Blinding Rage

Blinding Rage

Last week we had a screening of “All the Rage” in Denver. We worked with Dr. Mark Strom – who studied with Dr. Sarno – to do Q and A in order to get press for the event. The extremely well-regarded Westword writer Michael Roberts interviewed Dr. Strom and ran a great article on the day of the screening. After a short intro paragraph about Dr. Strom and the film he wrote the following;

“I won’t prescribe opioids, period,” says Strom, whose current methodology, as used in his Pain Partners Colorado practice, mirrors the approach taken by the late Dr. John Sarno, the man at the center of All the Rage. “So don’t come to me if you want a prescription to opioids. We’re going to take care of your problem by helping you think about things differently — helping you think about yourself with empathy and understanding.”

The article is thoughtful and does a good job of explaining the concepts of mind body pain work. When part of this quote was used for the following tweet (I have copied and pasted them here for the sake of privacy), the response from one reader was quite angry.

“Don’t come to me if you want a prescription to opioids. We’re going to take care of your problem by helping you think about things differently.”

The response to the went like this;

Oh gosh. I have to stop following you here. This is ridiculous and so,so unhelpful. You can’t think pain away- you want me to tell my mom who has end-stage islet-cell cancer to just think it doesn’t hurt? Pure bullshite. –

I came upon it because I regularly search twitter to see who’s talking about Dr. Sarno. For the most part, these tweets come from people trying to inform a person complaining about pain about the mind body connection. A couple of years ago, I was at a super bowl party when I checked twitter and saw that the musician Pete Yorn had tweeted to M Night Shaymalan about Sarno, so I tweeted to him about the film. A few minutes later, he asked for a link and he’s been a big supporter ever since. Sometimes, though, the tweets are from skeptics. I tend to just let those sleeping dogs lie, because it has been made clear through multiple interactions they aren’t interested in engaging in a complex discussion. For the most part the strongest skeptics haven’t really looked into the ideas and reject them out of hand because Dr Sarno didn’t do his own randomized control trials. In this case, my search for “Dr Sarno” led to this discussion because Miriam, a somatic healer I know from twitter had responded in defense of Dr. Sarno.

Dr. Sarno doesn’t say that. Why are you thinking that he does?

The original poster responded;

Uhm because of the part of his tweet that is in quotation marks? I usually take that as something someone has “said”.

I didn’t feel comfortable responding because the original poster was clearly very angry, and I was concerned that is wouldn’t go well. Knowing that anger can make conversation difficult, if not impossible, I left it alone. However, the next morning I was thinking about the tweet as I took my morning walk and decided it was important to clarify why there might have been a misunderstanding. It didn’t seem ok to leave people with the impression that Dr Strom was conflating the kind of low back and neck pain Dr Strom was referring to, with end stage cancer pain.

I don’t believe that Dr. Strom is referring to end stage cancer care- this is what those drugs were ostensibly designed for. Instead he is talking about back pain and other chronic pain that is more related to how our brain processes “pain” than a purely physical cause /cancer

I got a not-so-conversational response:

Then let me give him a lesson about what quotation marks are used for. It is quoting what you have said. Full stop. I’m busy and don’t have time for this bullshite. Deuces

I took a breath and focused on responding rather than reacting. When people express anger towards us, it’s a natural response to react with anger in kind. However, when we slow down and look at the situation with some distance we can see that their anger usually isn’t completely about us, but instead about how they are conditioned to react to the world. When we react to that anger we are doing the same thing, but we can disrupt the process by responding with more awareness. In “The Presence Process”, author Michael Brown gives us tools that help us learn how to let go of our anger by uncovering the hidden frames of expectation that we use to view the world. Expectations of how people “should” behave are often shaped by our childhood and we can find ourselves getting enraged when these expectations are challenged. However, when we become more conscious of how we react emotionally, and physically, to these “threats” we can find a way to respond more rationally and empathetically. While the poster had made it clear that she didn’t want to discuss it, I still felt that the point about the pain their mother felt from cancer hadn’t been addressed. I hoped by clarifying it I could help her to let that anger go.

You brought up a good point that needed clarification. I hope that you can understand that twitter is less useful for complex and substantive conversations. The article itself is quite thoughtful

When the poster replied, “I read the article before my first tweet. ☮”, I really should have just let it go. However, I too had read the article and Dr Strom had clearly made the point that he wasn’t referring to cancer related pain.

maybe you missed this quote from the article “The first step is to be sure the patient doesn’t have a demonstrable traditional Western disease: cancer, Parkinson’s. It’s a diagnosis of exclusion. Then, once you’ve determined that, you proceed down the second path.”

My efforts were not appreciated.

I’m good. Have a nice day and please stop talking to me. One more time ☮

When we are arguing, we often go into fight or flight mode- which is essentially a panic mode. Our focus is often on escape rather than thoughtful discussion. While it felt important to clarify the misunderstanding I probably should have let it go as my instinct suggested at the beginning. In fact, I probably shouldn’t have bothered to write this post. My point in writing it is not to shame the poster but instead to talk about how powerfully anger can blind us. In this case, what made this poster so angry was clearly refuted in the article- one they claimed to have read. When it was pointed out to them, they were so angry that they couldn’t acknowledge or see it. I understand this because I have been there. I have spent plenty of time (way too much) screaming at customer service people (often when I was probably at fault). I have seethed with so much rage I didn’t talk for days. One time on a family trip to the beach my daughter was 4 or 5 and she was willfully doing what I told her not to for way too long I screamed at her. My brother tried to calm me down by pointing out that I was acting like our father, who did sometimes explode with anger. In a rage I screamed back “I am DAD!” In that moment I knew that I had to stop being that dad. It’s been a long road to get to a calmer place, but I can say with confidence that the things I’ve learned on that path made it possible for me to respond without being buffeted about by emotions yesterday. In any case, I have some insight about how hard it can be to think rationally when rage takes over. My intention was not to “poke the bear”, but instead to try to calm it down.

The twitter conversation continued a bit longer, but at that point I finally realized that no one was listening, and left it alone.

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