Fibromyalgia and Violence

” Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit” , Martin Luther King, Jr.

Violence can be defined in many ways. It is anger at its peak in the forms of shouting, yelling, hitting, sexual and/ or physical and /or emotional abuse, throwing things, or any other way of inducing fear and trauma in others. Racism, sexism, homophobia, and all the social injustices are a form of violence. It involves domestic violence, massacres, and harassment, which plague us on a daily basis. The TV gives us shots of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya in which war violence is perpetuated. The media and movies fill our psyches with violence, and we face it personally in our own lives. It is not a kind, gentle world. Those of us with fibromyalgia have highly sensitive natures (which I have written about extensively)  and we absorb this violence regularly, to the detriment of our hyper-aroused nervous systems.

A”menschenkenner” is a German word that means “someone with a knack for figuring people out, for taking their measure”. The dictionary describes this characteristic as a person who is a judge of character; a connoisseur of nature. I believe that this trait is highly developed in people with fibromyalgia and in the presence of violence or potential violence our nervous systems respond on high alert. If we sense even the potential of violence we respond as if it was imminent. Paradoxically, when I read mystery novels that are not particularly healthy for my psyche, I find myself immersed in the inevitability of anger, rage, and physical or sexual abuse. However, I continue on this path which arouses my nervous system. However, in real-life situations, I am sometimes anticipating that anger could escalate to violence and my system goes into overdrive. Reality and fantasy evoke different emotions, but I have not explored research that explains this phenomenon. What I do understand is that people with fibromyalgia have a tendency to become fearful around those who are excessively angry people.

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The question is: how do we live in a violent world and not take on the trauma associated with it? Given our highly developed characteristic of overly emphasizing others, it is not as if we have become immune to scenes, images, or sounds of violence. In fact, we can often predict when someone is about to rage and our bodies react negatively in anticipation. A simple story of someone falling, for example, can arouse in me the actual unpleasant sensation of another’s pain. Hearing a racist remark can bring tears to my eyes. Homophobic stories or jokes place me in the realm of those who are being ridiculed and my nervous system becomes highly aroused. But the more dramatic forms of potential or real anger and violence can leave me reeling for hours or days on end.

In an article by Mark Fenske in the Globe and Mail, July 7, 2011 (L6) I found answers about how we feel another’s pain. “We feel his pain. Literally”, he writes, describing a “class of brain cells called mirror neurons helps explain empathy and the contagious nature of emotions”. Further, he writes” these cells are thought to “reflect” the actions and feelings of others”. For that reason, among many others, it is important to reduce our own stress and avoid situations where anger and violence are common occurrences.

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