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How Your Mind Can Heal Your Brain

When the Mind is Stronger than the Brain

Something terrible happened to Sally a few years before we met.

A random intruder shot her and left her for dead.

A bullet lodged deep within her chest. Emergency responders rushed her to the operating room and  soon surgeons were struggling to control the bleeding in her collapsed lung.

At first no one saw the other wound.

Then an O.R. nurse  noticed a small pool of blood near Sally’s head. A portable x-ray revealed a second bullet had pierced her skull and destroyed a significant amount of Sally’s brain.

Emergency surgery saved her life, but Sally was now blind. Her brain’s speech center had been devastated, and her motor function was severely impaired. A large piece of her skull was gone.

Sally couldn’t see. She couldn’t talk. She couldn’t walk.

However, after surgery, Sally soon regained consciousness. She couldn’t see or talk, but she could hear. So she was able to understand her neurosurgeon’s words when he stood at her hospital bedside and told her about the extent of her brain injury.

The news was devastating

The doctor explained that her brain was permanently damaged. Sally was told she would never see again; told she would have difficulty speaking for the rest of her life, told she would need to make arrangements for long-term nursing care and because  she had been recently widowed, she would need to find full-time childcare for her 2-year-old son.

That was the bad news. The good news?

Sally would be severley disabled, but she would survive.

Perhaps – with years of physical therapy – her doctors said she might be able to learn to walk again. But, no promises.

She couldn’t speak, but one thought echoed through Sally’s mind: NO.

Why am I telling you this sad story?

Because by the time we met, Sally could walk.

She could talk.

And she could see. 

In fact if you met Sally today, you would never guess that once upon a time, she had suffered permanent brain damage.

In case you’re doubting the seriousness of her brain injury, let me assure you Sally wasn’t exaggerating. The crime and subsequent trial had been big news in her part of the country. Before we met, I happened to read an in-depth article about the incident. Her recovery is nothing less than a medical miracle.

Yet Sally doesn’t consider herself special.

She’s not a motivational speaker. She hasn’t written a book or appeared on Oprah. She’s not famous; she’s a very private person, in fact ‘Sally’ isn’t her real name.

She’s a normal woman – a wife and mother who runs a thriving small business with her new husband. She’s not particularly religious – though she admits she’s a bit more spiritual now than before her injury.

The Power of the Positive No

One day I asked Sally what she thought might be the key to her miraculous recovery:

“That moment in the hospital when the doctor told me about my prognosis, I suddenly got very stubborn.  I had no reason to believe my own opinion more than his, but for some reason I simply refused to believe him.”

She smiled as she told me how she just mentally said, “No” to everything he said. “I wasn’t in denial, she explained, “I knew my situation was very serious, and I couldn’t speak, so he had no idea. But I just found myself mentally saying ‘no’  to everything he said with simple, calm conviction.”

“You’ll never see again.”


“You’ll always have problems speaking.”


“You may never walk again.”


Sally refused to accept her doctor’s description of her future. She cancelled the order.

Make it part of the dance.

Did I mention that before the injury, Sally had been a talented professional dancer?

She once told me that dancers have a rule:

“If you happen to stumble or make a mistake during a performance, a good dancer knows how to ‘make it part of the dance’ – and just keep on going.”

Sally made a decision to make her brain injury “part of the dance” of her life.

She’d stumbled but she chose to keep moving forward no matter what.

Sally took her physical therapy seriously. If she had a bad day, she remembered to ‘make it part of the dance.’ She worked hard to restore her ability to walk. She reclaimed her ability to talk. And somehow Sally found her own unique way to reconstruct her vision piece by piece. Today she sees well enough to read, drive, and look into the eyes of her son – without glasses.

Her doctors still can’t explain how she can do that.

I hope Sally’s story inspires you. If you’re dealing with a challenge such as a life-threatening illness or injury it’s helpful to remember that not everyone has the worst-case scenario your caregivers may be describing. Side effects of treatment don’t always occur. Your prognosis isn’t written in stone.

Perhaps you’ll follow Sally’s example and draw upon the power of your own mind to help yourself  – and maybe even heal yourself.

You are more than your body. Your mind is stronger than your brain.

When someone tells you something will be difficult or painful, they’re programming your subconscious. It’s like a hypnotic trance. This is especially true if it’s a doctor or other authority figure.

People who’ve been told to expect serious side effects often will suffer them, even when the “medicine” is a harmless sugar pill. Studies have proven this.

It’s called the nocebo effect – the opposite of the placebo effect.

For better or worse, the mind has the power to create real physical results, even when it involves the brain.

Think about that for a minute.

So the next time experts tell you how bad things are going to be, I invite you to let your subconscious know YOU have other plans.

