Jun 5, 2021
Today's podcast I discuss my
process of falling back into old reassurance rumination compulsions
while experiencing unexpected pain after getting a tattoo cover-up
and I share the concept of 50/50.
I discuss the way I turned it all around with the simple question, "What Am I Making My Pain Mean?". And applied some strategies to side step the need for constant checking and gained further helpful self awareness.
I read some part of an article on Reassurance and when it becomes a compulsion. - https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/living-sticky-mind/201912/when-reassurance-seeking-becomes-compulsive
Welcome to Move With Deb. I'm Deb your friendly neuroplastician. And this is a podcast that explores the relationship between the body and the mind from a health at every size, judgment, free perspective. I teach you how developing a new internal conversation based on curiosity, self friendship and simple neuro-plasticity techniques can rewire your bodymind out of pain and emotional overwhelm to help you build the rich full life that you want to live. Disclaimer, this is not a replacement for medical care.
[00:00:50] Hello, and welcome to Move With Deb episode number 17. This one I'm calling, my tattoo is 50/50. I'm going to talk a little bit about what this experience has been this last week, because I tell you it's like, I never learned anything about pain, rumination, the mind, distress tolerance or anything.
[00:01:19] So if you think that you are not doing it right, you should not have anything to worry about. This is my invitation to be a student, to get curious, because my brain took me for a wild ride in this post tattoo experience. So I want to share a little bit of that, and explain, this process of reassurance seeking and how it's actually not always the most helpful behavior.
[00:01:54] I got a tattoo, which was a coverup last Thursday, and this is now June 4th. So it was the end of may, and I got a cover up of an old tattoo and it had a lot of meaning, and I was very excited to find this artist. And the work itself was beautiful. The experience of getting the tattoo was fun. And it was four and a half hours of intense tattooing on my forearm with lots of shading and lots of colors.
[00:02:28]And they're like, well, that's going to hurt. I was like, sure, it's going to hurt. Of course, like that was a lot of work. And now I have this open wound and I've had maybe 10 tattoos over my lifetime. So I'm pretty familiar with the tattoo healing process. But I also think it's a little bit like giving birth maybe? People tend to have more than one baby, but I'm pretty sure that when you're getting pregnant and like, thinking about having a baby, you're not also spending all your time thinking about the physical experience of having the baby or post having the baby.
[00:03:06] You're spending a lot of time thinking about, the artwork, how you're going to think and feel about having this new tattoo and having this change and maybe what the pain or the experience of the tattoo will be like. I did not spend that much time thinking about what the healing process will look like or feel like. I had what I would consider an unusual amount of pain. And that is a judgment value. I had more pain than I ever had had in a tattoo healing process. My arm was very swollen and warm. My hand was swollen. It was very uncomfortable, and I had a lot of intense, sharp nervy, radiating pain.
[00:03:50] My brain just was like on high alert. It was just ready to go from like zero to 60. If I could have actually told myself and believed that maybe my arm would fall off, I would have believed that. I wanted to just think the worst, every time I would have some pain. I was kind of like watching myself, but the watcher of myself, what I call the lazy detective, clearly must've been either overtaken by this reassurance need and fear brain, or maybe it was like out to lunch and like having a smoke break .
[00:04:33] This pain had me staying up all night, reading obsessively about tattoo healing. Every time I felt pain, my brain immediately wanted to believe that something was wrong, that I did something wrong, that my tattoo artist did something wrong. That someone was to blame. That something is amiss. Uh, that this nerve pain, is going to turn into CRPS, that I will literally have this pain forever and ever. I will have this pain for the rest of my life. And then that pain will be unbearable. That was pretty much my mind, and then the nervous system response, right? Lots of activation, lots of fear, alarm, worry sensations, which also let's be real turns up the volume of the intensity of the pain.
