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A Deep Dive into Mindbody Mystery Maladies: a Nonmedical Model

Narcissistic rage is universal, meaning everyone, all ages and genders, experiences it. It is also a key concept to understanding mind-body issues. In his book, The Mindbody Prescription, Dr. John E. Sarno, a medical doctor and back specialist uses Heinz Kohut’s theory of “Self Psychology” to explain how we all have an inner child with a certain degree of unmet needs. Anger and rage are often a result of these unmet needs, but difficult emotions are not generally productive if we do not know how to regulate them in our systems properly. A childhood with attentive, emotionally connected parents can often help prepare a person for mindbody health. Still, most of us experience trauma (small and/or big) at some point in our lives, which also gives rise to mindbody mystery maladies.


Dr. Heinz Kohut theorized that we all have this inner child that requires a certain amount of connection such as mirroring, validation and even twinning, which we primarily get from the mother or other caretaker. Nichole Sachs has mentioned several times in her podcast how there is oftentimes a mismatch between a parent and child which can result in mindbody mystery maladies. Kohut suggests that analytical psychotherapy is often necessary in order to overcome serious ongoing and disabling conditions. Dr. Sarno mentions several times in his book that he had many people write to him and tell them how his books have literally cured them, revealing that the first step of his program, awareness of narcissistic rage, can be a solution in and of itself.


Both Sarno and Kohut reiterate that this narcissistic wounding is natural and normal and pain is none other than a distraction from the anger created by these emotional booboos. They explain that the number one source of narcissistic rage is trauma in infancy and childhood, and because this wounding is so far in the past, it can be very difficult to reconcile with, but not impossible. The personality traits that contribute to mindbody mystery maladies include low self-esteem, perfectionism, goodism, hostility and aggression, guilt, and dependency. These are great topics to work on with a therapist because in talk therapy we can access the past through the present, especially through moments of high emotion.


Dr. Sarno has a section in his book where he explains how changes in life, sometimes good ones, can bring about a shocking onset of mindbody maladies because we have six basic (emotional) needs: to be perfect, liked, and cared for, soothed, physically invincible and immortal. Some of those are almost laughable to some of us, right? You would be surprised how much the unconscious mind can be set on unfair ideas of perfection and the like. Many people carrying wounds from childhood and so forth unconsciously hold themselves to unfair expectations because of chronic feelings of inferiority as a result of wounds from perceived childhood experiences. This unconscious mechanism, in turn, is enraging to the (narcissistic) self / inner child, which again, is universal.


Sarno explains that there is a necessary rage/soothe ratio that one must attain before they are able to actually experience healing. He says that is why the mindbody mystery malady occurs in the first place: the individual does not experience enough soothing to counteract the rage she experiences. Furthermore, the equivalency concept explains why many people with chronic pain often appear more physically fit or skilled than other people (within their own gender and age), because exercise and activity are another form of distraction from narcissistic rage. Similarly, a fractured bone will show a reduction in chronic pain symptoms as it replaces the need for unconscious distraction. Dr. Sarno explains how he has seen this same need for equivalency expression through anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive behaviors.


Additionally, a very important influence on chronic pain is the fear factor. There is a fear feedback loop perpetuated in the unconscious mind. The very fear of the pain being ongoing can be enough to keep it going because the unconscious mind is very efficient. As Sarno states, “The mind’s goal is of distracting attention from repressed rage.” Fear of pain perpetuates pain, so it is integral to the function of chronic pain.


There is no way I could write this blog without mentioning TMS (tension myositis syndrome) or what I like to call “Too Much Shit!” TMS is the term Dr. Sarno has created for a person suffering from a mindbody mystery malady. When we entertain the medical model to heal our chronic pain, it does not work. After ruling out physical abnormalities that can be fixed, removed, etc., we must denounce the efficacy of the medical model and accept our condition as the very human experience of TMS. A great perspective to gain on chronic pain is that it is a great opportunity to heal deep wounds from our perceived childhoods and flourish the way we were originally designed to.


Lastly, I appreciate how Dr. John E. Sarno, M.D. is able to explain the biological processes the unconscious mind sets up. In friendly medical terminology, he is able to explain how the cerebrum is responsible for shutting off oxygen to certain parts of our body which give rise to dysfunction in the central nervous system and what I have termed as mindbody mystery maladies. Some of the most common of these illnesses include allergies, headaches, sore throat, and back pain. What would this do to the medical community, financially, if we all really took this nonmedical model of healing more seriously?


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