Healing Yourself: Part 3 | The Beach Ball Theory

Welcome to the third part (of four) in the Healing Yourself from Chronic Pain Series. You can read Part I here, and Part 2 here.

In this blog post, it’s time for us to look at the science behind TMS. TMS is a phrase coined by Dr. John Sarno, and it stands for Tension Myositis Syndrome. Tension Myositis Syndrome is just an overreaching term for the process by which our brain sends signals to our body to have physical conditions as a way to protect us from repressed feelings. Watch the video below, or just keep reading!

The best way for me to really explain the science to you, short of bringing out a whiteboard and doing a whole science lesson, is to refer you to Dr. Sarno's books.

The Mindbody Prescription

The one I personally like the best is “The Mindbody Prescription.” It explains all the science behind what I do and is a good way for you to understand what makes all this work. Some people don't care about the science, they just want to be well, but I want to give people the opportunity to understand more deeply what is happening in their body and why it is possible for emotions to lead to physical problems.

But first, I want to say something about medicine. Most people, when they come through my door, have been to every doctor that specializes in whatever it is that is wrong with them. They have had many different treatments, often medications, and sometimes surgeries that have addressed their issue. I really don't ever want to downplay that. If something is wrong with you, get it checked out by a doctor.

I am not a medical doctor, I am a psychotherapist. I partner with medical doctors, and I've been trained by medical doctors in the parts of this that I needed to understand.  But, if something is wrong with you, the first thing you need to do is get it checked out. Then, whatever steps you feel you need to do in order to be well as a result of that medical checkup, go ahead and do.

In my personal opinion, and from my heart, I hope that instead of getting a really invasive surgery or something that would really limit your life, that you would try this process first. But each person has to make their own decision about that.

Now that I've referred you to Dr. Sarno's book, I want to explain to you one of the ways that I like to communicate the science of this. I think over the years I've worked with enough people, and had enough questions asked, that I have found a creative way to explain the science of this to people so they can embrace it for themselves.

The Beach Ball Theory

My creative explanation is called the beach ball theory. Here's how it goes:

Pretend that you are standing in a pool right up to your waist. You're standing on the floor of the pool and in between your legs is a fully inflated beach ball. You need to hold that beach ball under the water all day while your arms are free to do everything that is involved in your life.

Now, you don't know about that beach ball, you don't think about that beach ball but physically, you need to hold that thing under the water all day. If that beach ball breaks the surface of the water, you think you're going to die. You're going to self-destruct. You're going to explode. You're going to implode. You're going to have a complete breakdown. Imagine how exhausting this is. No wonder you're always tired. You are required to keep this thing under the water.

What really happens when a beach ball that's been held underneath the surface of the water breaks the surface? Let's go through it. First, it makes a sound and maybe it surprises you. It comes up next to you and you weren't expecting it. You have a reaction to it. But then what does it do? It gently and calmly floats to the corner of the pool where it sits there, bobbing quietly until some kid picks it up and nails someone with it. Right? That's what really happens.

That's what really happens when we let our repressed feelings that are beneath the surface of our consciousness come up and be seen. Maybe for one second we feel that sting or that pinch. But if you're properly going through this process and you see that it's not going to kill you, it just needs to be heard, then you can calmly see it and say, "Go ahead." Imagine the energy this frees up to live your entire life. You are spending so much energy holding these feelings down, and your brain needs to keep you safe from the impending doom of this beach ball breaking the surface.

What it does is it creates meaning for you in terms of physical problems. If you have a frozen shoulder that you can barely move, and it's getting in the way of everything that you need to do, then you have a very clear purpose. You have to go to the doctor. You have to tell everybody that you can't make it to whatever obligations. You have to protect yourself. You have action items to take. Your brain thinks this is protecting you.

If you have a back problem, if you have a headache syndrome, if you have fibromyalgia where you can barely move because you're in so much pain, there's a reason for you to connect to people, to ask for help, to feel sympathy, to feel kindness. You deserve all of that kindness anyway, but you're not always willing to ask for it. There is a purpose that seems to be derived from holding this stuff down.

The truth is that there is freedom for you. There's freedom for you in asking for love and having that love come to you. It relieves you of the fallacy that holding down this beach ball will create order and safety for you because that is not true and it is not necessary. The work that you need to do, which we will get to in the next post, will serve to show your brain that letting go of this beach ball will not end you.

Secondly, it will safely, kindly, and patiently reveal these repressed feelings that you have been holding under the surface. These feelings will simply float off to the side of the pool and just be part of your story. Just be part of who you are and who you have been, without ruling your life anymore.

That's the science behind it. I encourage you to look into Dr. Sarno's books if this is something that you would like to really, truly, and fully understand because I know it really helped me. If you just say, “Whatever the science, is I'm cool with it,” then let's get busy with healing. I'm good with that too.

In the Healing Yourself Series installment four, we will talk about the work and get started on saving your life and stopping all this unnecessary suffering day-to-day, with your pain and your chronic conditions.