[00:05:31] So my brain was very fixated on the pain. Very fixated anytime it hurt. It of course did not really notice when it wasn't hurting. And I believed that something was wrong. What I finally noticed, and this was maybe Sunday. So if I got my tattoo on Thursday, I gave it like two days to like, feel terrible, but I really had expected it to feel better. Not a hundred percent, but to feel better, to have a trajectory. This tattoo violated my expectations of what the sensations were in my body. My brain immediately just grabbed onto that and ran with it. So all of this fear that I felt in my body, I needed to get away from, very quickly. And I thought that researching things would actually make me feel better and give me the answers that I was looking for.
[00:06:35]Finally on Sunday, I recognized what I was doing. And I said to myself, what am I making this pain mean? That just kinda stopped everything. I had not asked myself that question because I just assumed that the pain itself had some kind of meaning and because it was pain and uncomfortable that the meaning was something bad.
[00:07:03]So one of the thoughts I recognized was I am making this pain mean that I will be in pain for the rest of my life. I need to have a pain-free experience to prove to myself that I understand pain and I am good at my job. I also made this pain mean that I had made a mistake getting this cover up and that it was an unrealistic desire to have. That I should not have chosen to cover up my old tattoo and that I could not get what I wanted from this artist or from this experience.
[00:07:42]Then once I noticed that that was all happening, I said, what if this is what healing looks and feels like? I did have an injury, four and a half hours of tattoo needles and a substance being injected into my skin does mean that there will be a physiological response to that experience.
[00:08:08]I was able to take all of the knowledge that I did get from these websites and create a schema about how to decide whether or not something is wrong with my tattoo healing process. I decided that I was going to reach out to my doctor and I explained my symptoms and I sent photos.
[00:08:31]I was going to trust that it was not infected because I did not have any fever and there was no unusual discharge. I bought a thermometer so I could have an independent verification of my temperature.
[00:08:44]I committed to washing the tattoo with antibacterial soap more frequently, and I switched to a different topical cream.
[00:08:52]I did a little bit of icing to bring down the swelling. And I did decided that my body was taking care of itself. Swelling and inflammation is a part of the healing process.
[00:09:04]I committed to believing that this pain was not an indication of anything being wrong or a mistake. And that it is transitory and it will fade as my healing continued.
[00:09:15]And I committed to healing practices, like getting more rest, using my arm less, better hydration, relaxing my worry mind.
[00:09:25] I knew that if something changed that I had many options, including going to urgent care or reaching back out to my doctor to get a prescription. My doctor had also reflected back to me that they thought it was just the intensity of the tattoo time and not an infection.
[00:09:46] I decided that I was going to be gentle with myself as I was feeling a high level of pain and discomfort . That the pain and the discomfort were not problems to be solved. But just sensations to be felt, to care for myself. I took some anti-inflammatory pain medication and I just took care of the me who was feeling pain, but also took care of the me who was feeling fear. I decided that feeling fear was also not a problem.
[00:10:21]I looked at my tattoo during the day with a smile. And I said to myself, this is what healing looks like. And I reflected that on week three after my sprained ankle, that my ankle was feeling much better. And while I don't feel a hundred percent healed, this tells me that healing is something that my body is capable of. And reflecting that with my ankle outside of the first the first 24 hour period of pain and fear that I also decided that this is going to be a healing process, it was going to take six to eight weeks to heal and that whatever arose in that situation, unless it was really outside of the scope of what I was going to be expecting, that it was just part of healing. And I did not have any drama after that, about my ankle. I didn't even notice that it stopped hurting until I was like, oh, wait, I think that my ankle doesn't hurt. Like I don't need this compression sleeve right now. And even after week four, I started gingerly let's see what it feels like to go down the stairs. So was an interesting process to be like, yeah, I did that over there with my ankle. What am I making this pain mean in my tattoo? The pain was, was very intense. But I also understood that my fear and panic was turning my focus and my volume up on the pain. I was teaching my brain that this pain was very important to pay attention to that there was some kind, kind of problem. Subsequently think after day seven, pain has really changed. The tissue has changed. The swelling has gone down. Now what I would think of as like quote unquote, normal tattoo healing is happening. And ironically, I am noticing that I am. I'm also still in this process. Um, being a little fixated on the healing. Now I keep catching myself looking at my tattoo and this might be gross, so I apologize, but if you've ever healed a tattoo, you notice that you just kind of end up leaving little bits and pieces of yourself all over the place because the tissue heals and pushes up the extra ink in a scab. It's like having scales. I'm molting. So I keep noticing that I keep looking at my skin and evaluating it, but also kind of looking for the pieces of the flaky skin that are ready to be released from my body and wanting to help them along, wanting to get to the point, which I don't have any more scabs of the tattoo that are coming off of me. And I'm recognizing that this is still part of that same experience. So I'm like, what am I making this mean? What am I not willing to allow this process of healing take its time.
