Developing the stressful CFS personality

My first recovery was reversed almost instantly as I went back to daily life. It seemed to me that something had triggered my symptoms again. This was a difficult period, as I had fought really hard to recover in the first place, but within 2 months I was back at rock bottom. I didn’t really understand the fatigue, and it was time to read many more books about the subject. And surprisingly, by understanding the symptoms, I was able to be back at my previous point in no time. This time, while I am going back to a normal life, I still have to be very conscious of my symptoms and listen to what they tell me. Some days I am better at this than others.

All in the mind?

The belief that symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia are ‘all in the mind’ is one example of ignorance. This is very far from being the case, as we shall see.  The reactions that people with these illnesses are dealing with from so-called experts and people in their environment only add to the stress on the nervous system.

The symptoms are, in fact, created by neurological and glandular changes in the body and are very real indeed! These changes are, in turn, triggered by signals from the limbic system working through the HPA axis and vagus nerve under the overall direction of what can be called ‘Bodymind’.

In the book Reverse Therapy, written by John Eaton, it is key to reverse the priority given to the thinking mind in our culture and focus more deeply on the bodymind—the source of emotions, intuitions, and our deeply-felt decisions, as well as most of the ‘conscious’ decisions we think we are making.

The cause of ME/CFS

I have gained most of my knowledge from the books I recommend and provide on the self-study page. I read books such as ‘The Intelligent Body’ by Kyle Davies and ‘Reverse Therapy’ by John Eaton to learn about Dr. Sarno’s work on ‘bodymind’ symptoms. I also read “The Great Pain Deception” by Steve Ozanich, which is considered one of the most comprehensive books about the bodymind. Deep meditation and trial and error in my recovery made me have an interest in the psychological perspective of disease. Books like ‘the anatomy of loneliness’, ‘When the body says no’, or ‘Reinventing your life’ are great for understanding how the psyche can develop diseases. After reading, applying, and coaching people with these ‘bodymind approaches’, I gradually began to comprehend the depth of the subject matter. I might still edit my perception of what ME/CFS is exactly, but I am convinced that this explanation is close enough to the truth.

The inability of the nervous system to maintain homeostasis.

The nervous system in a person with ME/CFS has lost the ability to maintain homeostasis. This means that the stress mode, also known as the ‘fight or flight mode, is dominant in the autonomic nervous system. An overwhelming amount of stress, which pressures the nervous system at one moment, disrupts the balance or homeostasis between the ‘fight or flight mode’ and the’rest and digest mode’. The stresses accumulate in the body and disrupt the balance even further. The accumulation of stress creates all kinds of symptoms, leading to complete exhaustion.

Stress on the nervous system

The different stresses that can cause the imbalance vary from person to person, but there is a commonality in the personalities of people with ME/CFS. These stressful personalities used to thrive on stress and self-pressure. This behavioral pattern has developed in childhood, and identification with these traits is probably the reason a person can’t switch the nervous system back to homeostasis. This process becomes increasingly challenging as time passes. To understand the development of these types of personalities, we have to re-evaluate all our behavior as well as unresolved emotions from childhood.

Emotions

The ‘bodymind’ is always giving feedback to us in the form of emotions. There is no such thing as a positive or a negative emotion. Emotions are there to protect us from a path that would interfere with both short-term and long-term survival. We send some emotions, such as anger, fear, and disgust, to guide, warn, and protect. Other emotions, like joy, are feedback that we are on the right track. Whenever we feel joy, our health improves, we raise self-esteem, and we are self-actualizing, the top need on Maslow’s pyramid.

A rough start in life

As children, we have all learned some sort of conditional love. Most people with ME/CFS and fibromyalgia have had an even harder childhood and couldn’t safely attach to their parents. Others develop the same patterns later in life. A group, like the parents or other authority figures, pressures the child to conform to a certain behavior. The child develops an ego and identifies with its tactics to please the different groups. Children are always loyal to their parents, peers, and teachers, as the need for connection is one of the strongest urges in a human being. A fragile being learns to go against all ‘bodymind’ signals that something is wrong.

People often reject the so-called negative emotions, leading the child to assume the role of the desired child. This way, the child can still get a small portion of the love, connection, and safety it needs. To distract from emotions and figure out strategies (coping mechanisms), the child will engage in excessive thinking; this will become a habit until later in life. Thinking and burying emotions (coping mechanisms) are very stressful for the body. Over time, the stress reservoir gradually fills and eventually overflows. You have created, over the years, a stressful personality. If you asked a person with ME/CFS if they experienced anger, fear, shame, unworthiness, loneliness, etc., they would most likely hardly ever notice the ‘negative emotion’. Instead, they see the negative emotions as bodily symptoms.

