The sound of pulsing rhytm. The secret of EMDR?

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Right now I am writing an article for my specialization. I want to see if EMDR leads to better results on neuropsychological tests and will have to dive into the theory of how EMDR works to see if my gut feeling can be right. Off course, my article will just touch upon the issue, but it will give me some ideas for research I can do in the future (I realize how much I want to know, and if I can`t find the answers in the literature, research can be done). Some ideas have already manifested themselves as I have read through books and articles, or as I simply have lived my life and noticed what happens around me.EM

Right now, I am in bed, satisfied after a good day, when one of those ideas lit up like a bonfire: What if there is a connection between EMDR, synchronity and OCD? I must explain a bit further, if this shall be meaningful at all. First of all, I recommend to read a bit about EMDR for yourself if you like (EMDR Institute) .and maybe this about Synchronicity .

My own history with EMDR:
“But sometimes, unexpectedly, grief pounded over me in waves that left me gasping; and when the waves washed back, I found myself looking out over a brackish wreck which was illumined in a light so lucid, so heartsick and empty, that I could hardly remember that the world had ever been anything but dead.”
― Donna TarttThe Goldfinch
It was a coincidence that I started to take EMDR-courses that eventually led to a certificate as an EMDR-practitioner in Sogn og Fjordane. I started to use it quite early, and had to try it on 25 patients, where one should be videotaped and shown to a supervisior, before I got the certificate. I have tried it on more than that, but I still remember the first patient because it really worked. Pieces of memories that were forgotten, came back, and I didn`t say a word! The good thing about EMDR is that you interfere little. What ever comes up, is okay, and you seldom have to say “you`r okay today”, because the patient feels this on their own.
At the same time as I trained for my certificate, I read and wrote a lot. I was very inspired by  synthetic order`s blog, who writes about how we can use the unconscious to find important messages about any subject we need. I learnt to just listen to my intuition, by what I read, listened to, and felt. The theory said the answers would be there, and work themselves out, because our neurons collect a lot of information that just need to be bound together. This made sense, and when I learnt more about EMDR, it felt like one version of this theory. It felt like EMDR does exactly what synthetic order said: Bind all the pieces of information together in a meaningful way.
I have now used EMDR two years, and as I have read and thought, questions have started to manifest themselves. What is it that makes EMDR effective? Some theories point to the fact that using our working memory (when we follow movements of the finger back and forth) at the same time as we think about traumatic material, gives less Space to the unpleasant images, thereby reducing their vividness. Some theories have tried to explain it by looking at how the two hemispheres interact. What I have thought about, is if other movements have the same effect as watching fingers go back and forth. For example: Why is it that the Ocean calms us? Why can we sometimes be transfixed when we watch something that repeats itself? If we go back to the fact that Our brain needs to relax and tune out now and then, could it be that everything that pulses in a steady rhythm, calms the brain? Babies in the cradle get sleepy when they are rocked back and forth, it soothes them. If we would watch birds flying around and around, this might soothe us too. For some People repetition is necessary: Like the OCD-patient who must Wash themselves again and again. Could it be that their nervous system has a “loop” that they can`t get out of?  Might tradition come from this same need? We have to repeat certain Things to soothe our brains? What about autism, where a lot of repetition is the norm?
Following the fingers, back and forth
This is just thoughts, and like most thoughts they are just that. But I like to think about issues like these, to see Connections between bits of information. I don`t know if any of this makes sense, but I do know that EMDR Works, and that there still is lots of Research that needs to be done before we know exactly how it Works. If somebody in here has experiences Our thoughts about repetition and rhythm, let me know!

Healthy, happy, whole: Self Care Guilt

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Self Care Guilt


What is this thing that happens to me when I do something nice for myself?  This immediate pang of guilt.  Where on earth does this come from?  Why does it happen every time?  Either in a feeling of remorse for doing something nice for myself, or a feeling of guilt because I have spent an amount of money or time doing something that my brain has labeled frivolous.

Writing right now falls into that category.  Writing is something that makes me feel so good.  It’s like a brain massage getting out all the kinks.  It smooths my thought process and relaxes me.  Part of me knows that I’m doing the right thing by taking care of myself.  It’s the part of me that is great with kids, the super motherly part, and the therapist side of me.  And then there’s the other part.  The logical side that says “it’s too much” and “what a waste”.

I first started carving time out for myself in college.  Back then it was more about morphing into a super-tan version of myself.  I would spray tan once a week, get my nails filled regularly, and have platinum highlights painted to hide any hint of natural color.  I have to be honest with you.  While I felt “beautiful” because I matched all the other girls in my sorority, the inside of me felt so ugly.  Plus, those “beauty” treatments were really costly and they weren’t even that fun.  The nail salon smelled so bad and some of the skin picking and nail filing actually felt like torture more than relaxation.  Getting spray tanned, well, we’ve all seen that episode of Friends where Ross gets spray tanned (if not, here it is for you  I was an orange skinned, blond haired girl.

My self care methods have changed a lot since college.  I still get my hair dyed, but its a nice red color that looks natural with my light skin, and I paint my own nails as needed.  For me, self care now looks like trips to the acupuncturist, making sure I’m eating right, exercising, painting, writing, reading, taking breaks to do nothing, petting my dog.  Basically any activity that fill me with life on the inside.

But why do I still feel guilty after doing things that are nice for myself?

When I go to the acupuncturist I think that I’m wasting money even though I feel like I’m walking on clouds after.  When I read a novel I think that I should be reading for school.  When I’m writing a blog post for fun I feel like I should be working on my homework assignments.  When I pet the dog I think I should be cleaning.  When I workout, well working out some times feels like hell, so it’s punishing enough to not feel like self care when I’m doing it.  It’s so extreme that I don’t let myself do easy exercise like yoga or light walking hardly ever.  Even though those activities make my soul feel happy, I choose boot camp because it is the more practical option.  Therapy is the same way.  I feel like it is emotionally intense enough to not feel like self care, but calling a friend to talk about my problems feels like I’m putting a burden on them.  What’s up with that?

