Have you ever done or bought something and you thought “well, it probably won’t work anyway” or “well, it possibly could backfire”, but you do or buy it anyway because then you can at least say that you have tried?
For example, you read on the internet that it is good to do a certain exercise for your back, neck or shoulder because according to the website where you are reading this it will reduce your pain.
So you feel hope coming up and think well then let’s try it!
You continue reading a bit more to read the comments below the article to see if there are people who share their experience doing the exercise.
You do indeed see a number of reactions, but these are not very positive.
For example, someone says that by doing the exercise, his spine has become crooked and someone else says that his pain has only gotten worse.
You stop reading and you hear yourself thinking “hmmmm that doesn’t sound too good, I wonder if it is actually a good idea to do that exercise”. Then the next voice comes into your head that says “these are only 2 bad experiences, you don’t know if those people did the exercise correctly?!”. You think hmmm yes that sounds legit, so let me try it anyway.
You do the exercise, you just spent 2 days doing it and the 3rd day you wake up with the worst back pain ever!
You think there is no other way than that this is because of that exercise, because I have done nothing else abnormal in the past 2 days! I knew it! Those people in those comments have said it! I should have just listened to my first prompting! Damnit!
Could this indeed be because of the exercise or could it be something else?
What do you think?
And answer this question again after reading this blog.
You did the exercise, but you had in mind a certain expectation of a doom-scenario that could happen. After all, that had happened to other people too…
Was it the exercise itself or your expectations that caused the doom-scenario to unfold?
Both might be possible. Although it seems unreal to me that if you are a reasonably wise person and this is really an extremely bizarre weird exercise, you should not do this anyway. And if you are indeed a reasonably wise person, I think it is also pretty unreal that you have really performed the exercise so extremely bad that this can cause so much pain increase.
But okay those are assumptions I make here. So, let’s say it can. Then the exercise has caused more pain and you no longer do the exercise.
But suppose the second is the case, suppose your expectations caused your pain to get so much worse. Could that be possible?
Before I answer you, I will first explain what such an expectation in which you expect something negative means.
In Latin they have a very nice word for that, namely “nocebo”, which means “I shall harm”
The word nocebo refers to a substance, medication, or diagnosis or the like that causes a harmful effect simply because someone believes or expects it to harm them.
For example, a certain drug you are prescribed. Your doctor will tell you that it has certain side effects. However, you do need the drug so you take it, so you expect these side effects and you do indeed get them.
If your doctor hadn’t told you about side effects, would you have had side effects? And would that have been exactly the same side effects?
I hear you think, yes nice Karlien what should I do with this, because you don’t know that, do you? You do not know now whether it is really because of that or not?
Well it is good to know, because if it means that your own expectations can determine the outcome or at least influence it, then you can also determine a good or better outcome yourself…
And they have also researched that this really works, I will tell you more about it below!
A well-known study is, for example, the research that was done in Japan with a group of children who were extremely allergic to the poison ivy. (1)
The researchers rubbed a leaf of the Poison Ivy plant on each child’s forearm, but told the child that the leaf was harmless.
On the other forearm of the child they rubbed a harmless leaf, but told the child that it was a poison ivy leaf.
All the children developed a rash on the forearm on which the researchers rubbed the harmless leaf that the children thought was a leaf from the poison ivy plant.
And 11 out of 13 children had no rash at all where the poison had come into contact with them.
The thoughts or expectation that the leaf would not hurt them overwhelmed their belief that they were allergic to it, so that the real Poison Ivy leaf was suddenly harmless to them.
This, of course, is astonishing evidence that thinking (in the form of expectation) could have a greater effect on the body than the ‘real’ physical environment.
Another example is a nocebo study that was done on 40 asthma patients. (2)
There were 2 test situations.
In the first test situation, the asthma patients were told that the inhaler contained an allergen or irritant.
In the second test situation, the asthma patients were told that the inhaler contained a drug that would relieve their symptoms.
However, in both situations only water vapor was used in the inhalers.
Nevertheless, 48% of the 40 patients with the so-called allergen or irritant experienced asthmatic symptoms.
And 30% even experienced full-blown asthmatic attacks.
When taking the inhaler with the so-called medicine, the airways opened again.
That the symptoms were drastically reversed by taking the so-called medicine while it was just water vapor shows how strongly expectations influence.
Their thoughts in this case were stronger than their environment, stronger than reality. So their thoughts created a totally new reality.
So these are very good examples of how your own thoughts and your own expectations can have a very big influence on whether something can be helpful or harmful to you.
And think, for example, of all the symptoms that you could get when you get older, at least according to the media, the newspapers, commercials, leaflets, etc. right. Things like increased risk of arthritis, stiff joints, poor memory and low energy. But is that really the case, or is it because it is your expectation because it is told all over the media? For example, are there older people who have no complaints or symptoms at all and who are super fit?
Or, for example, winter is often known for getting the flu. Everywhere you look in the winter you see reports of the flu season having started, the availability of a flu shot, which reminds all of us that if we don’t get the flu shot, we’ll get sick. Is that really the case, or is that an outcome that you create yourself with your own thoughts and expectations?
So you may wonder how many illnesses and conditions (often unconsciously) are caused by the effects of negative thoughts in the nocebo. And emotions such as fear that arise from a certain expectation pattern could therefore also cause illness. You’ve probably heard the saying, “fear makes you sick.”
And could it be that if our thoughts can harm us or make us sick, then we also have the ability to make ourselves better with our thoughts? I will tell more about that in my next blog!
Now, of course, this applies not only to such examples as above, but this actually applies to all thoughts and expectations that you have about everything throughout a day. So you could just generally check with yourself; are you someone with positive expectations or are you most inclined towards negative expectations? Could this affect your outcomes? And could your outcomes also change if you adopt different thoughts and different expectations?
Please leave your answer to these questions in a comment below this blog, I like to hear!
A lot of questions to think about.
And one last question:
Could your back pain that got so much worse from doing that exercise as told at the beginning of this post be a nocebo effect?
Let me hear you down in the commensection!
(1) Y. Ikemi and S. Nakagawa, “A Psychosomatic Study of Contagious Dermatitis,” Kyoshu Journal of Medical Science, vol. 13: pp. 335-350 (1962).
(2) T. Luparello, H. A. Lyons, E. R. Bleecker, et al., “Influences of Suggestion on Airways Reactivity in Asthmatic Subjects,” Psychosomatic Medicine, vol. 30, no. 6: pp. 819-829 (1968)