The first body-mind symptoms

My first personal symptoms were at a very young age. I had constant belly aches and psoriasis when I was 6 years old. I have had sleeping issues my entire life. Later in life, as the stress in my family decreased, these symptoms disappeared. Since I was a teenager, I have had digestion issues (IBS) and dandruff. Meanwhile, I was always playing the role of the happy entertainer. My coping mechanism for wanting to improve the atmosphere at home was entertaining. By the age of 2, I had become the family entertainer. A job that I continued in my adult life when I worked as a comedian. Even today, whenever I am in an emotionally difficult situation, I feel the urge to make jokes. Being involved in these types of coping behaviors makes me feel fatigued nowadays. When I feel the urge to suppress my feelings by distracting myself with coping mechanisms, I am denying a part of myself. An occasional negative emotion was not the only thing that caused intense fatigue in my worst years. I had hundreds of unconscious coping mechanisms—my thoughts, my desires, and my urges—all based on coping.

Experiencing the ‘fight or flight’ state

All this stress is causing the body to be in the so-called ‘fight or flight mode’; our energy is used for urgent survival methods like clear thinking and strength, while other bodily processes like digestion and the immune system are put on hold. We only expect this state of stress and survival to persist for a brief period, until the threat ceases. Our society and poor parenting have made this state almost permanent for lots of people. According to Dr. Joe Dispenza’s research, the average adult spends 70% of its time in survival mode. As a result, we will develop nutritional deficiencies and a weakened immune system. Sleep will become unrefreshed, and the body will enter a downward spiral. When you are in fight or flight mode, you will slowly forget what it is to properly rest. Your mind will feel agitated and in constant need of stimulation. Deep and constant thinking will consume you. Braking this pattern with mindfulness activities and meditation will help your nervous system calm down.

Coping mechanisms

As adults, we are still using the same coping mechanisms to avoid our emotions as when we were children. This is what we learned in childhood. A great book to understand your own behavior is ‘Reinventing Your Life’ by Jeffrey Young. This book is completely about coping mechanisms and the pain hidden underneath them.

Denying your own emotions for decades can only happen when the child has learned that they are not valid. And by ‘they’ I mean both the emotions and the child itself. Every time you deny something about your nature, you have fragmented a part of yourself. If you see yourself as a strong and independent person, you have most likely buried the part of you that is weak and depends on others. Being strong and independent is, in this case, a coping mechanism to deal with deep pain inside of yourself. Rejection and self-shaming, initially from others and subsequently from yourself, trigger this pain. By acting strong and independent in this case, you are enraging what is in psychology called ‘the inner child’, the part of you that feels weak and dependent.

This adult will still be looking for love, connection, and safety, as the emotional body is still a little child in this specific area. It didn’t receive what it needed. Engaging in all these coping strategies is, again, very stressful for the body. The rejection of the inner child triggers painful emotions that remain in the unconscious. When you are seeking your initial emotional needs via coping strategies, whenever you (unconsciously) feel a negative emotion, you can develop a general feeling of not being good enough, loneliness, etc. These feelings have nothing to do with your circumstances; they are the result of not seeing parts of yourself. This is not something that happened in the past, but something you relive every day.

Another downside of coping mechanisms is that they will never provide you with what you were looking for: emotional relief. It functions to keep you away from emotions and feelings, and although the mind wants you to believe that you can get something in the future, this is never the case. After years, this will lead to more frustration. Most people then start to reject their frustration by adding another coping mechanism on top of all the others: positive thinking.

Is ME/CFS an auto-immune condition?

Almost everybody with auto-immune diseases (ME/CFS, fibromyalgia, and back pain) reports a stressful incident or period as the start of their symptoms. This could be, e.g., an accident, a surgery, a loss, a breakup, or a virus. This tells me that all of these conditions are stress-related. Just like with an auto-immune disease and back pain, people report that the symptoms can fluctuate a lot based on events, situations, and triggers. This conclusively identifies all these diseases as psychosomatic disorders. Given the negative connotations associated with this label and the importance of taking sufferers seriously, I prefer to refer to these conditions as mind-body symptoms in combination with a chronic state of stress. This diagnosis is good news, because now I can guide you to reverse the symptoms.

The beginning of chronic fatigue syndrome

After a stressful period, your body’s stress bucket of negative emotions becomes full. The conscious mind has successfully blocked these stressful emotions and feelings over time, but the final stresses will let the bucket flow over. The compromised immune system renders the body incapable of eliminating infections.