When this all occurred to me today I prayed about it immediately.  I asked God to break the pattern in my family of women who have a really hard time being nice to themselves.  I think that it worked.  Here’s what I’m going to need to do: I’m going to need to love myself as much and as often as I can.  Not in a self-obsessed way because, let’s be honest, I don’t think I could ever get to that point.  Rather, I need to fill my week with activities that make me feel really good.  They don’t have to be costly or time consuming to feel great either.  I can soak my feet in some mineral water, roller skate around the block, take a yoga class or do some gentle yoga at home, ask a friend to listen to me for ten minutes, meditate, write fiction, play a game, buy a plant, get myself a shirt, buys myself some flowers, or paint.  I think it’s about fitting these things into life as much as possible and seeing them as medicine my soul needs.

The narcissus in all of us

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The Narcissus in All of Us

Reflections on the self, personality, and what makes you, “you.”

The occupation with the highest suicide rate

Doctors committing suicide at high rates

For many years now, physicians have had the highest suicide rate compared to people in any other line of work. Is this surprising? Does this happen because doctors are continually exposed to other people’s problems? Because of something about a physician’s lifestyle? Looking at these suicides more closely provides some answers.

To begin with, their methods of suicide follow a different pattern than those of the average person: physicians are far more likely to commit suicide by overdosing on medication (as opposed to, say, using a gun). So part of the reason for doctors’ high suicide rate is their easy access to powerful, very lethal drugs. Furthermore, doctors know better than anyone which types of medication to take and what dosages to take them in to get the job done. Hence, physicians are more successful in their suicide attempts than other people.

A more unexpected finding concerning physician suicides is that there’s no difference in the rates between male and female doctors. This is surprising because in the general population, men commit suicide at much higher rates than women. For example, in the United States, men commit suicide atnearly 4 times the rate of women, but women constitute about half of all physician suicides.

Several explanations have been proposed for the high rate among female doctors. First, while being a physician can be stressful for anyone, it may conflict with the life goals of women more than men. Given that women, on average, tend to place more value on spending time with family, friends, and engaging in other social activities, the amount of hours physicians work takes away from all these things. For example, the long hours make it more difficult to maintain stable relationships, to have children, and to be a parent. Women may be more negatively affected by the social isolation than men.

Another stressor for women is that, like in many male-dominated fields, female physicians are probably exposed to greater levels of sexual harassment than male physicians. This may not be a problem for doctors who have their own practice, but could be for those who work at large hospitals.

Unfortunately, male and female doctors who are suicidal encounter several obstacles to getting effective treatment for these problems. One issue is the stigma associated with these symptoms. Suicide and depression are already stigmatized within the general population, but this stigma is even stronger if you’re a doctor, a person who is expected to be physically and mentally healthy. Thus, doctors are probably reluctant to seek treatment for suicidal tendencies, because doing so would be bad for their reputation and bad for business, should word get around. (Ask yourself, would you continue to get treated by a doctor who you knew to be suicidal?)

For doctors who do seek help, the quality of treatment they get is often not as good as it should be. Therapists who treat physicians may assume that their patients know how to take care of themselves, being that they’re doctors, so the therapy tends to be more hands-off and less helpful. Suicidal physicians, in response to these difficulties in getting help, may thus turn to self-medicating with alcohol or prescription drugs, increasing their risks of drug addiction and a further downward spiral.

In sum, there are several reasons for the higher suicide rates of physicians: greater stress, social isolation, access to powerful drugs, barriers to getting treatment — and especially for women — greater role conflict and sexual harassment.

Having said all this, here’s one more fact: physicians live longer and are generally healthier than people in most other professions. Even if you include physicians who commit suicide or suffer from depression, life expectancy and well-being are still very high amongst doctors. But how can this be if they also have such high suicide rates?

Keep in mind that only about 1-2% of the population dies by suicide, and perhaps (this is just an estimate) 2-4% of doctors. But doctors who don’tfall into this minority tend to have very healthy habits: they exercise more, eat better, smoke less, earn more money, and receive better medical care than the average person. Thus, although there is definitely an elevated suicide risk for physicians, the vast majority of physicians are not suicidal and actually do things that lead to healthier and longer lives.

Their higher suicide levels make sense when you consider that, as in other professions that demand long hours and involve a great deal of responsibility, there are more potential rewards but a greater risk ofburnout.

(This post was co-authored by Josh Foster.)

The sound of coming back

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It’s so good to be back.

After several weeks with stress, sore throat, antibiotics on trains & planes, work and family gatherings, my enthusiasm and initiative to fight for others and to create something new, has returned. Not that I haven’t done any creating, I have! But it’s been more in the ‘I know I normally like this’ mode of everyday life, where tasks must be done and accomplished. I’ve had some setbacks that literally has zapped away my energy, like a cancelled meeting because I hadn’t talked it through enough with some people, and having to leave early from the last dissociation course with Nijenhuis to not make more people sick with my mysterious virus that just don’t want to raise the flag. People have already gotten a throat infection like me, so I try not to breathe into everyone’s faces, or at least warn them if they say ‘Ah, no problem! My immune system handles anything! So thought I, but I must admit this infection has been an impressive challenge. I have four days left of my antibiotic-trip, and this time I won’t quit; No matter if I actually GET more sick from them (probably autoimmune reactions or something, but it has been milder then the last time). I have managed to go to the gym and been at work every day, the only thing affected is others ears when I sneeze or cough, and my enthusiasm for doing something important. To have it back is like seeing a long lost friend, so I welcome it cheerily and hope it will follow me into the dream world and the weekend.

How have my readers been the last weeks? Crossing my fingers and hope it’s been mostly good! If not, maybe you’ve learnt something new and are ready for new challenges?

Good night from wonderful Norway


Am I even here?

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we/me do not exist in the eyes of many and it hurts


This post has sat in drafts since July and we’re really missing blogging but can’t come up with words to write a new post

**Trigger Warning-Descriptions of Self injury**

Why is D.I.D a controversial diagnosis???

