Fibromyalgia, ‘goodism’, self-sacrifice,”giving yourself away”

“Self development is a higher duty than self sacrifice”, Elizabeth Stanton

As I read more and more about brain mapping and how to change the pain mappings in my brain I am reminded about how intensely I wrote in my book regarding the highly sensitive person (HSP, according to Elaine Aron). This is the ’empath’, the person who senses what other people are feeling and takes on the emotions of others as though they were her/his own( I don’t mean this in the usual sense of the ‘psychic’ person, or in any mystical way). I still stand by that description of the person with fibromyalgia. We are like a toxic sponge! Now, I believe that this type of person (mainly, but, of course not solely, women) has the personality characteristics of the self sacrificing, doing good for others (what  Dr. James Rochelle calls ‘goodism’) and ‘giving yourself away’ (a term my physiotherapist coined). When I think of Florence Nightingale on this May day, her birthday month, suffering from fibromyalgia, I think of her as a primary example of self sacrificing.

When we aren’t getting our needs met, we are subject to repressed anger, among other negative emotions. Often the result is trying harder to please in an effort to be pleased ourselves. Why is it that Christian and other religious values of doing for others to the point of giving more to them than to oneself is exemplary? This cannot be the essence of good health for those with chronic/invisible dis-eases. If we don’t understand ourselves and all that we neglect of our own body/brain it stands to reason we (and others) will suffer in some way. So, what is the answer? Certainly not to become self absorbed or do nothing for others. But, how about if we look after ourselves first?

This ultra-sensitive person who is keenly attuned to the needs of others becomes almost immune to what she (he) desires for herself. Wanting to please others to the point of ‘goodism’ means that unpleasant and unsatisfying memories are stored in our brains. If we do not meet everyone’s needs we believe we are less than perfect. Fear, anger, anxiety and other negative responses are inhibitory and the brain is always on guard, ‘on duty’. We cannot meet what we perceive to be others unrealistic expectations of us. How can we ever be that perfect person  and why are we so hard on ourselves? The unconscious part of our brains stores these unpleasant emotions, including other past traumas, physical and/or emotional, resulting in our fibromyalgia pain and fatigue. We overcrowd our brains with negative emotions. If we continue to treat the symptoms but not the root cause of these emotions, we are giving ourselves away even more. It is little wonder that after a surgery, emotional or physical abuse, an accident or prolonged trauma of some kind, that those with fibromyalgia tendencies will have reached the over- the- top point in our already overstimulated nervous system. Full blown fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue ensue.

We now understand and accept that the brain is changing all the time and that we can change those maps that are not helpful to us and develop alternate pathways. In other words, the brain is not hardwired, nor static. The new brain science is becoming increasingly spell binding! In my book I speak of psychoneurologists as the professionals who can assist us with this process, not the rheumatologists. In particular it must be noted that physicians know very little about fibromyalgia.  We must be constantly aware of the neuroscientists whose work is changing the way we view the brain and hold out hope that their work will soon turn more specifically to those of us with this condition of epidemic proportions. Some of the practical work that has been successful in this regard is that done by those who write about trauma which can over arouse our nervous system. Especially helpful is the link I have provided :  . Dr. Suzanne LaCombe writes about Self-Regulation Therapy (SRT (R) as a psychotherapy approach “that is based on this innate ability to regulate arousal”. While this and other books or sites I reference are not specifically about fibromyalgia, I have included them as fitting in with the points I am making about the hyperarousal of the nervous ssytem.

I have read today of a group of women who get together in Toronto as a reading group to discuss wellness, instead of sickness regarding FMS, CFS, and MCS (all of which I discuss jointly in my book). This ties in to the perspective of remapping the brain to focus on sensory input of a positive and innovative nature rather than triggering the emotions that have brought about flare-ups and the sickness model. That suggests that alternate pathways can be developed within the brain, bringing about neurorehabilitation. Perhaps this is why ‘talk therapy’ has not been helpful for people with fibromyalgia. Reliving past injuries of a physical or emotional nature only reactivates the nervous system. Instead, it is more important to recognize our reactions rather than the specific events related to the trauma. Dr.Peter Levine in his book Waking the Tiger Healing Trauma writes that we should become unattached to our symptoms to reduce the power they have over our minds. “We need to release them from our minds and hearts along with the energy that is locked in our nervous systems” (p.218).

