Understanding the Mind-Body Connection in Chronic Fatigue & Fibromyalgia

Or, Forgiveness Part VI

Am I Crazy? Understanding the Mind-Body Connection in CFS/Fibromyalgia

by Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D.

The first half of this article was reprinted here last week.

The Mind-Body Connection

All illnesses have a psychological component. Although the highly stressed executive may have a bacterial infection such as Helicobacter pylori or excess acid causing his or her ulcer, it helps to remove the three telephones from his or her ear while treating the infections and excess acid.

I find that I, and most people with CFS/FMS, are mega-type-A overachievers. As a group, our sensitivity and intuitive abilities are high. We often had low self-esteem as children and tended to seek approval, sometimes from someone who simply was not going to give it. This, combined with our sensitivity to the feelings of others, caused us to avoid conflict and to try to meet other people’s needs—at the expense of our own. Many of us closed off our feelings and our empathic nature for a while because we were too young to handle their intensity. Because of our approval-seeking and low self-esteem, we often drove ourselves to being the best at what we did, or to try to be all things to all people. Not being able to say no because we wanted to avoid conflict or loss of approval led us to feel as though we could not defend our emotional boundaries, and left us feeling drained. We responded to fatigue by redoubling our efforts, instead of resting, as our bodies tried to tell us to do. As we depleted our energy reserves—sometimes while feeling great on an adrenaline “high”—we encountered the physical trigger to our disease (“blew our fuse”), whether it was an infection, an injury, childbirth, or something else. This trigger, combined with physical problems such as yeast overgrowth or hormonal deficiencies and, often, a genetic tendency to the disease, set the process in motion.

What Can We Do About It?

First, we can recognize that all this helped us to grow and achieve. One of the fun parts of working with people with CFS/FMS is that they are very intelligent and inquisitive. People with diabetes, high blood pressure, or even cancer, don’t usually come in having done a computer search on their illness. CFS/FMS patients often have. It is great to work with patients who can teach me, as well as allow me to teach them.

CFS/FMS forces us to take care of our needs first. After all, you don’t have much of a choice when taking a shower uses up all of your energy for the day. Taking care of yourself first is an important lesson for you to learn and to continue, even when you get well. Start by easing up on yourself. It’s okay to recognize that you tend to be a perfectionist and a maybe even a bit controlling. But we also beat up on ourselves by feeling that we’re never quite good enough. I find it very helpful to begin with the following prescription:

  • No blame.
  • No fault.
  • No guilt.
  • No judgment.
  • No comparing yourself with other people.
  • No expectations.

This applies to yourself and others. It is okay to feel anything you feel. Whatever you feel is totally valid. Own your feelings as your feelings, however, and recognize that they may not have much to do with the person they are directed at. Feel the feelings, then let go of them. Don’t blame the person you’re feeling them toward. Don’t feel guilty or blame yourself (or others) for anything—this includes not feeling guilty when you catch yourself blaming someone else!

In the beginning, you may catch yourself blaming, finding fault, judging, or laying a guilt trip on yourself and/or other people hundreds of times a day. This is normal. When you catch yourself doing it—even if it’s three days later—just drop it in mid-thought. Don’t beat yourself up for it. Just recognize that it’s an old pattern that you have decided to change. Over the next few weeks, it will happen less and less. Eventually, it will be uncommon. Even then, when you catch yourself blaming, feeling guilty, making comparisons between yourself and others (or comparing two other people), simply gently let go of it—without blame. Doing so allows your whole view of reality to change.

What happened? When you were judging others, you were in truth judging yourself and projecting it outward. These judgments were often views and expectations that had been placed on you by others, such as your parents, school, religious institutions, or society. Most likely, this happened early in your life and you internalized it. By letting go of blame, fault, comparisons, guilt, and judgment on others, you stop judging yourself. Hence the truism, “Judge not, lest ye be judged” (being a good Jewish lad, I get to know these lines). When you release these old expectations/programs, that’s when the fun can begin.

Continually shift your thoughts and actions to things that feel good. Let go of thoughts and stop doing things that feel bad. Then allow space and time in your mind and life for what you want to manifest. As your body begins to heal from CFS/FMS, you’ll find that your inner self feels better too!

Once you have done this, use your feelings (not your brain) to figure out what you want. Although our minds are wonderful tools, they are too subject to outside programming to know what we want. Your feelings know, though. If something feels good from a centered place when you picture or do it, it’s probably what your inner self (whether you call it your psyche, soul, or whatever) really wants to do and be. If it feels bad, then you don’t want to do it, no matter how much your brain is saying you should. Stop “shoulding” yourself! Instead, as you start feeling better with treatment, use your energy to do the things that feel good. Because of your CFS/FMS, you’ve likely managed to survive not doing most of the things that feel bad for years, without being arrested or thrown out on the street. Let those things stay undone. Pace yourself as you add in the new things that feel good and check with your feelings frequently. Don’t make up for lost time!

One day, a friend of mine, Jeffrey Maitland, Ph.D., sent me an article entitled “Stone Agers in the Fast Lane.” In it, he gives a very well thought out discussion on how certain psychological patterns can lead to CFS/FMS. I was really ticked off because he beat me to the punch. On the other hand, I knew he was brilliant because he had independently come to the same conclusions I had! I think you’ll enjoy the article. It is at our website in the section “Book Notes for From Fatigued to Fantastic!” In addition, for more information on psychologically getting from where you are to where you want to go, I invite you to read my book “Three Steps to Happiness! Healing through Joy.” The article and book can both be found at www.vitality101.com.

Many thanks to Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D. for giving permission for this article to be reprinted on Realitynibs from EndFatigue.com.

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