How Reversing Negative Thinking can Help Pelvic Pain

In Female Pelvic Pain, Male Pelvic Pain by Stephanie Prendergast29 Comments

By Guest Blogger Lorraine Faehndrich

You may know that negative thinking is hard on your body and contributes to pain and illness. You may even have a doctor or other health care provider who recommends that you “reduce stress” and try to think more positively in order to heal your body. If so, and you’ve tried to think more positively, you probably also know that this is much easier said than done!

Nothing triggers stressful, negative, fearful thinking like pain and illness.

When your health is compromised and you’re experiencing pain or other symptoms that you don’t understand, that hurt a lot, that isolate you and limit your ability to do the things you want to do, and you haven’t found a doctor that can help, it can send your amygdala (or what I like to call your inner lizard) into a tail spin.

The amygdala is the oldest part of the brain, and is often referred to as the reptilian brain (hence inner lizard). It is the part of our brain that stores emotional memory and it is wired to keep us safe. The way it does this is to constantly scan the environment for potential dangers. When it finds one, it triggers the sympathetic nervous system (aka the fight or flight response) to prepare the body to run or fight (or freeze – like a bunny).

This system is very effective when the dangers in your environment come in the form of something you need to run from, or fight with, to stay safe – say a tiger or a bear.

When activated, the fight or flight response causes the release of “stress hormones” from your adrenal glands, including cortisol and epinephrine. It increases you heart rate and blood pressure, increases muscle tension, and decreases blood flow to your skin, digestive and reproductive tracts. All things that help you deal with an immediate, present, and real threat to your current safety.

The problem is that in today’s day and age, for the vast majority of us, there is nothing to run from or physically fight with. So most of the things that your brain registers as dangerous are not real, present, or immediate threats to your safety. On the contrary, they are thoughts about what could happen or has happened, and at the moment, they exist only in your mind.

If you’re experiencing pelvic pain, the dangers your inner lizard is registering may sound something like this:

  •  “What if this never gets better? What if it keeps getting worse?”
  • “I have no control over this. I’m helpless. I have no power over this pain and I can’t stand it. It’s either going to kill me or leave me in a miserable painful, pitiful existence.”
  • “I’m doomed.”
  • “How will this affect my children, partner, family?
  • “What if I’m in this pain for the rest of my life? What if no one can help me?”
  • “No one will ever want to have a relationship with me.”
  • “I’ll never be able to have sex again.”
  • “I’ll never be able to have a baby.”
  • “I’m damaged.”
  • “No one understands. I’m alone and unloved and I always will be.”
  • “What am I doing wrong? Why do I deserve this?”
  • “How did I cause this?”
  • “What if this is the best I will ever feel?”

Because your body doesn’t know the difference between a real threat and one that your mind is creating, these thoughts lead to a continuously activated fight or flight response that increases anxiety, stress, and even pain. This further alerts the inner lizard to danger, re-triggers the fight or flight response, increases anxiety, stress, and pain…and so on and so on. A vicious cycle has been created. Until you understand it, this cycle is difficult to stop.

If you’ve tried to think more positively and haven’t yet been successful, go easy on yourself. You’re stuck in a cycle that is having a physiological impact on your body that is making it hard to shift.

And rest assured, once you understand what’s happening (which you now do), and you have some effective strategies to deal with it (which I’m going to give you), you will be able to think more positively in no time. It’s actually very doable.

Below are a handful of strategies that I believe will help you break that negative cycle of thinking.

Step One: Listen – Let Your Inner Lizard Have His/Her Say

Whether he/she is complaining, worrying, catastrophizing or criticizing let your lizard have his/her say.

Rather than trying to force him/her prematurely to quiet down, take the time to listen.

Remember, our inner lizards’ job is to alert us to potential danger and they’re going to feel uneasy until they have the opportunity to do this. But believe me, once you listen to your I.L., the intensity of his/her warnings will decrease. I.L. will start to calm down, and then you’ll be in a better position to look at what he or she is saying and make a conscious decision about how you want to respond.