I urge my readers to delve into the book by Norman Doidge The Brain that Changes Itself and to watch him in the CBC video of May 7, 2009, The Nature of Things, David Suzuki, in which the new advances in neuroscience point out how the  brain is changing all the time and even more so when innovation is introduced. Groups getting together in a positive way is one very effective means of remapping unpleasant memories in the unconscious part of our brains, since the brain is now known to be plastic, not rigid! As Diane Jacobs has told me : “neuroplasticity is your friend”.

We don’t need to be ‘all-mothering’, self sacrificing and giving ourselves away to others without attending to ourselves. Tapering off is difficult to do and it takes a long time. This doesn’t mean we have to be totally self focussed and oblivious to the needs of others. Rather, we have to be more discriminatory. On this Mother’s Day week-end, I wish us all Happy Mother’s Day, those of us with, or without children of our own. May all of us with these invisible dis-eases learn that we cannot, nor should we mother the world. We have to mother (take care of )ourselves first. Being the perfect, all good woman exhausts and depletes both our body and brain.

August 23,2009

I have just read a blog on in which Carolyn Thomas compares heart disease in women to fibromyalgia by a discussion of the similarities between both groups of women. Her site is a wonderful resource for all women with or without heart disease. Check out how ‘goodism’ plays into the scenerio!

8 thoughts on “Fibromyalgia, ‘goodism’, self-sacrifice,”giving yourself away”

  1. Nick Matheson

    Michael Gazzaniga: The Ethical Brain

    “Our autobiographical memories are remembered anew each dat, in a way that best fits our current concept of self. In the words of Daniel Dennett, ‘Memory in its fundamental sense is the ability to store useful information and to retrieve it in precisely those circumstances and that form which allow it to be useful’ to us in the present moment. Thus our concept of self is an ever-changing one that will most accurately represent our current feelings and beliefs about ourselves. It will not accurately represent the way we felt about ourselves in the days, weeks, and years past. But this is probably a healthy thing. We do grow wiser as we grow older, so it is only fitting that we forget those days when we were not so wise – or at least remember them only insofar as they are useful now. Memory is not so much a mechanism for remembering the past as a means to prepare us for the future. Some of my best memories are false ones.”

    I love that last line!

  2. barbara keddy

    Self talk is part of the on-going process that can keep us either ruminating about negative things or uplift us. But self talk that keeps telling the same story over and over continues to be embellished! I am reminded of the parlour game where one person whispers a story to another and that one to another and so on. In the end the story is completely distorted! So it is with self talk. If the memories that we have which are unpleasant and negative keep imposing upon us and we aren’t constantly aware of the bodily sensations we have when they re-occur, obviously the physical pain of fibromyalgia will continue. What a remarkable thing is that little wee brain of ours! I want to send it good messages but have been stuck in pain for so long it takes a great deal of discipline and much to un-learn…

  3. Carolyn Thomas

    Hello from the West Coast, Barbara!

    This is absolutely fascinating. Oncologists sometimes talk about the ‘cancer-prone personality’ – which includes several of the same people-pleasing, self-sacrificing tendencies that you describe so eloquently here.As a heart attack survivor, I’m wondering if we could substitute the words ‘heart disease’ for ‘fibromyalgia’ here. Ruminating is particularly common in female heart patients and can also contribute to the descent into depression – common in up to 65% of heart patients, yet appropriately treated in fewer than 10%. I’m especially intrigued by the concept that sitting around talking and focusing on our symptoms may actually be in fact increasing them – a profound idea! Indeed I know several of my fellow heart attack survivors who seem to like nothing better than to tell their ‘ain’t it awful, poor me, my doctor’s an idiot’ stories over and over and over again. According to this perspective, they’re making things much worse!?!

    Gosh, what does this say about psychoanalysis where patients spend literally years doing all that ruminating on every childhood slight?

    Well done – very interesting post!