Why aren’t diabetes or asthma controversial?

In the area of the UK I live in, it is impossible to find an NHS psychiatrist whobelieves in D.I.D or other Dissociative Disorders. Eh? Believes in? It is not a doctors job to believe in a symptom / illness, surely?
Isn’t it their job to asses symptoms and use their findings to make a diagnosis before offering appropriate treatment?

I mean, imagine your Dr doesn’t believe in diabetes, or asthma. Then, imagine you are hypoglycaemic or in the midst of an asthma attack and the medical professionals there to help tell you they don’t believe in the symptoms you are displaying.
Is a diabetic or asthmatic meant to just curl up and die in the corner?

This pi**es us off so much.

To have had to pay privately to be assessed and diagnosed, to be unable to rely on services our taxes pay for in order to be supported, to look online for information and find “controversy” and D.I.D intertwined amongst the “D.I.D does not exist” in all search engines.

Yes, there are people who are wrongly diagnosed with D.I.D. In my view, many with D.I.D are incorrectly diagnosed with various other disorders and made to endure ‘help’ that is damaging.

When diagnosed with D.I.D, it is down to the individual (you know what I mean, hopefully) to research terms like attachment theory, structural dissociation, and so much more.
It is down to that individual to track down a therapist who is willing to a)believe in D.I.D b)be prepared to work with a D.I.D client for years.

I don’t know of anywhere that is available in the UK on the NHS. I know that where I live there is absolutely no such support available.

Why should I have to spell ‘d i s s o c i a t i v e i d e n t i t y d i s o r d e r ‘ before giving the ICD10 codes and DSMIV codes to health professionals?
Why should I then be told that “I’ve never heard of it” and “Oh, we don’t believe in that”.
When looking through my local NHS trusts website, I put Dissociative Disorders into their search box and came up with nothing, except a leaflet on personality disorders which mentioned D.I.D being a personality disorder.I emailed them regarding this and apparently it will be changed when they update their leaflet. Who knows if/when the leaflet will be updated.

I cannot access support from the agencies we’re supposed to rely on.

Yes, I am very fortunate to have a fantastic therapist and really good back up from the Dr who asessed and diagnosed me (privately) . What if K was no longer able to work with me? There is no plan B since I asked all the right places and the only recommendation I got was K which on one hand is reassuring but it fills me with fear over what we’d do without her.

Published by the American Psychiatric Associat...
Published by the American Psychiatric Association, the DSM-IV-TR provides a common language and standard criteria for the classification of mental disorders. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why should going past the buildings where I accessed the CMHT (community mental health team) trigger panic attacks? Why should I have the fear that if one time, the self injury goes too far, I can’t go to A+E (which would result in either admittance to the Psych ward or referral to the CMHT). Wounds that need sutures don’t get sutured since my local A+E is such a frightening place where dignity, respect and care have been forgotten about. The last time I was there, requiring treatment for selfinjury wounds, the curtains around the bay were open at all times so other patients and their visitors saw and heard things that every part of me works so hard in hiding. What if a wound were arterial, though?let’s not think about that

It hurts so much to be pushed further and further from the big society and to have little hope of ever being able to engage with it.

The sound of lifting heavy baggage

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baggReblogged from a psychologist who writes about Borderline Personality Disorder in a non-judgmental way. This is so important, and I thank the author for this nuanced view of the psychological challenges people with BDP face.
Friday, 20 September 2013

Borderline personality disorder: Abandon the label, find the Person

Steven Coles
In 1980 the mental health industry invented a new diagnostic label, one of many, for the 3rd edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM III). The American Psychiatric Association (APA) presented DSM III to the world as a scientific revolBorderline Personality Disorder Awarenessution in psychiatric understanding. If people suffering emotional distress had accepted the APA’s statements about the new manual, they would have rejoiced that such a wealthy and powerful organisation had put its energies into making sense of psychological suffering. The vast majority of people receiving one of these new labels had experienced great trauma – sexual abuse, extreme life events and repeated abuses of power. Quite a progressive move by the APA then: understanding the effects of power on people. Psychiatrists could show care, understanding, and perhaps even provide a sense of solidarity to people who were marginalised. Unfortunately, in 1980 the APA willed Borderline Personality Disorder into being. The APA’s idea of empathy and understanding led to vast numbers of survivors of abuse being labelled as disordered individuals.
In many ways the diagnosis of BPD is an easy target for criticism and satire. The diagnosis of BPD is defined by a series of social and moral judgements, applied to people who have been traumatised and dressed up as a medical problem. If we had a friend who revealed to us after years of secrecy and shame that they had been repeatedly sexually abused as a child, our first response is unlikely to be “your personality must be really disordered – no wonder I’ve felt like rejecting you”. Instead we would show care, be amazed at their survival and probably feel anger at the perpetrators of abuse – basic common sense and decency. Sadly when it comes to psychiatric diagnosis good sense does not prevail. The survival of psychiatric diagnoses is in many ways an astonishing feat of magic; its supporters have woven a spell that repels good sense, compassion, logic and evidence.

There are multiple problems with a diagnosis such as BPD. Here I want to highlight just one: it locates the problem within t08d0ab8d1b1a5435a32a3e5134150cd2he individual. ‘BPD’ hides disordered environments, misuse of power and perpetrators of abuse. The following quote from Suzi, someone who received the label, makes the point better than I can:

‘I cannot understand how the vast majority of perpetrators of sexual violence walk free in society; whilst people who struggle to survive its after effects are told they have disordered personalities’ (Shaw & Proctor, 2004, p.12).
Think about the implications of that for a second. It’s accusing us of failing to recognise the abuse of power in society, of colluding in suffering. People are traumatised and hurt in many ways. For some there are obvious damaging events involved, for other people the circumstances are more complex and subtle. The flow of power is usually crucial in each. Unfortunately, the way in which we offer mental health services can lead us to ignore life circumstances and power. An understandable reaction to a horrifying life experience is converted into an illness, which a person is held responsible and rejected for having.
If that doesn’t paint a pretty picture of mental health services what are the alternatives? Perhaps a little good sense might help here. We need to support people to make sense of their distress in relation to their life experiences and circumstances – survival strategies in the face of disordered environments. People need to be offered practical support and guidance, as well as compassion and care. It seems unnecessary to grab at the concepts of illness, treatment and disorder, when we can talk with people using ordinary language. Our conversations need to honour people’s survival and strengths against the odds, as well as their difficulties and needs. When supporting people who have experienced high levels of abuse and are struggling in life, workers need space, supervision and time to reflect on and cope with their own feelings, and to consider the most useful ways to help. People should not have to accept a label and the attached baggage to receive support.