[00:13:46] I noticed that I want to be at the point after the healing. I'm anxious and ready to be in the post healing phase. And that, that would tell me that this process went well. Also healing maybe is boring. It's certainly uncomfortable. But I want to be on the other side so I can know that it's all okay. So I am literally pushing my skin now, potentially creating damage, potentially creating places where that scab wasn't really ready to be released from my body, so I can know that later I can think that it's okay.
[00:14:26] What I'm not doing is letting the skin do its skin thing. And when the skin underneath it is healed that scab will just naturally come off during the washing process. That's when it's time for it to leave my body. So what I'm learning is that I want to know that I'm okay. And my wanting this reassurance is actually creating the conditions of my discomfort. It's increasing my discomfort. I'm not getting the reassurance that I'm looking for. None of this is learning how to allow healing to have its own timeframe.
[00:15:06]And what is reassurance seeking? I identify as somebody with OCD, with a rumination habit and some of it is this reassurance rumination. I have always traditionally been a person who loves to research things and I got that from my mother. There's upsides to it, but then there's the downside to it.
[00:15:28]What is that line when it goes from seeking reassurance to reassurance being, a kind of part of the problem? I found this article from Psychology Today that I thought was great. It says when reassurance seeking becomes compulsive. It's written by Martin Saif and Sally Winston, and I guess their blog is called Living With A Sticky Mind.
[00:15:51]It says, avoid the reassurance, trap and tame your inner reassurance junkie. It's natural to seek some reassurance, when confronted with uncertainty. We want some feedback that our solution or our thoughts are reasonable, rational, or otherwise good enough, or that we aren't missing something obvious. Reassurance can help to calm a doubt, allay a worry, solidify a plan of action or guide a decision.
[00:16:17] However, people with sticky minds, I'm raising my hand here, sometimes get caught up in what we call reassurance traps, unable to accept uncertainty in some particular context. This can be the form of endless internet research, repetitive checking behaviors, and eventually alienating friends and family with relentless reassurance seeking conversations.
[00:16:42]They may try to cope with doubts through self-talk, but they become trapped in constant looping internal debates in what ifs and rational responses, alternate and never stop. Being stuck in reassurance seeking can lead to paralysis in decision-making, haunting worries about making a mistake or causing harm, insecurity and self doubt. It is a common belief that analyzing why you become stuck will help you become unstuck. But there is little evidence that this works. In fact, trying to solve too much thinking with even more thinking creates more internal debate and more elaborate loops.
[00:17:26] Freeing oneself from the trap of unproductive reassurance requires learning to tolerate uncertainty by interrupting the factors that initiate and maintain the process. There are three processes that make uncertainty feels so intolerable. Anxious thinking, which distorts risk assessment, making things feel more dangerous than they are.
[00:17:51] Paradoxical effort makes attempts to control anxiety and eliminate uncertainty, work backwards. And negative reinforcement, the effect of temporary relief drives the cycle. Seeking reassurance may seem like a way to find new facts, but doubts that return relentlessly reveal something interesting. Certainty is a feeling. And not a fact. If you think about it, no one can be absolutely sure about anything.