Anytime you notice you’re thinking negatively, worrying, or just feeling uneasy, bring your conscious attention to your thoughts and let ‘em rip! Write your thoughts down. This gives you the chance to get them out of your head and onto paper where you’ll be able to look at them more objectively.

Don’t beat yourself or your inner lizard up for having these thoughts. He/She is just doing his/her job. Your job is to listen, question, and make the decisions.

Step Two: Identify What Your Inner Lizard Is Doing

Next, look at the thoughts you have written down and determine the category they fall into. What exactly is your inner lizard doing? Is he/she worrying, catastrophizing, criticizing, or making negative predictions? Is he/she trying to fix something, obsessively planning, trying to be perfect, or beating you up for something that’s already happened?

Stepping into the position of questioning and identifying your thoughts engages the dorso lateral prefrontal cortex, the more evolved, conscious part of your brain. Activating this part of your brain inhibits the amygdala’s activation of the fight or flight response, which interrupts the vicious cycle of tension, pain, and negative thinking giving you space to make different decisions about how to use your mind.

Step Three: Name Inner Lizard’s Top 10 Tunes

One of my mentors, Martha Beck, teaches an exercise I love called “Your Lizard’s Top 10 Tunes”. This step is an adaptation of that exercise.

Once you have your lizard’s stories down on paper, look back over them and name them.

Pick names that you’ll remember, possibly ones that add a little humor to the situation. You don’t have to give each thought a name, but group them into common themes and then name the theme or tune.

For instance:

The “No One Understands” tune. The “I Can’t Do It” tune. The “I’m Doomed to a Life of Pain and Misery” tune.

Get the idea?

The reason you want to name your lizard’s tunes is because it will make it much easier to recognize how often she sings them. Once you have a name, every time you notice that tune say to yourself, “Oh, there’s the “I’m doomed to a life of pain and misery” tune again.

Trust me, after noticing that your lizard sings the same tune about 999 times a day, in all different situations, and with all different triggers, you’ll start to see the humor in the situation. And those negative thoughts will quickly lose their hold over you.

Step Four: Breathe

While activating the conscious part of your mind will decrease the fight or flight response, there are very effective ways of releasing it directly from your body as well.

The simplest and most effective way to do this is to breathe into your belly.

Bring your conscious attention to your breath and place your hand over your low belly, just below your belly button. As you inhale, allow your belly to fill and expand with air.

As you exhale allow your belly to fall as the air flows back out. No forcing. Sink into your body and your breath. If your inner lizard starts singing his/her tunes let ‘em know you’ll get back to him/her in a few minutes, but that right now you’re going to take some time to connect to your body. Sometimes it helps to count the breath cycles to activate your conscious mind and keep it engaged in what you’re doing.

Take these four simple tools, and practice them regularly, and you will begin to notice a huge difference in how you respond to your negative thought patterns.

As you get into your body and bring your conscious awareness to your inner lizard’s stories and the negative thought loops in your mind, you will begin to detach from them, creating the space you need to make choices about how you would actually like to use your mind. When you have that space, eradicating negative thinking will be much more doable.

What’s more, you will soon be able to consciously choose the thoughts that support your healing rather than feeling powerless over the ones that are causing stress and anxiety.

For now, Listen, Identify, Name, and Breathe

Lorraine Faehndrich is a Women’s Health Mentor with more than 15 years experience with mind/body healing. Her company, Radiant Life Design, is dedicated to helping women who are suffering with chronic pelvic and sexual pain to realign with their purpose and passions, create health, and live joyful lives.

 

 

Comments

  1. Thank you for this thoughtful post. I have recently come to realize how powerful the mind/body connection is in my pelvic pain, and am trying to take measures to calm down my brain’s response to pain. It is amazing to think how much our brains can contribute to a crippling painful condition!

    1. Hi Isabel.

      I’m so glad you found the post helpful! It is amazing how much impact our brain can have on our body! If you’re interested in exploring the mind/body connection more you may like to sign up for a free call I’m offering on that topic tomorrow. You can find out more here http://www.radiantlifedesign.com/six-steps/ A recording of the call will be available afterwards if you can’t be on the live call. I hope that getting to know your inner lizard will help you calm down your brain’s normal response to the pain. All the best, Lorraine

  2. I appreciate your physiological explanation of how mindfulness actually helps quiet the amygdala flight-and-fight. Thanks!