There are multiple problems with a diagnosis such as BPD. Here I want to highlight just one: it locates the problem within the individual. ‘BPD’ hides disordered environments, misuse of power and perpetrators of abuse. The following quote from Suzi, someone who received the label, makes the point better than I can:

‘I cannot understand how the vast majority of perpetrators of sexual violence walk free in society; whilst people who struggle to survive its after effects are told they have disordered personalities’ (Shaw & Proctor, 2004, p.12).
Think about the implications of that for a second. It’s accusing us of failing to recognise the abuse of power in society, of colluding in suffering. People are traumatised and hurt in many ways. For some there are obvious damaging events involved, for other people the circumstances are more complex and subtle. The flow of power is usually crucial in each. Unfortunately, the way in which we offer mental health services can lead us to ignore life circumstances and power. An understandable reaction to a horrifying life experience is converted into an illness, which a person is held responsible and rejected for having.
If that doesn’t paint a pretty picture of mental health services what are the alternatives? Perhaps a little good sense might help here. We need to support people to make sense of their distress in relation to their life experiences and circumstances – survival strategies in the face of disordered environments. People need to be offered practical support and guidance, as well as compassion and care. It seems unnecessary to grab at the concepts of illness, treatment and disorder, when we can talk with people using ordinary language. Our conversations need to honour people’s survival and strengths against the odds, as well as their difficulties and needs. When supporting people who have experienced high levels of abuse and are struggling in life, workers need space, supervision and time to reflect on and cope with their own feelings, and to consider the most useful ways to help. People should not have to accept a label and the attached baggage to receive support.
Abuse and misuse of power are social and political issues. We seem to resist asking the questions that flow from this though. Such as why is sexual violence so prevalent in society? How do we prevent people doing horrendous things to each other in the first place? What economic policies decrease oppression and misuse of power in society? Going back to the 20th century, at one point the APA decided people who identified 616557b8644a5f124a2ad7e3964173fathemselves as gay were suffering from an illness. Some of those who were labelled accepted and internalised the label. However due to lobbying and activism this idea was eventually abandoned. It is now time to speak up and say that people in emotional pain, who have suffered and attempted to survive, should no longer be labelled disordered. It is time to abandon the concept of borderline personality disorder and instead find and honour the person.
Shaw, C. & Proctor, G. (2004). Suzi’s Story. Asylum (Special Edition: Women at the Margins), 14 (3), 11 – 13. Also reproduced here.
Steven Coles is a Clinical Psychologist  and co-editor of Madness Contested: Power and Practice (PCCS Books, 2013). Follow him on Twitter @Steven_Coles_.

Manifest of a shallow person

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The Manifest of a Shallow Person

By shiedcamouflage on October 15, 2013

“Don’t judge a book by its cover” is a metaphorical phrase that has learned since from grade school. You shouldn’t prejudge the worth or value of something, by its outward appearance alone. However, why there are people speak their mind and don’t care no matter what if it’ll rip-out the heart of others?

aShallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. There’s nothing wrong with being shallow as long as you’re insightful about it. It’s a shallow life that doesn’t give a person a few scars.

Only shallow person know themselves but mostly shallow people end-up nothing.  But think about it; shallow people have it so much better because they don’t understand the same things we feel so it doesn’t affect them even how awful feeling it is.

During my teenage years; I was tired of pretending that I was someone else just to get along with my classmates, just for the sake of having friendships, not to be bullied but to bully.

When learning the rope of being with them, I thought I was trapped in a cage and I can’t handle it in their way. I was lying to myself but still I know I would always learn from my mistakes. I learned that when am surrounded with them I find myself judging others – I didn’t consider that the inside is what counts!

But after all I did, I reap confidence away from it which I used it to fight them back whenever we’ve faced into trouble. Being brave is not enough not to be bullied but being confident to pretend being brave is great ammo to defeat the enemy and win the war.

If a person cannot understand the beauty of life, it is probably because life never understood the beauty in them and don’t judge the past by the standards of today because it won’t work – they’re incompatible.

The world only goes around by misunderstanding. Where misunderstanding serves others as an advantage, one is helpless to make oneself understood.

Think twice before you speak!

The sound of breathing in and out

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Website of the book

Can Mindfulness Meditation Really Reduce Pain and Suffering by 90 percent?

by danny on Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Claire stared at the computer screen before cocking her head slightly to one side. She winced as a sharp pain angled its way through her neck and down her left arm. Her fingers went numb and then began to throb. Claire’s youthful good looks dissolved and she suddenly looked twenty years older. She stretched her arm and slowly began rubbing her neck to loosen the muscles. Her shoulders and neck had cramped up, making her whole upper body look tense and contorted. She reached for a glass of water and gulped down two more painkillers.

Why won’t this pain just stop? Why won’t these blasted painkillers work any more? They’re useless. I’m so sick and tired of this.

Three years previously Claire had been injured in a car crash and suffered two broken ribs, a fractured wrist and whiplash. Her ribs and wrist had healed completely within three months, but the after-effects of her whiplash refused to go away. The doctors were puzzled by her pain. Several scans had shown that her neck had completely healed, but the pain stubbornly remained. It was worse if she stayed in one place for too long. After twenty minutes, sharp jagged pains would arc up and down her neck. When she finally did move, she would feel stiff and achy all over.

