Understanding the depth and breadth of The Mindbody Syndrome (TMS)
It is clear to most people that emotions can cause physical reactions in the body. When someone gets embarrassed, their face will turn red. When standing up to speak before a large audience, many people would have physical reactions such as sweaty palms, churning stomach, a more rapid heart rate or a dry mouth. These are physiologic reactions obviously caused by activation of the autonomic nervous system that are reversible and do not indicate that there is a pathological or tissue breakdown condition in the body.
Most people also recognize that they can get a headache or a stomach ache after a stressful day. Therefore pain can also be caused by stress and emotions. These immediate reactions are relatively easy to discern as being connected to stress and emotions. Among people who are afflicted with TMS however, the time lapse between when the stress that is responsible for the symptoms may be years or decades. And the symptoms of TMS can be amazingly varied and severe. Common symptoms of TMS include back and neck pain, headaches, abdominal or pelvic pain, TMJ pain, or widespread pain now known as fibromyalgia. TMS symptoms can also be related to ANS activity such as is the case with IBS and IC. Neurologic symptoms of burning, tingling, itching, and other paresthesias may occur. Generalized symptoms such as fatigue are common. Psychological symptoms such as anxiety, OCD, PTSD, and depression are very common manifestations of TMS. And insomnia is very common as well. How can we understand the great depth and breath of these varied symptoms and how can we figure out what precise events and emotions are the causative factors in the life of an individual with TMS?
After conducting hundreds of detailed interviews with TMS sufferers, it is my firm belief that we can determine what has lead to TMS in the vast majority of patients. However, in order to truly understand these individuals with TMS, it is critical to learn to dig deeply in the history and the minds of our patients.
If we are patient and take the time to listen, patients will lead us to an understanding of the source of their pain and other TMS symptoms. We need to learn how to take these sensitive histories and learn what clues to attend to in order to help patients gain the insight into the key issues they will need to cope with in their lives. Certain patients have such overwhelming histories of childhood abuse or neglect, which when coupled with additional trauma in adulthood, gives an obvious explanation of the emotional sources of TMS. However, in other patients, it is necessary to listen for more subtle clues to explain how and why TMS developed.
I have compiled a number of examples to illustrate the thesis that childhood events create specific emotional memories that when triggered later in life cause the onset of TMS symptoms. Typically, there are two other psychological factors in the development of TMS: One is a strong sense of obligation, high expectations, perfectionism, desire to be good, guilt, low self-esteem, and self-blame. The other is a suppression of lack of awareness of the emotions that are reactions to life stressors or the internal pressures that patients put upon themselves.