I read a book many moons ago that practically saved my life. Yes, I know, lots of people say shit like that, but I pretty much literally mean it. Because it saved my hands.
Many years ago, I bought a book called Curing Back Pain: the Mind Body Connection by Dr. John Sarno. I never read it. When I left LA I gave it away, or packed it away somewhere never to retrieve it.
Fast forward a few years, and I found myself getting shooting pains in my hands and arms. I was told I had repetitive strain injury and it was incurable. While it supposedly stemmed from typing, working as a writer, it affected everything I did. It got so bad I feared I couldn’t drive anymore.
I tried healing, I tried acupuncture, I tried using a chiropractor who also put needles in pain points, I tried massage, I tried raw foods, I tried medication, I tried Chinese medicine… The massage and needles into pain points helped for a short period, but then the pain returned with a vengance. People said it could have been triggered by stress. I went through all the stressors in my life. All the potential causes.
When I asked friends on Facebook about tips and recommendations, someone mentioned Sarno’s book. I dismissed it, thinking something stemming from “repetitive” movements couldn’t be caused by the mind. Stress can lead to a lowered immune system and general malfunctioning, but I had a physical condition that needed a physical solution. Or so I thought.
Back in LA and on a trip to Vegas I one night, in a bout of desperation, googled help once more and once again came across Sarno’s book for the purpose of repetitive strain injury. I was desperate. So I read some of the reviews. And I got the book.
A few days later I was typing again.
Sarno talks about how pain can be caused by the brain by a physical condition he calls TMS. This syndrome comes from the brain signaling the body to narrow the blood vessels and thereby causing pain from mild oxygen depravation.
His theory is that most of us repress anger. Usually we get angry with the people we love the most. We’re angry with our parents for fucking us up. With our children for throwing tantrums. With our boss for making us do things we don’t want to do. With our partner for not loving us the way we want to be loved. With our friends for acting in ways we don’t agree with. Then we feel ashamed. Because we know these are the very people who love us, or at the very least help us, or support us. So we bottle up our emotions instead of facing them, or discussing them.
Sometimes we suppress the anger because we’re scared of losing people if we confront them. Sometimes it’s because we feel ungrateful because the person is doing so much good for us, or love us, so why can’t we just let that one thing we’re angry with go?
I think we bottle up a lot more emotions than anger, but think about it: is there any one person in your life that you haven’t been angry with? And have you dealt with that anger? Discussed it with them? Have you even faced your own anger?
Sometimes it’s really simple as well — something we would face in a heartbeat if we only knew we were suppressing it. But we suppress without thinking. For example, we feel anger towards our baby for keeping us up at night, then ashamed as that’s what babies do. We’re the parent. We’re supposed to love them. So the brain, without us as much as realizing, suppresses the anger and distracts us from it with pain. If we think about the pain, we don’t think about the anger.
Some wounds cut deeper. The parents who loved us, but fucked us up. The friends in school we never stood up to, who semi-bullied us for what felt like an eternity, but were our “friends.” The partner who was constantly working to provide for us, but never spent time with us and who we didn’t want to pressurize too much, because, well, they were working. Guilt often stops us from dealing with anger. We could just express a want to spend a little bit more time with them, while also acknowledging the importance of their work, but we don’t. Or we could tell our well-meaning parents that we really don’t want to live as they want us to, no matter how much we love them. But we don’t. Because guilt, or fear of losing them, or simply fear of conflict in general, stands in the way.
If you don’t stand up for what you want, you’re constantly angry even if on the outside, you’re cool as a cucumber.
Learning to communicate your feelings, without for that matter blaming someone else for you having them, can help you overcome anger. Standing up for what you want, without for that matter putting someone else down, can help you overcome anger. Acknowledging that you get upset and it’s alright (even if you’re upset with a baby keeping you up at night) can help you overcome anger.
I believe, the closer we are to someone, the angrier we will be with them. That doesn’t mean we don’t love them. That doesn’t mean we can’t look upon them through the eyes of understanding. It simply means we have needs and those close to us are the ones that most often don’t provide us with what we need. Usually not because they don’t want to, but because they’re either incapable of doing so, or don’t know what we want in the first place. Chances are half the time we don’t either, we just feel something’s wrong. We’re dissatisfied. It took me reading The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman to figure out we have different ways in which we need to be loved to actually feel loved. Relationships are a science in their own right. And it took me reading that book to figure out why people who love each other can still be in a bad relationship.
People try to love us by telling us what to do. By not telling us what to do. By forcing their religion upon us. By forcing their beliefs upon us. By punishing us. By staying away from us. By giving us gifts. By not buying us anything. By showing they love us so much we suffocate. By refraining from showing love at all.
People do all sorts of things in the name of love without asking us what we need, or sharing how they feel. And as a parent I’m guilty as hell of this. And when it comes to our own childhood, the truth is, not a single person in our childhood didn’t fuck us up in some way, because they tried to impose some idea or other on us that wasn’t right. Because that’s what they’d been taught to do. That’s how their life had shaped them. And we know they loved us, so we feel guilty about being angry, but love doesn’t prevent people from making mistakes. And just because we love someone, doesn’t mean we have to agree with them.
We’re all guilty of doing things in the name of love, that have nothing to do with love. They’re just things we’re hardwired into believing we should do. Just as we’re guilty of being angry with every single person who ever crossed our path for longer than a minute.
Understanding dissolves anger. It’s hard being angry with a person once you understand them. And once you look upon someone’s past, you understand them. You understand why they became who they are and why they act as they do. However, you still have to stand up for yourself. Just because you understand how someone is acting doesn’t mean you can let them act in ways that ruin your life, or dissatisfy you. It just means that when you approach them about it, you can do so from a place of love, instead of a place of blame.
Suppressed anger doesn’t just cause physical pain; it causes psychological pain too. I don’t necessarily think that repressed anger is the only emotion that can cause both physical and mental pain either. However, I do believe most unpleasant emotions lead to anger in one form, or another.
So who are the people you’re angry with? (Or should I ask: who are the people you love the most?)
And what book is it that you know would change your life, that you’re not reading? I guess I finally have to pick up Seven Habits of Highly Effective People…and then regret I didn’t do so ten years ago. But as my post Your inner dominatrix… can attest to, regret and punishment doesn’t take your life forward. Encouragement and praise do. So when you pick up that book you know you should be reading, do that thing you know you should be doing, take that course you know you should be taking…don’t regret you didn’t do so sooner. Congratulate yourself upon finally doing it instead. Finally doing what you know you really must to get the life you’d truly love.