Between stimulus and response, there is a space.
In that space lies our freedom
and our power to choose our response.
In our response lies our growth and our happiness.”
~ Viktor Frankl
“You are not your thoughts”
Philosophers have said for centuries, “You are not your thoughts.” Thoughts are real and the corresponding hormonal response from your body reinforces this perception. With repetition your brain will perceive your ideas and concepts as your reality. It is critical to comprehend the influence you have on your quality of life based on what you choose to upload into your brain. Since every thought is linked to a corresponding internal bodily sensation, you have to have to be particularly careful. Chronic pain is linked with anxiety and frustration (The Terrifying Triad) and your thoughts and life can become progressively dark. My term for the situation is living in “The Abyss.”
In the era of advanced neuroscience research, pain, anxiety, and anger are all viewed as neurological circuits. You cannot control, change, or remove any of these imbedded pathways. You can only detach or separate from them. You then have the capacity to form “detours” or new more functional circuits.
Writing begins your path to healing
Expressive writing is an exercise that creates this needed space. It creates an awareness of your thoughts, positive or negative, and separates you from them. Its effectiveness has been demonstrated in many research studies. (1) The DOC Starting Point
- Associating thoughts with physical sensations forms new neurological connections.
- Writing down thoughts creates a space between you and your thoughts on the paper
- The verbal route is also effective.
- Your brain associates that space with vision and feel.
- You have physically separated from your thoughts.
Your journey to healing will begin only when you engage in a regular writing routine. Write and don’t stop
1. Write your thoughts and instantly destroy them.
- Write down specific thoughts. They do not have to make any sense or be legible.
- They can be positive or negative, rational or irrational or anything.
- Destroy them.
- You can write with complete freedom.
- It is important to NOT analyze these thoughts. Your attention will still be on them.
- Do this once or twice a day for 15-30 minutes per session.
- It is counter-productive to “journal” or keep these writings.
- Write in this free-flow format for a couple of weeks.
- Then engage in the “Feeling Good” format below.
There is usually a shift in anxiety and frustration within a short time. Writing in the format described in Feeling Good provides more focus and structure in addition to the free expressive writing. For some people, the anxiety may significantly worsen and you should limit or stop the writing until you feel you can handle it. If you feel like you cannot then contact your doctor. If you are in therapy, it is important to coordinate these efforts with your therapist. Occasionally, he or she may not want you to do the writing.
2. Feeling Good
- Read the first third of David Burn’s book, Feeling Good.
- Write in his “three-column” format.
- This format stimulates reprogramming of your nervous system: 1) awareness 2) separation 3) establishing new circuits.
- This book is most effective with engaging in the suggested writing. Letter from David Burns
- Continue to IMMEDIATELY destroy your writing.
- Continue with your free writing indefinitely.
Can you unlearn how to ride a bicycle?
With chronic pain your brain lays down pain pathways similar to you knowing how to ride a bicycle. These pathways are permanent. This is not a “psychological” problem so traditional psychological approaches do not work. Once you know how to ride a bicycle you cannot unlearn to ride it. The writing seems to break through these circuits. Unlearning How to Ride Your Bicycle
There are many additional healing strategies but all are in ADDITION to the writing. Writing is not the final solution but it is the foundation. I have seen few patients become pain free without this step.
- Baike KA and Kay Wilhelm. “Emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing.” Advances in Psychiatric Treatment (2005); 11:338-346