    Carolyn Thomas

  4. Barbara Keddy Post author

    Hello from the East Coast, Carolyn!
    This linkage of our two main perspectives is really worthwhile exploring! What does this say about women in our society? You are right, what is the value of rehashing all our painful stories, in lieu of remaking into a different one that is more hopeful? All we do when we recall past hurts and pain is reactivate the nervous system and experience the negativity all over again!
    Your own site is wonderful.
    Thanks for writing in.


    Dear Barbara

    I would heartily recommend a book called ‘The Divided Mind’ by John E. Sarno. It presents some extremely interesting ideas about fibromyalgia, and how to cure. Dr Sarno uses knowledge of the processes used by the brain to induce physical symptoms (to mask the unsurfacing of unconscious emotions into the conscious realm) to help to alleviate the symptoms. It is not about ‘ruminating on every childhood slight’. He also raises some interesting facts around epidemiology – I shall leave it with him to explain why so many people now have diagnoses of fibromyalgia…..

    Good luck to you all finding relief from FMS.

    Best wishes

  6. Barbara Keddy Post author

    Thanks Tim. If you go to my October 10/08 blog you will see that I feature his book cover. He has indeed been helpful for me. You are right that ‘ruminating on every childhood slight’ is not useful. I find it has helped me though to understand how hyper-arousal in my own ‘psyche’ evolved from when I was a child. But, not so as to keep retelling it or reliving it, rather to help others identify their own ultra-sensitive “personality” so that triggers can be recognized and hopefully brains remapped. I don’t think this is due primarily to nature but instead mostly to nurture. Even as I write this however, I believe that while in utero we can be affected by the state of mind of our mothers. So much to think about and so much to learn. Only the tip of the iceberg so far! Regards, Barbara

  7. Marilyn trubey

    I recently began seeing a dr. In the Integrative Medicine dept. of a well known teaching hospital in Kansas City where I live. She had blood work done (I’m a pin cushion from all the bloodwork done over the years!), but ran some different tests than other drs. She changed my compounded hormones, put me on an elimination diet of gluten, dairy and eggs, and highly recommended I have an EEG and qEEG done, otherwise called brain mapping. The test and treatment are expensive, but I finally decided to go for it. They hooked me up to around 18 or so electrodes, then recorded my brain waves for 15 minutes with eyes open, then 15 with eyes closed. The qEEG has to be sent off to Switzerland, then off to a dr at Brain Science International for a treatment plan. I was given a copy of the full report, 99% of which I do not understand, including the conclusions. But I’ll give it a try here. My background alpha is significantly slower than normal. There was irregular slower alpha content seen frontally which suggests a disturbance of function in the area involved in attentional and affective regulation and motor inhibition. The rt temporal alpha suggests decreased cortical function in areas involved in spatial & prosodic comprehension, as well as non verbal memory. The frontal midline slower rhythmic content overlies the anterior cingulate, associated with over focus seen in chronic pain cases. I can remember as a child my mother telling me I dwelled on the negative, which eventually did lead to panic attacks in junior high and again in my 20’s….all fear based. The fear of dying too young. I would bargain with God to just let me live til I was 30 and I’d do this or this. Well I’m almost 59 now. So much of what I’ve read on this newly found site makes so much sense to me. Anyway, back to the brain mapping. I have been for two treatments. What they are doing is to slow down the brain functions that are too fast and revving up those that are too slow. I’m hooked up to some electrodes and I am to watch pictures (so far of nature) on a computer screen while music is playing. However the music stops and starts with what my brain is doing. The goal is to get the music playing consistently. The technician is watching what my brain is doing on the computer screen and taking notes and making adjustments. I don’t know how many treatments I will need. Everyone is different. But from what I’ve read on your site I think I am finally on the right track. I was that kid you have described in several blogs. Then in 2007, I had surgery on my cervical spine and the chronic pain and fatigue began. I am now on disability. One thing I do wonder about. When I was 3 I had my adenoids and tonsils out and coded on the operating table. Could this be the event that changed my brain or was I just born this way?

  8. Barbara Keddy Post author

    Dear Marilyn: These are the most amazing comments/story I have ever heard and I am cheering unbelievably. This reinforces my view of changing the brain, establishing new brain pathways and all the rest. I am so thrilled to hear all this. I hope you will continue to keep in touch. This is so encouraging. Thank you so much for all this information!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Regards, Barbara

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *