Two additional theories of Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS), neuroplastic pain, and mind-body syndrome.

 

Almost every TMS recovery program is based on the concept that symptoms are created from repressed negative emotions. While I agree this is true in the majority of cases, I think there are other dynamics at work.

In chemistry, the concept of a supersaturated solution is when there is simply too much of something for the solution to fully absorb it.

Similarly, I think we can be supersaturated with emotions and the residual material can spillover into physical symptoms.

You might be incredibly in touch with and able to express your feelings, but sometimes they are so intense and pervasive that you can’t contain them all. If you have done a lot of deep emotional work, and can easily get in touch with your emotions, this might be another explanation for why you still have symptoms. 

What does this mean for recovery? It means a redoubled effort to deal with feelings as they arise, acknowledge them, journal about them, and express them with people who can provide a safe container for you. It also means that when symptoms arise, you recognize them for what they are and resist catastrophizing and pathologizing about them.  Sometimes, that can be incredibly challenging when symptoms are disturbing or scary.

Ultimately, as you navigate the emotional and physical territory of grief, sadness, anger, anxiety, or any other strong emotion, self-compassion is your passport to greater freedom from physical manifestations of emotional distress.

While emotions spilling over into physical symptoms is one aspect of TMS, as pararadoxical as it may sound, I think there is subgroup of people with TMS who repress joy. This may sound counterintuitive, but it’s possible. All the TMS materials I’ve read over the past 20 years have focused on repressing negative emotions, however it’s possible, depending on your history, to unconsciously suppress positive emotions. For example, if you grew up in an unpredictable household—whether it was from addiction, rage, fighting between parents, or anything else that was random or scary—experiencing joy could feel unsafe. Allowing yourself to feel joy requires deeply relaxing, lowering your defense mechanisms, opening your heart, and being vulnerable. If it wasn’t safe to feel vulnerable as a child, and you have had similar dynamics in adult relationships, relaxing and opening to joy might be the last thing you feel safe to do.

While part of you wants to be open to all the goodness and delight life can offer, another part is protecting you from being vulnerable to pain. This polarization of intense desires can create physical symptoms.

 

There are a number of ways to work with unconscious tendencies that protect you from joy:

Internal Family Systems therapy, in which polarized parts get a chance to talk to each other and recognize they want the same thing for you: To feel safe.

Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) or tapping, where you simultaneously  access your parasympathetic nervous system to safely explore feelings associated with protecting yourself from joy, and anything else that comes up related to letting go.

Daily journaling to recognize when you have allowed yourself to experience little joys. Noticing and naming anything that makes you smile or pleases you (which increases your chances of noticing and allowing bigger joys).

Actively letting go with people who feel safe, incrementally letting your defenses down, opening your heart, and proving to yourself that joy can feel beautiful and safe.

 

Any of these strategies can be daunting as the urge to protect oneself from pain is very strong. TMS symptoms give the mind something tangible, like physical pain, to focus on other than how you might be limiting your joy. This is especially true if you had a traumatic childhood and/or have been betrayed as an adult. It’s a natural, usually unconscious, self-protective strategy.

As you can see, TMS is simply another part of your mind working to protect you from being overwhelmed by too much emotion, or a sense of vulnerability.

Once you know that, you may want to thank the parts of you that create these distracting the symptoms to protect you from what it fears you won’t be able to handle.

Most people want to evolve until they drop the body. If you’re one of them, try experimenting with some of the ideas mentioned here.  They can help you move through your barriers to joy. 

If your symptoms come from emotional spillover, the best tactic is to keep journaling, expressing emotions in healthy ways, sharing your experiences with friends, family, clergy, or a therapist, and recognizing your symptoms may be from physical conditions. They are simply your body expressing emotional spillover. Once you believe that, there’s no reason to catastrophize or pathologize your experience.

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

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.