When we return to the rest and digest mode of the nervous system, the immune system will finally have time to heal you. However, the body must cope with an overwhelming number of stressors. The immune system struggles to combat pathogens that multiply more quickly than the body can handle them. This causes another form of stress and reactivates the survival mode.

You have been coping with life because of a fragmented emotional body; defragmenting your emotional body should become your priority. People often become aware of their repressed emotions when forced to halt their normal lives. When you can’t run away anymore, you are forced to feel what is actually inside you. This often hits them by surprise and causes them lots of additional stress.

Deep rest and accessing the ‘rest and digest mode’

The stress that you get from the symptoms has a significant impact on your nervous system and creates secondary symptoms. Good-quality rest can temporarily decrease symptoms. The problem is that most people with ME/CFS that I speak to can’t allow themselves to rest properly. As much as I would love to bring you back to your old life, we will probably need to cut back on your activities first. It’s not about how much you can do in a day, but rather how meaningful the activities are and how good the rest in between is.

Neuroplasticity

A person might feel the need to retire from social activities and choose to continue with work. This is, however, not the response the inner child wants you to take. As you become more isolated and stuck in a vicious circle, you are moving further away from the body’s desired outcome. The symptoms will persist and become more intense. This is also the phase where most people with ME/CFS start to expect their fatigue. The neuropathways will make it easier for you to feel the unwanted sensations if you focus on the symptoms. By scanning the body for symptoms, the mind is actively recreating a stressful event based on past experiences.

In NLP/brain retraining variations, you can learn to undo some of your symptoms. By actively disrupting stress patterns through calmness, you can aid your calming-down pathways. By accessing different neuro-highways, you can relearn to have the parasympathetic nervous system as your automatic state of being. This is called neuroplasticity.

If you use this technique to suppress fatigue, however, the bodymind usually continues with even harder symptoms, like panic attacks. Instead of suppressing the fatigue, you should use these techniques to soothe your inner child.

It doesn’t as well mean that these techniques are the solution for everything, as there might still be a reason behind the perpetuating stress response.

TMS and diversion pain syndrome

Dr. Sarno developed a strategy to help thousands of people with chronic pain. The treatment’s goal was to only give their ‘unconscious anger’ a voice (as well as other negative feelings and emotions we don’t accept). He stated that most people with chronic diseases have a split body and mind when it comes to anger or rage. The unconscious generates symptoms as a means of diverting your attention from the emotions that remain stored within your body. By only becoming aware of anger (and other powerful emotions), 75% of people can hijack the unconscious diversion method and get pain-free within 28 days. Overall, his success rate in healing the most desperate cases in society is 98%. Accepting his diagnosis turned out to be the most crucial part of their recovery. Almost all recovery cases had a previous diagnosis of a spine abnormality. After scanning the spines of healthy people, they found out that the abnormalities are a natural result of aging and present in everybody. Most of the time, the surgeries recommended by normal doctors were unsuccessful, as there was always a reason to perform additional surgeries.

Inner child vs. inner adult

In a straightforward analogy, the human psyche comprises the narcissistic inner child, who craves instant gratification and feels extremely vulnerable; the inner adult, who embodies the role of a parent and strives for social acceptance through strategies; and the ego, which prioritizes survival and identity formation. In people with bodymind symptoms, the inner child holds all the pain and rejection; the ego chooses to deal with this by prioritizing the strategies of the inner adult over the inner child. This means that a person with bodymind symptoms has a specific type of personality, such as being a goodist, a people-pleaser, conscientious, and a perfectionist. This kind of behavior enrages the inner child. The body stores anger in a stress bucket, and when it approaches consciousness, the unconscious protects you by generating symptoms. The symptoms are distractions and work only when you believe that something is wrong with you. The less you believe that there is structural damage in your body, the less effective its tactic is.

When the body says no,

In the book ‘When the body says no’, the author writes about studies that have proven the link between boundaries and illnesses. When someone is unable to feel, connect, and act upon their negative emotions, healthy boundaries will cease to exist. Sometimes, a person’s desperate attempt to connect with others causes them to overlook all the warning signs. Instead of saying ‘no!’, their body will say it for them.

What is happening in the body?

The nervous system switches to fight or flight mode due to accumulated emotional stress. The split between the body and the mind can trigger the limbic system in the brain to detect an undesirable situation. The mind does not respond appropriately to the limbic system. It then stimulates the hypothalamus, which stimulates the pituitary gland, which stimulates the adrenal glands, which changes the muscles, blood circulation, digestion, and immune system by causing a slight oxygen deprivation and tension in certain tissues, like the mitochondria.