  3. I do suffer from pelvic pain, PN, myofascial pain etc., and I’ve been trying to do mind quieting – but I’m not very good at it. I have negative thoughts ALL the time, from the time I wake up, until I go to bed. As soon as my pain appears, I feel helpless really and just wait it out. I want control over it so bad…. thank you for this post. I am looking forward to naming the “inner lizards”. Thank you so much for posting,
    Grateful – Debbie

    1. You’re very welcome Debbie! I know it can feel overwhelming when you have a steady stream of negative thoughts. And it’s completely normal when you not only have your lizards opinion on your regular life, but you have it’s opinion on your symptoms too! I think it will help you a lot to name your lizard and allow it to have it’s say – with awareness. Even though it feels overwhelming at first, it does get easier! You’re already doing great. Just being aware of what’s going on is a huge step in the right direction. All the best, Lorraine

  4. My PT sent me this article, which was very helpful. Although I know more women are afflicted with pelvic pain, many of us men are too. Can I somehow become part of your network even though I’m a man? I’ve had persistent rectal and anal pain following a hemorrhoidectomy last April. I certainly qualify for one who needs help in dealing with my anxiety and depression as a result.

    Thanks,
    David

    1. Hi David. Yes absolutely you can be part of my network! My writing is geared towards women, but I know there are lots of men suffering with pelvic pain and all the same tools and principles apply when working with the anxiety and depression. I’d be happy to have you sign up to receive my newsletter and blog and take a look at the other resources on my website to see what may help you. I’m offering a free call tomorrow too that you may be interested in. You can learn more and sign up on my website http://www.RadiantLifeDesign.com. Thanks for your comment.
      All the best,
      Lorraine

      1. Thanks so much, Lorraine, for your kind reply and welcoming approach. I will attend the call with the intention that it will help me cope with my condition psychologically. It will be interesting for me being the only man (?) attending, but I’m sure it will be beneficial regardless.
        Best regards,
        David

      2. Lorraine, I listened to the teleseminar, which was very helpful, so thank you so much for inviting me. If you wish, I can forward an article in this blog about a form of physical therapy I’m starting to use that may be of interest to some of the women in the group. It’s too early to tell, but I’m optimistic it can facilitate a reduction in my pain and help me heal. Please let me know.
        Regards, David

        1. Hi David. Thank you for listening to the teleseminar. I’m glad you found it helpful. I would like to read about the new form of physical therapy you’re doing. Pleae do forward the article to me.
          Thanks, Lorraine

          1. I think I meant your article, which is really a blog. But I will send you an email tomorrow from work (should@thermopro.com) describing my physical therapy.
            Thanks, David

  5. Great post! I love the way that you explain getting control over the inner lizard!

  6. This is an excellent explanation of how habitual thinking activates the fight or flight response which is directly related to tension in muscles and perpetuating the pain cycle. Getting perspective on these thoughts, which are often untrue, can help to relieve tension and stress. I can confirm that this is one of the keys to relieving pelvic pain.

    1. Hi Gail. Thank you! I’m glad you liked it and that you can confirm how important it is to get some perspective on your thinking in order to relieve pain. All the best,
      Lorraine

  7. What a thoughtful article…and useful as I am on a journey to heal and overcome challenges in my life. Thank you.

  8. Mindfulness is very helpful and is something we can all practise. I am a Life Coach and have been working with people over 10 years and working at staying in the present, taming the lizard is what we can all practise.
    I am now 60 and on a major transition as I am retiring this year and changing my life. It is not just young people who suffer PP, it is women at all ages and walks of life. What has also to be taken into consideration is how women have been treated historically and are still treated medically today. How our pelvis has been viewed, mostly by men and our vaginas have been viewed throughout history and now. Years ago women’s health was looked after by midwives and women. Then men took over and the mutilation began. This is still deep in our psyche and not to be taken lightly. I know because I have been there and have suffered and come back from being traumatised post op with PP.
    I perfectly understand if you don’t wish to publish this but there is a lot more healing needs to be done than mindfulness believe me. Mindfulness is one strategy, but understanding your pelvis, understanding the connection between our vagina and our brain is also where the healing lies.. Knowledge is power and understanding how women have arrived here with this kind of suffering and why we feel like we do is key.