[00:18:29] So I'm going to leave that here. I'm going to post a link to the article. One of the things that I have worked with that I've gotten from my coach training is the idea that things are 50/50. This tattoo is 50/50. Getting the tattoo is 50/50. The healing process is 50/50. I used this idea when I was buying a car. And I think I mentioned this in a previous podcast, but I had noticed, and we celebrate noticing, that I was engaging in these reassurance and research seeking behaviors, obsessively with shopping for a car. It was a place that I went to when I was feeling discomfort. That discomfort would trigger my looking at cars. There's nothing wrong with doing research. There's nothing wrong with finding out what you want. But what I was doing was linking this sensation of discomfort and it wasn't discomfort about buying a car, usually it was discomfort about doing my podcast, doing some work in my business, personal relationships. So the research for the car was like the remedy for the discomfort. Recognizing that, I decided that when I bought my car, I wanted to break this habit. And that I would allow the discomfort of thinking that maybe I made the wrong decision.
[00:20:00]And then I would just buy the car that I wanted. And coach myself through that practice and applying this idea that this car is 50/50 really helped. Cause I did not need the car buying experience, I didn't need the car itself to be perfect. I just need to say this is the car I'm buying. And then later, after I have bought the car and owned the car, I could also decide that it's not the car that I want, that I would like a different car.
[00:20:30] And then I would take a different set of actions at that point. But I didn't need the reassurance that I was making the right decision happen before I bought the car and continued those reassurance seeking behaviors after I bought the car. I was able to buy a car and never look at a car listing again. Which was a really new behavior for me. It was a tremendous breakthrough. I got rid of all the car buying apps. The car that I bought was actually the first car that I saw. It fit all the parameters of everything I wanted. And I said, well, I guess this is the car I'm buying.
[00:21:11] And then my brain wanted to offer me the thought, well, it can't be this easy. And I said, why not let it be easy. And then I let it be easy. And even on the first day of owning my car, when I had a flat tire, there was a nail in the car. I also just said, well, this is part of the 50/50, and then just dealt with it.
[00:21:32]I didn't make it mean anything about my car buying, my driving, the decisions that I had made. Who I am. Decisions I've made in the past. Decisions I will make in the future. Cars, I will own in the future. Right. I just was like, this car is 50/50, flat tires happen, nails get into tires. And I was just able to deal with it and cope with it. I have a lot of grace for myself. I didn't have to feel excited about it, but it wasn't a catastrophe. So in an ideal world, I would have been able to apply all of these brilliant lessons to this tattoo healing process, but that didn't happen and that's okay.
[00:22:19]What I am learning about neuroplasticity is also that learning happens in the wobble. Learning happens when we have the need for the learning. Learning happens when the need for learning and change and growth is happening to the system. It's kind of a fallacy that we can know something or have learned something in advance of having that need.
[00:22:49] So this pain experience built upon all of these smaller experiences. But being in this much pain and then watching, the habits of my brain and then noticing watching, and then deciding on purpose, different actions I wanted to take and watching that whole experience play through my nervous system was the greatest teacher. I really was able to look at and feel in my body, what it is like to be with myself as I am uncomfortable, uncertain, in pain, in distress. I was able to call up this self-compassion that I talk about and teach all the time. And I was able to call that up and apply that to myself. Not because I did it perfectly, but because I did it in the wobble. In that moment of not doing it, then learning. Noticing, what am I making this pain mean?
[00:23:51] That thought didn't occur to me for the first four days of this pain experience. And then it did. So I'm celebrating that this thought that is so helpful showed up. Now the next time I think it's just going to be there. I'm really trusting that I learned, what am I making this mean? Is such a powerful insight tool for me.
[00:24:17]So that embodied aha, that awareness of the relationship between asking myself that question and having the ability to listen and witness my own answers without avoidance, without shame or judgment and with a lot of self-compassion. I practiced all of that. And I only practiced it because I was in this pain. And I only practiced it because my brain took me for a ride.
[00:24:52] So thank you brain. Thank you pain. Thank you tattoo. Thank you learning. Thank you neuro-plasticity. Thank you for discomfort. And thank you for the full human experience, which is 50/50.
[00:25:10] Thank you for listening to this week's Move With Deb. If you are curious about how to get more familiar with these noticing practices. If you want to learn to turn down the volume on your pain, you want to learn to rewire your fear brain, then hop on a curiosity call. You can find that at my website, debmalkin.com or through my Instagram at @movewithdeb. I look forward to sharing more insights, experiences, tips, and tricks with you next week.