MBS Blog #4 – Psychological aspects of MBS
I have discussed the relationship between the mind and the body in prior blogs. Briefly, it is important to realize that they are essentially one, i.e. there is no separation between the mind and body in the sense that physical stimuli (e.g. an injury) immediately produce changes in our minds (emotions, reactions, etc.) and emotional stimuli (e.g. a scare, a verbal criticism, etc.) immediately produce physical reactions. The relationship between the mind and the body are immediate for survival. It would take too long for thought processes to engage prior to reacting if we happen upon an angry bear. Our survival instincts of an immediate reaction (running, freezing, etc.) are much quicker. William James, the father of psychology, noted that it is not true that first, you see a bear, then your feel fear, and then you run. He reasoned (and we now know he was correct) that you actually see a bear, then you run, and then you feel fear.
Our minds and bodies are constructed (through the process of evolution) to maximize survival. When an animal is frightened, it immediately goes into one of the survival reactions: fight, flight, freeze, or submit (play dead). When we get overwhelmed in our life, our body will react in a way that is designed to help us out of the situation. For example, I saw a woman who had a very difficult childhood with neglect and abuse. Her reaction to this was to look for love and attention whenever and wherever she could find it. She grew up and always attempted to appease others and tended to neglect her own needs. Like many people with MBS, she had a very strong dose of the “shoulds” (as Dr. Sarno often refers to Freud’s superego or conscience). As her life became more complicated and busy, she tried to do more and more for everyone else. Finally, her body reacted by giving her severe migraine headaches and fatigue. These reactions were her body’s way of trying to protect her, i.e. forcing her to rest, to lie down, to stop doing so much for everyone else and to do something for herself. Unfortunately, she there was a great cost to this response, i.e. severe pain and fatigue. I believe it is useful to view the body in this way, as trying to help us, to protect us, rather than as betraying us, which is a common thought that many people with MBS have.