Claire felt increasingly trapped and broken. Her doctor had prescribed several courses of physiotherapy without any long-term success. Now she was forced to continually take painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs. They worked, more or less, but often left her feeling washed out and jaded. They were OK for stubborn ‘achiness’, but did nothing for the frequent sharp twinges of pain. Lately, her doctor had begun suggesting antide- pressants to lift her mood. Her response was always the same: ‘I’m not depressed,’ she’d snap. ‘I’m angry because that man who drove into me has taken my life away. I used to dance all night. Now I can barely walk!’

Experiences like Claire’s are not confined to injuries such as whiplash, but are common across a range of diseases. Conditions such as ‘bad back’, migraine, chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia can all cause pain long after the original injuries have healed or without any obvious cause that shows up on scans or tests. And even when there is a clear physical cause, as with illnesses like arthritis, heart disease or cancer, the pain often comes and goes without any apparent rhyme or reason. Doctors then feel forced to prescribe long-term courses of painkillers, but these can have side effects such as memory loss, lethargy and even addiction.

Claire and millions of others exist in a world of suffering; a place where even the simplest of tasks can amplify their pain. This often leads to anxiety, stress, depression and exhaustion, each of which serves to further enhance suffering in a downward spiral. Such vicious cycles are driven by newly discovered psychological forces that underlie the perception of pain. And crucially, this discovery offers a wholly new approach to the management of pain and illness that has the potential to transform suffering.



The commonsense view of pain is that it arises from damage to the body. This attitude was formalised in the seventeenth century by the French philosopher René Descartes with his ‘rope-pull’ model of pain: just as pulling a rope in a church steeple rings a bell, Descartes thought that damage to the body is a tug that causes the awareness of pain in the brain. For centuries after Descartes, doctors regarded pain in a similar light. The intensity of pain was thought to be directly proportional to the degree of damage to the body, which would mean that if different people had the same injury they would experience the same amount of pain. If no obvious physical cause was found, the patient would be regarded as malingering or making it up.

Since the 1960s, science has come to accept another model of pain known as the ‘Gate Theory’ developed by Ronald Melzack and Patrick Wall.1 They suggest that there are ‘gates’ in the brain and nervous system that, when open, allow you to experience pain. In a sense, the body sends a continuous low-level ‘chatter’ of pain signals to the brain, but it is only when the gates are opened that the signals reach your conscious mind. These gates can also close, which is what happens when your pain lessens or fades away. Opening and closing these pain gates is a phenomenally complex process. Although the details are still being worked out, it is clear that pain is far more subtle and complex than the traditional idea of damage signals being sent to the brain which are then passively felt. Pain is a sensation, which means that it is an interpretation made by the brain before it is consciously felt. To make this interpretation, the brain fuses together information from the mind as well as the body. In practice, this means that the thoughts and emotions flowing through your mind, both conscious and unconscious, have a dramatic effect on the intensity of your suffering. Not without reason did the ancient Greek philosophers consider pain to be an emotion.



Suffering occurs on two levels. Firstly, there are the actual unpleasant sensations felt in the body – this is known as ‘Primary Suffering’. This can be seen as the ‘raw data’ that is sent to the brain from, say, an injury, an ongoing illness or changes to the nervous system itself (this is believed to lie, at least partly, behind such conditions as chronic pain syndrome and phantom limb syndrome). Overlaid on top of this is ‘Secondary Suffering’, which is made up of all the thoughts, feelings, emotions and memories associated with the pain. These might include anxiety, stress, worry, depression and feelings of hopelessness and exhaustion. The pain and distress that you actually feel is a fusion of both Primary and Secondary Suffering.

This insight is crucial because it reveals a path away from suffering. For if you can learn to tease apart the two flavours of suffering, you can greatly reduce – or even eliminate – your pain and distress. This is because Secondary Suffering tends to dissolve when you observe it with the mind’s compassionate eye. Mindfulness allows you to see the different elements of pain laid out in front of you. And when you see this vista, something remarkable begins to happen: your suffering gradually begins to subside and evaporate like the mist on a summer’s morning.

It’s important to understand that although the sensation of pain is created by the mind, your suffering is still real. You really do feel it. It exists and it can be genuinely overwhelming. But once you understand the underlying mechanisms of pain, you can begin to temper its power and the hold it has over you.

To go back to Claire, had she been asked to look inside herself a little more closely she would have realised that there was not one single ‘thing’ that she could label as an ‘ache’ or as a ‘pain’. Both were ‘bundles’ of different feelings that were constantly changing; becoming either more or less intense. There was the underlying unpleasant ‘tightness’ of the muscles and tendons in her neck, which were twisting her vertebrae slightly out of alignment and creating the most pronounced of her painful feelings. There were also twinges of outright pain – which felt like sharp spikes of electricity running through her muscles and down into her arm. And then there were patches of ‘numbness’ in her left arm and hand. These would alternate with pins and needles. Those were the obvious sensations of pain. This was her Primary Suffering.

But there were other feelings too – powerful emotions and disturbing thoughts that would frequently sweep across her mind, often with no apparent rhyme or reason. Stress, worry and exhaustion had become a way of life. Troubling thoughts constantly nagged at her soul: Why won’t this just stop? The doctors must have missed something, surely? Maybe I’m going to end up a cripple, or even dead. Are they too afraid to tell me? Such thoughts and emotions were constantly bubbling away in the background. And while they were often less obvious than the nagging feelings of pain, ultimately they were far more significant because they were central to the way that her mind interpreted and felt the raw feelings of pain. In a sense, they controlled the intensity or ‘volume’ of her pain. This was Secondary Suffering; and Claire had it in spades.

