idiopathic, i.e. no known cause.

What was interesting is that 20 seconds into this episode of pain, I began to recall Sarno’s teaching.

Like Luke Skywalker hearing Obi Wan’s ghostly voice I said into myself, ‘don’t panic, this too shall pass’. Then I began to think about life stressors and how I was going to deal with them at that moment. 10 seconds later the pain was gone. This is highly anecdotal but those who have experienced Sarno’s work will attest to having these little ‘Aha!’ moments. It is as if the pain had revealed itself as the great and powerful Wizard of Oz, the Emperor with no clothes lying naked for the world to see.

My foot pain was a similar experience, as if someone had driven a nail into it and it also became swollen. It was hard for me to put this down to TMS but one experience lead me to that conclusion. I experienced two days of sickness and my foot had been fine. I was really poorly and hadn’t got out of bed the entire time. Eventually my bladder screamed out and as I got up to go to the bathroom I nearly fell, such was the difficulty of walking on that foot. Unbelievable! Over the course of the next few weeks, the pain receded as I employed the techniques and made a point of running and placing weight on the foot.

Conceptualising Pain

I now think of pain in a whole new light. If I stub my toe on a table leg of course I will experience pain immediately and understand the cause.

However, if I develop a nagging pain in any area of the body and no obvious reason for it exists now I know why!

Dr Sarno’s legacy is reclaiming pain from reductionism. Western medicine is fantastic but we can’t see the forest for the trees when it comes to pain. My own conception of how pain should be viewed (at least partially) is that it is a type of sixth sense. When we pour scalding water on our arm it inevitably results in a reflex action (pulling away the limb) to save the skin from damage. Your sense directly inform you that this is not a good idea.

Chronic pain, in my opinion and experience, serves the opposite purpose. It is designed to keep the person preoccupied so as not to recognise the very real fears they have about their personal lives and futures. You are perpetually stuck in fight/flight mode with your body acting as a conduit for your emotional state. Instead of experiencing your own emotional baggage and processing it, the body instead expresses this emotion for you. It’s pretty hard to believe but that’s what happens.

It will come to be viewed as a sixth sense or perhaps as another variation of synaesthesia (people whose unconscious thoughts are expressed as pain). There does seem to be a lot of overlap between this TMS condition and those who are highly sensitive and attuned to the world around them. My major mistake is over consuming of media/news/information in general, my mind and body thus become overwhelmed by it all. It’s important to get away and isolate my thoughts regularly as I can catastrophize quite easily given my extensive past experience.

Everything considered, I feel this quote sums things up quite well.

“The organs weep the tears the eyes refuse to shed” — Sir William Osler, 18th-century physician.

*please do not go self-diagnosing and stay away from the internet/TV as much as possible. Your body will actually take on symptoms via the Nocebo effect.

If you have persistent pain make sure to keep a diary and show to your GP, ask them to assess a potential cause. If no cause is found TMS is almost guaranteed to be the problem.


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