    1. Lindsey – You are absolutely right. Mind calming is one of the tools for mind-body healing. It also includes learning to feel emotions instead of resist them. And learning to inhabit the body in ways that feel better. Healing the trauma around how our bodies have been treated, including by western medicine will also help ease the pain. There are many of us working in mind-body healing these days, including me. I’m also a mind-body coach and I was neglected by the medical community for more than 20 years by providers who did not understand my pain. Luckily I finally found the right physical therapy and mind-body healing and am feeling so much better now. My passion now is to help other people relieve their pain so they aren’t stuck in the misery I experienced myself for so long. I encourage you to read “Healing Painful Sex” by Deborah Coady and Nancy Fish, and “Wild Feminine” by Tami Lynn Kent which cover some the points you brought up in your post.

    2. Hello Lindsey and Gail.

      Lindsey you are absolutely right and thank you so much for bringing up this important topic! Learning how to work with our thoughts is one of the first steps in healing female pelvic pain. It is an important piece of the puzzle but not the only one for sure! Learning how to love and cherish ourselves , value and feel our emotions are all things that I work on with my private clients. I love the books Gail has recommended (in particular Wild Feminine) and also agree with her that learning how to come back into the body and process emotions in a healthy way are a huge part of achieving lasting pain relief – in addition to working with our thoughts. Another book I highly recommend – and that it sounds like you may already be familiar with is, Vagina: A New Biography by Naomi Wolf. Thanks again for bringing up this important topic! All the best, Lorraine

  9. Thanks for this very encouraging article. Lately I’ve been thinking, ‘You suck at mindfulness! Just forget it. It doesn’t matter how much pain you’re in, you’ll never change.’ I’ll call it the ‘Throw in the Towel’ medley. I really appreciate the thoughtful analogies and specific strategies. I’m so glad I came across this site today.

    1. Author

      Hi Andrea!

      Thank you for the kind words of encouragement!

      All my best,
      Steph

    2. Hi Andrea!

      I’m so glad you found my post and strategies helpful. I love how you’ve identified your ‘Throw in the Towel” Medley. You’re off to a great start! Our mind/lizard can be very tricky with all the ways it can wrap us up into stressful thinking and distract us from the truth….this is a perfect example. Great work catching on! You are obviously doing an amazing job at mindfulness despite what your lizard has to say 🙂

      Warmly,
      Lorraine

  10. Great post Lorraine. I have attended classes at Kaiser for bio-feedback as well as learning to train our brain to think positive. I am successful as long as I’m just relaxing at home, but when I am at work or running chores, my thinking reverts back and my pelvic muscles tighten up like a sailors knot. Am I doomed to go through the remainder of my life getting botoxed and taking pain meds? I’ve hade CPP since 2006 and am currently 67 years old. So frustrating dealing with unknowledgeable professionals as well.

    1. Hi Denise. No. You’re not doomed! It is more difficult to think positively when you’re doing things that trigger old thinking patterns (and often emotions). It takes time, patience, awareness (which it sounds like you already have) and practice to shift that. Without knowing more about what you’ve already done, I can’t give you any specific suggestions, but I will say that often what is underlying our negative thought patterns are emotions that we are consciously or unconsciously avoiding. Learning how to feel those can make a big difference in our ability to think in more helpful ways. What I’ve written about here is the first step. If you’d like to explore the impact your emotions can have on your body and your thinking, you can read more about that here http://www.radiantlifedesign.com/blog/ Please don’t give up on healing your body. It sounds like you are headed in the right direction! Just give yourself the time, kindness, and patience you need to get there. Transforming how you think and respond to stress takes time but it will get easier and you absolutely can do it.

      All the best,
      Lorraine

  11. Thank you Lorraine for this very useful article. Made a big difference in my life right now. I really have to pay more atention to my mind and how it affects my body. many many thanks.

Leave a Comment