Claire’s Secondary Suffering had its roots in the five days she spent in hospital after her accident. They were the worst of her life. She was in considerable pain and on a morphine drip for the first twenty-four hours. She could cope with the physical pain – just. Far worse, however, were her turbulent emotions: her fears and worries for herself and the future. Neither she nor the doctors could predict the outcome of her neck injuries. Would she be partially paralysed? Would she be in pain for the rest of her life? There was also a sense of anger mixed with bitterness. The man who crashed into her didn’t appear to care. He just walked away from the accident with no cuts or bruises at all. He’d been drinking, but was just inside the legal drink–drive limit. Was he insured? It turned out he wasn’t. Every time she thought about it, Claire’s anger boiled over. Such thoughts and overwhelming emotions constantly washed across her mind. It was mental pain and just as real and tormenting as her physical injuries.

She lay in her hospital bed at night crying quietly to herself. She was wracked with fears and worries for the future, and ‘what ifs’ filled her mind. If only she had left home a minute or two later, then none of it would have happened. She’d had a feeling something was wrong before she had left home. Why hadn’t she waited just a few minutes longer?

After the accident and the subsequent months of physiotherapy, a new emotion was added to the list: depression. Claire refused to believe that she was depressed, but it was there none the less, gnawing away at her in the background. It wasn’t an all- consuming depression. It simply drained her of all energy and enthusiasm for life. Such powerful emotions as anxiety, fear, anger, worry and depression can feed into the mind’s perception of pain. Other feelings, too, can have an incredibly strong effect. Feeling tired and overwhelmed, fragile and broken, stressed and anxious, can all magnify suffering and tip you into a downward spiral. How often has the intensity of your suffering increased when you felt anxious, stressed, exhausted or sad? These emotions act like amplifiers in the mind’s pain circuits. They can open the floodgates of suffering.

The effect of such emotions can be observed with a brain scanner. Work at Oxford University,7 for example, shows the significant impact that even mild levels of anxiety can have on pain. Scientists at the university’s Department of Clinical Neurology induced low-level anxiety in a group of volunteers before burning the back of their left hand with a hot probe. As anxiety built, you could see the waves of emotion sweeping through the volunteers’ brains. This primed areas of the brain that collectively make up the ‘pain matrix’. It was almost as if the volunteers’ minds were turning up the volume on their pain amplifiers ready to ‘hear’ its first ‘notes’, so that they could take action to protect themselves. This meant that when the skin of the anxious volunteers was actually burned, they experienced far more pain and suffering than the ‘non-anxious’ volunteers. You could see this extra pain represented in the brain scans too. As the Oxford neuroscientists noted, anxiety primes the ‘behavioural responses that are adaptive to the worst possible outcome’. In other words, anxiety and other powerful ‘negative’ emotions prepare the body to sense pain quickly and with great intensity.

The reverse is also true. Reducing anxiety, stress, depression and exhaustion can lower the perception of pain and even eliminate it completely. This is one of the main routes by which mindfulness helps reduce suffering. Mindfulness soothes the mind’s perception of pain – essentially Secondary Suffering – by replacing it with a sense of peace and wholeness.

Neuroscientist Fadel Zeidan and his team at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in America decided to investigate this effect using scanners to map activity in different parts of the brain.8 They did this by exploiting a curious quirk of brain anatomy. Every part of the body is reflected in a specific part of the brain known as the primary somatosensory cortex. So if the sole of your left foot is brushed with a feather, an area of the primary somatosensory cortex lights up; if you feel a pain in your lower back, a different part becomes active. Neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield charted this brain region and produced a ‘map’ that reflects the human body overlaid on the brain (see illustration below). It was termed the cortical ‘homunculus’.

Homunculus Graphic from Chap 2 v2

Fadel Zeidan and his team reasoned that if mindfulness affected the perception of pain, then this should be visibly reflected in the level of activity in the corresponding regions of the primary somatosensory cortex. To test this, Zeidan studied the perception of pain in a group of students. The students first had the back of their right calf burned with a piece of hot metal while their brain was scanned with the latest functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) scanner. Each was then asked to rate both the intensity and unpleasantness of the pain. If pain was music, ‘intensity’ would be the volume and ‘unpleasantness’ would be the level of emotion it aroused. As expected, when the students’ legs were burned the ‘right calf’ region of their primary somatosensory cortex lit up as the pain swept over them.

The students were then taught mindfulness meditation and the experiment was repeated. The results could not have been more different second time around. Activity in the ‘right calf’ region of the primary somatosensory cortex had diminished to such a degree that it had become undetectable. But not only that. Meditation increased activity in regions of the brain related to the processing of emotion and of cognitive control – areas where the sensations of pain are actually interpreted and ‘built’. These brain areas modulate the sensations of pain and give it ‘meaning’ before it is consciously felt. What’s more, experienced meditators (those who scored higher on a standard scale of mindfulness) tended to have enhanced activity in these regions and to experience less pain. That is, they tended to devote more brain power in this region to moderating the pain-related information – and to, in effect, turning down its ‘volume’.

Zeidan’s co-worker Dr Robert C. Coghill explains:

These areas all shape how the brain builds an experience of pain from nerve signals that are coming in from the body. Consistent with this function, the more that these areas were activated by meditation, the more that pain was reduced. One of the reasons that meditation may have been so effective in blocking pain was that it did not work at just one place in the brain, but instead reduced pain at multiple levels of processing.

And what of the students’ conscious experience of pain? On average they experienced a 40 per cent reduction in pain intensity and a 57 per cent lessening of pain ‘unpleasantness’. Perhaps the most surprising thing was the amount of practice required to achieve this level of pain relief: just four training sessions of twenty minutes each. Remarkable though these results were, they masked something even more intriguing. The more accomplished meditators suffered far less than these averages might suggest. They experienced a reduction in pain intensity of 70 per cent and its unpleasantness was reduced by 93 per cent. This meant that it could barely be felt and hardly bothered them at all. Overall, said Zeidan, mindfulness produced a greater reduction in pain than standard doses of morphine and other pain-relieving drugs.


