The more sensitive you are, whether you’re aware of being sensitive or not, the more likely it is that you will have TMS, mind-body syndrome, or neuroplastic pain.

The more sensitive you are, whether you’re aware of being sensitive or not, the more likely it is that you will have TMS, mind-body syndrome, or neuroplastic pain.

If you’re male, or someone who thinks it’s important to be tough and independent, you can still be highly sensitive, though your ego may not allow you to be consciously aware of this quality. Unconsciously, your mind may react to life’s stresses by producing physical symptoms.

If you’re an empath, someone who deeply feels other people’s discomfort or pain, you’re even more likely to have unwanted or potentially overwhelming emotions morph into somatic issues.

Since we all have mirror neurons in our brains, other people’s emotions are going to be contagious. Of course, not everybody feels everything to the same degree. Some people are highly sensitive to other people’s moods and energy, while others might not feel much of anything.

If you are highly sensitive or empathic, you know how easy it is for you to feel deeply and notice even the slightest physical sensation.

Like most things in life, balancing enough versus too much is crucial to feeling stable and confident. You don’t want to wrap yourself in cotton and avoid everything in life that might trigger you. On the other hand, you don’t want to continually put yourself in situations where you feel overstimulated or triggered. Just as Goldilocks had to try all three bowls of porridge before she found the one that was just right, life will be a perennial experiment to see what’s the right amount of social interaction, work, play, exercise, sleep, etc. that works best to support you and your nervous system.

If you have not yet read Elaine Aaron‘s book: The Highly Sensitive Person or Dr. Judith Orloff’s book: The Empath’s Survival Guide, I highly recommend them. 

Everybody is made differently, and being sensitive or empathic is not a choice, it’s just how you showed up. It could be from genetic predispositions, early childhood experiences, bullying, or a host of other factors that are not always easy or necessary to pinpoint. While you can retrain yourself to some degree to become less reactive, it’s important to recognize that much of your sensitivity is hardwired. If you have a tendency to be introverted, for example, you’re more likely to be highly sensitive. That does not mean all introverts are highly sensitive people. They aren’t. 

Conversely, you can be extroverted and still highly sensitive or empathic. In that case, you might be even more likely to have TMS because your self-concept, or ego, with all its unconscious defense mechanisms, won’t let you consciously feel vulnerable. So what happens? The body expresses what the ego can’t abide. As anyone with TMS knows, this can show up as: migraines, tinnitus, piriformis pain, backaches, sciatica, IBS, GERD, headaches, joint pain, allergies, TMJ issues, muscle pain, nerve pain, rashes, etc. 

Respecting the person you are is fundamental to creating a loving, self-compassionate relationship with yourself. If you notice mind-body symptoms, it’s likely you have a lot of unexpressed emotions, and a strong inner-critic. Even the most aware person is incapable of delving into their unconscious mind. Thankfully, you can get enough material by listening to your self-talk. Journaling, either in written or audio, is also a great way to regularly process your feelings. When you’re in touch with some of your feelings, it’s easy to think you understand them, but once you start to write, or talk about them (even if it’s in your audio journal and not to another person), more typically emerges.  

While awareness and expression are prerequisites for developing self-compassion, they are not enough. The hardest thing I ever ask anyone, including myself, to practice is self-compassion. Becoming self- compassionate, requires actively applying yourself to the task on a daily basis. It takes a lot of practice to ferret out your negative self-talk and repeatedly respond with loving kindness, patience, and emotional generosity. It’s helpful to immerse yourself in material designed to foster these new patterns. You can find hundreds of relevant free meditations and talks on the Insight Timer app.

If you’re recovering from TMS, it’s important to remember that your recovery is not linear, nor will emotional awareness make your symptoms vanish. Along with journaling, and other techniques, it’s crucial to understand that your symptoms don’t signal that anything is physiologically wrong. Fully believing this, when faced with challenging physical sensations, can be incredibly difficult.

Feeling safe when unpleasant or scary symptoms occur, even if you know there is nothing wrong with you, takes a lot of practice. TMS is cunning. One minute it shows up as back pain, the next day it’s GERD, and the following month it’s anxiety. Many TMS therapists say the ultimate goal is to feel indifferent to your symptoms, no matter how they show up. That’s hard, but it’s possible. 

Once again, the more you understand yourself, and the more kindly you can treat yourself, the more likely it is that you will manage your life, both internal and external, in a way that best supports you.

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

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Nicole Urdang

Nicole S. Urdang, M.S., NCC, DHM is a Holistic Psychotherapist in Buffalo, NY. She holds a New York state license in mental health counseling and a doctorate in homeopathic medicine from the British Institute of Homeopathy.