The changes in circulation cause brain fog and dizziness. Changes in digestion can cause irritable bowels. Changes to the immune system can cause infections, swollen glands, a sore throat, and feverishness. The hypothalamus synthesizes the optic nerve and disrupts the “body clock,” which can cause blurred vision, light and sound sensitivity, and sleep disturbances.

The changes or tension in the muscles make the mitochondria burn up ATP and glucose storage too fast. The muscles will then switch to an inefficient fuel source, with lactic acid as a byproduct. This causes fatigue, muscle pain, and headaches, and it justifies the feelings of patients who claim to feel as if they had run a marathon. Other diversion pain symptoms include muscle weakness, nervousness, dizziness, nausea, eczema, back pain, joint pain, and so on. Over time, the nervous system’s equilibrium may become easily disturbed. The symptoms cause you to feel stressed, and the condition has slowly become chronic.

A misinterpretation of the symptoms might make you think that they urge you to rest and decrease your social life. Then, you’ll become engrossed in monitoring and anticipating your symptoms. This will lead to a negative spiral, as the unconscious stockpile of negative emotions from the ‘bodymind’ will increase the intensity of the symptoms. Isolation is probably the opposite of what you need. You will need to learn to listen to your body instead of your symptoms. However, allow yourself to rest properly, switch off the stressful thinking mind, and participate in meaningful activities to balance your nervous system.

Pain and fatigue have a purpose.

People who never experience pain usually don’t live very long. Pain is there to protect you from harm, so your body can keep functioning. People who have run a marathon usually speak about hitting ‘the wall’. This fatigue signals that the body’s energy reserves will eventually run out if you continue running. Experienced runners know exactly how much energy they have and don’t need this protection mechanism. When ‘the wall’ hits them, they know they will have enough energy to complete the marathon. People with ME/CFS experience ‘the wall’ every day. Just like pain, it serves to protect you. From what?

A person with bodymind (or limbic brain) symptoms has a mental split between the inner adult and the inner child. Frightening emotions from the narcissist inner child are a death threat for the ego (the self-image) and the inner parent, and they will come up in the form of symptoms to protect you. This typically occurs when you have symptoms that scare you and make you obsessive. Obsession is a distraction; distraction is protection.

Your egoic personality makes you involved in coping mechanisms like pleasing, impressing, learning new things, gaining knowledge, etc. These tendencies cause you to enter ‘fight or flight mode’ in order to escape unwanted and unconscious feelings. The limbic brain knows about these almost conscious emotions and feelings. Each time you engage in these personality behaviors, you send a danger signal to your brain, and the limbic brain creates symptoms. After a while, both the coping behavior and limbic brain reactions become hard-wired into your automatic state.

Pride

For me, it took several years to accept this theory. Like everybody else who becomes chronically ill, I have a strong, developed ego. The acceptance of this theory was anything but easy, as there were always people screaming something else and getting very popular with it. My acceptance of this understanding was a gradual process, and when I was finally ready to accept it fully, my health improved very fast. Bruno Klopfer, PhD, a pioneer in health and psychology, was able to predict tumors based on an individual’s ego’s severity. His conclusion was that the more energy invested in the ego, the less energy a body has to heal itself.

Unlearning your behavior

Unlearning the ‘normal’ suppressed behavior can be challenging, but by tracing back to the period when the symptoms first appeared, you can begin to understand the bodymind’s intended outcome. Unlearning what you have learned and finding different ways to express your emotional needs will take time. Disconnecting from the stressed mind Eventually, the symptoms will no longer intimidate you. Instead of focusing on the symptoms, focus on the emotional body. It’s usually not that hard to see what’s underneath the symptoms. These are all painful but very rewarding processes you will have to go through.

Holistic approach

As you might understand, to recover, you will need a holistic approach.  On its own, one treatment form is not enough. There is no magic pill or magic treatment that will make you recover from ME/CFS. Unfortunately, this also makes it very hard to recover, because as long as you are in fight or flight mode, you won’t easily choose a holistic approach. As long as you identify with your stressful personality, you will want to go back to your old life. As long as you reject this, you won’t recover. MindBody symptoms really don’t mean you made it up. According to Steve Ozanich, these symptoms are the most extreme sensations a human can experience. Add an intense stress level on top of that and you have a chronic disease.  Yet at the same time, there is nothing wrong with your body, and you can heal.

Release process

With the Release process, we aim on removing the root stressors or emotions behind your MindBody symptoms. After a full release, these symptoms dissapate instantly. We have to start with emotional healing and Mindbody work. Having an instant release will give you confidence in proceeding the process. Many people need to prepare themselves for a release, if they don’t, their symptoms will even increase, as the brain still wants to protect you. On top of that it is important to calm down the nervous system with all kinds of healthy habits.