Loosening the bonds of pain

Secondary Suffering can be seen as resistance to pain. It is entirely natural to struggle against and resist pain with all of your might. You want to eliminate it. Stamp on it. Do anything at all to get rid of it. This is absolutely understandable. But what if this was also precisely the wrong approach? What if, in your bid to eliminate pain, you were actually creating far more of it instead? This is the lesson from Zeidan’s research and from many other studies too. And this holds true not just for pain, but for many other disease symptoms as well. Stress, exhaustion and depression can all be made far worse through resistance.

But if the act of resisting pain can make it worse, the converse is also true. Acceptance of your pain can actually diminish it – and might even get rid of it completely. Allow us to explain this seemingly outrageous idea. Neuroscientists have a saying: ‘What we resist persists.’ In other words, if you resist the messages that your mind and body are sending you, those messages will keep on being dispatched (and felt) until you accept them. This holds true not only for messages of pain, but also for thoughts, feelings, emotions, memories and judgements. If you mindfully accept (or feel) these messages, they will have done their job and will tend to melt away of their own accord.

Mindfulness meditation creates a sense of safety, of space, in which you can begin to tentatively explore the raw sensations of pain and, as such, it is the vehicle through which you can begin to accept these messages. And when you do so, you will often find that pain waxes and wanes quite dramatically. There can be long moments of normality followed by flickers or spikes of pain. There are often different sensations too. Some are hot. Others cold. Some feel ‘tight’, others throb, while still others feel sharp or stabbing. Not all are completely unpleasant. The different sensations often rise and fall like the waves on the sea. They constantly change in character and intensity. By exploring each of these different sensations, moment by moment, you come to accept that they are like black clouds in the sky: you can watch as the sensations arise, drift past and disappear again. Your mind is like the sky and individual thoughts, feelings, emotions and sensations are like different types of cloud. So in a sense, mindfulness teaches you to observe the weather without becoming embroiled in it. And no matter what happens, the sky – your mind – remains untouched by it.

It is important to realise that mindful acceptance is not resignation to your fate. It is not the acceptance of the unacceptable. It is simply the acceptance of the situation as it is, for now, at least. It is a period of allowing, of letting be, of non-resistance, so that you cease to struggle. And when this struggle ceases, a sense of peace takes its place. Secondary Suffering then progressively diminishes. Often as not, Primary Suffering will begin to do so too.

We can explain this to you in minute detail. We can cite numerous scientific trials that prove the point. We could even show you scans of your own brain as it ‘builds’ the sensations of pain from all of your thoughts, feelings and emotions – but only when you have experienced the power of mindfulness for yourself will you truly believe it.

This is why it is called a practice. Accepting pain can be difficult. It’s just better than the alternative, which is to live in a state of perpetual suffering.

Countless participants on our Breathworks courses have discovered this for themselves. Claire was one. She found that when her neck began to hurt she was also assailed by fear, anger, stress, sorrow, hopelessness, despair and exhaustion. So not only did she feel the initial unpleasant sensations in her neck, but she was also swamped with yet more suffering. It was almost as if she was struck with an arrow, and when she reacted to it she was then hit by a second one. Now she had to bear the pain of two arrows – that from the second being caused by resistance to the first. It is an entirely natural response. In fact, in cases of acute, rather than chronic, pain, it might even be the best response because it’s a powerful driving force to take yourself out of danger. When it comes to chronic pain and illness, however, it is often precisely the wrong solution because it simply compounds your suffering. And, of course, it can then seem as if you’re pierced not by two arrows, but by many, many more.

Accepting the sensations of Primary Suffering allows the Secondary Suffering to take care of itself – and to progressively diminish. Claire discovered that she could resist pain for days or even weeks. She could distract herself with alcohol, cigarettes and food. She could squash the pain with powerful drugs. If those failed, she could ignore the pain – for a while, at least. But all this came at a cost: the rest of her life. She discovered that in ignoring and walling off the pain she had also isolated herself from all that is wonderful and precious about life. The world became increasingly wan and grey. Food lost its flavour and texture. She no longer laughed or cried. Her love life declined into irrelevance. All this meant that when she could no longer maintain the struggle, she simply crashed and burned. So not only did the pain return, but, with all of the things that normally sustained her love of life having evaporated, she was left feeling fragile and broken. No wonder her doctor wanted to prescribe her antidepressants.

After three years of struggling, Claire embraced mindfulness – not because she believed that it would work, but because she was desperate. And when she began to mindfully explore the sensations of pain, something remarkable and counter-intuitive began to happen. Not only did the pain begin to subside, but she began to experience all of the good things that had been squeezed out of her life too. It opened the door to a wealth of emotions such as happiness, love, compassion and empathy, as well as sadness. Claire realised that life is bittersweet, and when she let go of expecting it to be either wholly wonderful or truly distressing and to hold in an honest heart a delicate mixture of the two, she felt increasingly relaxed and open. Through facing up to and becoming sensitive to her own predicament, she became a happier and more centred person with greater empathy for others. She also began to heal.


Taken from our new book Mindfulness for Health: A Practical Guide to Relieving Pain, Reducing Stress and Restoring Wellbeing by Dr Danny Penman and Vidyamala Burch

Buy from Amazon UK


‘A beautiful and compassionate book, Mindfulness for Health will put you back in touch with the extraordinary person you already are’ Professor Mark Williams, University of Oxford

‘This book provides an extremely effective and elegant mind-body approach to healing . . . Highly recommended’ Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, author of Full Catastrophe Living and Coming to Our Senses

‘In a world of much suffering this book is a gift of wisdom and practical help’ Professor Paul Gilbert, PhD, OBE, author of The Compassionate Mind



1. Wall, Patrick D. & Ronald Melzack, The Challenge of Pain (Penguin Books, 1982), p. 98; Melzack, R. Wall, p. D. (1965), ‘Pain Mechan- isms: a new theory, Science, 150(3699), pp. 371–9.

2. Cole, Frances, Macdonald, Helen, Carus, Catherine & Howden-Leach, Hazel, Overcoming Chronic Pain (Constable & Robinson, 2005), p. 37; Bond, M., Simpson, K., Pain: Its Nature and Treatment (Elsevier, 2006), p. 16, offers an alternative definition from the International Association for the Study of Pain as acute pain (lasting less than one month), sub-acute pain (lasting one to six months) and chronic pain (lasting six months or more).

