Recollecting Shame

Do you remember the feeling of being laughed at when you fell over?

Your knees had clattered against the floor and the heels of your hands were sore and throbbing. The girls giggled loudly down the corridor and kept walking. Their eyes cast towards the lunch line and not to see if you were hurt.

The pain wasn’t just physical. The bruising on your knees displayed the mechanical outcome of your fall, but didn’t account for the ashamed flush in your cheeks and the wringing tingling feeling in your chest. What was that? Was the fact that you felt embarrassed the reason you had so much pain for the rest of the day? Was the pain burning in your chest any less painful than the ones in your extremities?

I think we can all rationalise in this situation, the pain that our younger selves was experiencing was both physical and psychological, however, what I find interesting, is that it is the same parts of the brain controlling the sensation in both the soft tissue and emotional responses.

 

Interpretation of Sensation

Both of these sensations of pain: physical and psychological, start in the brain. It is the epicentre that helps us to interpret feelings. A number of important parts of the brain can either increase the amount of pain we are experiencing or decrease it depending on what activity is occurring in these centres. These centres are primed by our experiences in the past and affect how we interpret all sensation. (Weich et al., 2009), (Lorenz et al,. 2003).

 

The Shame was the Pain - Brain areas associated with emotion

 

The Amygdala, amongst other things, can become sensitised to feeling when there is a trauma or fear associated with a previous memory. It doesn’t have to have even occurred in the same area of your body, only that something about the scenario is similar – perhaps a familiar laugh or experience.

The Anterior Cingulate Cortex in particular, is responsible for amplifying pain when triggered by emotions. This is a common area that lights up in fMRI studies of chronic pain. The more emotions there are associated with a particular feeling, be that worry, fear or anger, the higher the level of pain is experienced. (Kasanetz et al., 2022)

Luckily, there are a number of areas of the brain that can also help us regulate and decline levels of pain in the body. The Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex (DLPFC) is the area of rationality in the brain. It allows us to cognitively appraise a situation and work out what is logical. The same way I did in the video above.

Unfortunately the DLPFC doesn’t work when we are in ‘fight/flight or freeze’ mode until we have calmed our nervous system. This can be done with tools such as self soothing Breathing and Meditation. The DLPFC can then work very well when we guide it through tools such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Reflective Writing.

Most gratifyingly, the more we practise Emotional Awareness Exercises, the more we are able to retrain the brain to interpret sensation. Not to immediately assume a high level ‘danger’ response. This work is the cornerstone of methods like Dr John Sarno, SIRPA and Cureable.

A number of people we have spoken to have used the Emotional Awareness practises of SIRPA and Dr John Sarno to resolve their chronic pain. Check out Dana and Fiona for more.

 

“My young brain had created a story”

 

Science Made Personal

It was with this knowledge I was able to change the sensations in my legs. The pain I was experiencing was so much more than general fatigue that one might expect from a long days challenging walk. The addition of the memories from my past had made the walk so much more uncomfortable than it needed to be. Becoming aware of unconscious nerve pathways helped me to calm down the centres of my brain associated with traumatic memory (even if it was only a very small trauma) and help me to put inaccurate interpretations by my Central Nervous System to rest.

As with any practise, the key to improve is to keep doing it. Over time the training becomes second nature and we strengthen new nerve pathways that are not associated with pain.

 

‘Please note, though I am a Physiotherapist by profession, I am not your Physiotherapist and the advice shared on Liberation Found is for educational and informational purposes only’. The information provided here is not a substitute for professional, individualised, treatment. As such you should not rely solely on the information posted here. If you feel this content resonates with your lived experience, I encourage you to work with a SIRPA professional, or other qualified mindbody specialist to address your concerns.

If you would like to work with me on addressing your condition, please email and we can ascertain if I am the best fit for your needs.’