3. ‘Health Survey for England 2011’, Health, social care and lifestyles, Chapter 9 Chronic Pain, The Health and Social Care Information Centre (NHS) 20 December 2012,

4. Gaskin, Darrell J. & Richard, Patrick (2012), ‘The Economic Costs of Pain in the United States’, Journal of Pain, 13(8), p. 715.

5. ‘Health Survey for England 2011’, Health, social care and lifestyles, Chapter 9 Chronic Pain, The Health and Social Care Information Centre (NHS) 20 December 2012,

6. NOP Pain Survey (2005), 23–25 September, on behalf of the British Pain Society.

7. Ploghaus, Alexander, Narain, Charvy, Beckmann, Christian F., Clare, Stuart, Bantick, Susanna, Wise, Richard, Matthews, Paul M., Nicholas, J., Rawlins, P. & Tracey, Irene (2001), ‘Exacerbation of Pain by Anxiety Is Associated with Activity in a Hippocampal Network’, Journal of Neuroscience, 21(24), pp. 9896–903.

8. Zeidan, Fadel, Martucci, Katherine T., Kraft, Robert A., Gordon, Nakia S., McHaffie, John G. & Coghill, Robert C. (2011), ‘Brain Mechanisms Supporting the Modulation of Pain by Mindfulness Meditation’, Journal of Neuroscience, 31(14), pp. 5540–48. See also the accompanying comments regarding morphine effectiveness by Fadel Zeidan of the Wake Forest University School of Medicine at


Sociopath and the confusion of kindness

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Sociopath and the confusion of kindness

One thing that can confuse victims of sociopaths is their ability to ‘be kind’. Just as you have decided that you have had enough, that you want to leave, and to get out of this abusive, controlling relationship, the sociopath switches, and becomes ‘Mr kind’ ‘Mr caring’ and ‘Mr compassionate’ . This is often much to the annoyance of those who have been supporting you to leave. As now, you are at risk of being lured back in by the sociopath.


Any ordinary person, even an abused one, will get to the point where they have to leave for the sake of their own sanity. Nobody can endure being hurt over and over.

A sociopath will sense when he is losing control. He will sense when he is about to lose you, and therefore lose his source of supply. You are hurt, damaged, and you desperately want your inner hurt and pain to go away. But you stand firm, you try to retain No Contact, you try to be kind to yourself.

The sociopath will realise that berating you, is getting nowhere and that he is losing his grip of control over you. Perhaps you have decided to have nothing to do with him, that you are establishing no contact and bringing others into your life for support.

A sociopath is always able to read you, to assess you, to analyse you. And when he feels that he is losing grip of his latest victim, he can then be unbelievably kind. You will start to question your own judgement. You read the DSM list of criteria for sociopaths. Kindness is not listed, so you reason, perhaps you are wrong? Maybe he isn’t a sociopath after all?

What the sociopath is doing is returning back to stage two – Seducing/Gaming. If you recall I wrote earlier how there are three stages with a sociopath. And he can revert back to earlier stages, if he hasn’t yet finished with you, and you still have further use to him. The three stages are:

  • Assessment
  • Gaming/seducing
  • Ruining

It is important to stick with what you feel. To write down what is happening to you. Listen to your inner self, and your gut feeling. You might feel that because the sociopath is being kind and that perhaps you have it wrong? That he isn’t a sociopath after all?

You are being lured back into the fairy tale of who you want him to be, that person who in your mind, you fell in love with, but who didn’t exist. He is now about to sell you the fairy tale for the second time.

So far, I have discussed how you are feeling, and how this makes you feel, and how this confuses you.

What you feel, is maybe he does love me? He seems to care about my welfare, and how I am feeling? Maybe your assessment of him is wrong, and he isn’t actually a sociopath? You start to breathe a sigh of relief. Now you can return to the illusion you had before. He is actually a normal person, not a sociopath.

For the sociopath, it is not about how you are feeling. He is not thinking about your needs, or your welfare, neither does he care how much you are hurting (although it might seem that way).  To return to the motive for the sociopath (remember that the sociopath ALWAYS has a motive), what he is thinking is either:

  • He is losing a source of supply he does not want to lose
  • Or you have ended things on your terms, he does not like this loss of control, and wants to end things on his terms

If you were to return to the sociopath when he is being kind, if you were to listen to the sociopath and his glib, false empty promises, things will shortly return to the way that they were before.

Whilst his kindness might give you a temporary relief of pain and hurt that you are feeling. It will, once you are trusting him again, and allowing him control over you and your life, return to the abusive relationship that you were in before.

Nothing will ever change. The sociopath cannot change. His brain is wired differently. He cannot help but manipulate and deceive. Trust your judgement, and do not be temporarily blinded to acts of kindness, it is tempting to do so, as we do not want  to realise that the person we were involved with was a different person to who we thought. We want our judgment about him to be wrong. We want it not to be true, but it is true. The sooner that you come to terms with this, the quicker you can heal.

Unfortunately, with a sociopath, it is the way that he is. Whilst things might be ok for a while, service would soon resume as normal. His need for control is overwhelming, acting kind, is manipulating you, and just another way for you to be controlled.

Remember that the sociopath is master of disguise, and will do and say anything to get what he wants. Being kind is another manipulation tool that is used when he either wishes to lure you in, in the beginning, or to lure you back when he feels that he is losing you.

Words ©


The sound of something beautiful

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“Something beautiful happened to me today…”


Gamze Yagar2

Thirteen-year-old Gamze Yagar from Turkey suffers from a rare disease known as Progeria, a genetic condition that causes the body to age rapidly.

She is a huge soccer fan. When players on Turkey’s national team heard about their biggest fan, they wanted to meet her. So Gamze met the players, including Cristian Baroni, the team’s captain.

baroni gamze

“Something beautiful happened to me today,” she wrote on her Facebook page after meeting the team.