I’m not telling you to avoid medical treatment. If you are having a health challenge, of course see a doctor and  follow her advice. You’re not saying no to the actual treatment.

But when experts tell you about bad things that may happen such as scars, pain, or negative side effects, I invite you to indulge in a harmless experiment and simply say a strong internal, NO!  

This isn’t an argumentative “No.”

It isn’t a fearful “No.”

It’s the same thing you might say to a waiter offering you a platter of some food you don’t like to eat – a polite, yet firm,

“No thank you.”

I invite you to welcome the healing effects of your treatment, but firmly reject the rest of the side effects.

The power of the mind is amazing. Take advantage of it.

Related Articles:

Your Brain Is Plastic – Is That a Good Thing?

The Healing Power of Thoughts 

{ 26 comments… add one }
  • Patricia C.

    I’m so happy to c this .. My ex is going through the same thing and I know he will recuperate 120% He’s purpose is so big he doesn’t even know it .. In less than a year he be running I know so and I’m very happy to b here to help 🙂 . Thanks for the stories

  • Ronda R

    I read this article and choked up. I had a similar, but different circumstance.
    I was forced into a tree off the hwy. I lost half my liver, and split open my head. I was in a coma for 2 months, chest compressions broke 5 ribs. Because of swelling, I would not be closed for almost a year. I woke up completely paralyzed, unable to talk, to move. I was told that I would never talk again, they damaged my throat putting in a tracheotomy. I was told I would never walk again. I was told I might always have a “liver bag” attached to my liver (as I had two for about a year as well). I was on respirators and feeding tubes and well, any tubes that they could put in me. Every hour they came and took out the big gauze pads from my stomach which lay open and oozing. Rolling me back and forth on broken ribs hurt incredibly. I had pulmonary embolisms, and received a stint in both my femoral arteries and my vena cava for all the blood clots in my body. I had three different chest tubes, almost suffocating with fluids in my lungs. I was a mess. In short, I was in the ICU for 5 months and in about a year I was walking with a walker, then a cane. I had many surgeries, to remove stints and my voice came back!! The only brain damage that stayed was my inability to map in my brain, but even that has been “rerouted” in my brain somewhat. A year and a half later, I was back in school, completed my BS in cognitive Psychology. I have four kids and am a single mom with little to no help. I went to Belize where I studied the ecology of the ocean and rainforests and caves. I was running, snorkeling all day, diving and hiking. The 20-somethings could hardly keep up! Every day I knew I was there for a reason. I knew God helped to bring me back. I am here to do good! I had to raise my children with love! Love and inner strength – and yes, I had also danced ballet for over 25 years. I always was very happy and healthy and maybe this is what saved me? Maybe it is that will of “the show must go on” no one can stop me, or tell me what I am going to do! I am now attending graduate school at George Washington Medical School in Washington, DC for Research.
    Life is about not giving up. I had over 5 blood transfusions. Every vein in my arm had broken or busted. It would take an hour to find a new IV hole. I went into shock at least 3 times that I can recall (the other times I was unconscious). I became addicted to Morphine and weaned myself off of that – horrible, absolutely horrible.

    I had infections and difficulties and not enough insurance to pay for proper rehab, but I am here, and healthy and a mom and a student.

    Life is good. No doctor should ever tell his patient – “this is the end” – it is CRAP! Instead they should do like my rehab angels did and say, “what do you have to live for?” It makes all the difference!
    Thank you for sharing this story, I know I’m not the only silent survivor. It gives me strength to know there are others out there who struggled exactly like me. Bravo!!

    • Thank you so much for your comment Ronda. It’s so important to not give up. I actually sent your story to my son who is a 3rd year medical student. I really appreciate your story and the time you took to share it with me and my readers. Blessings to you.

    • Sarila

      Hope you write a book. Very inspiring. So happy for you in your endeavors. Thank you for sharing.

  • aoja charles

    i agree with the arguments. positiive thinking and believe than one caqn make it together with the support of you background and the willpower of a patietn can make thaings that are being said were wrong. my daughter had a brain stroke three years ago and drs said it could be that5 she never walks or goes, after three years she walqks she talks shi does her all the theropy to her highset expetation happy young lady who is giving time to her recovery, we are not talking abt being hundred precent again. we go for 995 it could have bee worse, thats what we say as our tears are dry meanwhile

  • neesh

    thank you for all the wonderful true statements of truth about the power of the mind, that is what I tell my 15 year old thats at the childrens hospital with PVS brain damage not to give up and just keep believeing that you are getting better,he was eleven years old when this took place in his young life, four years leter he is still here with us and the doctors said that he would not last, I dont believe a word they are saying. my son gives us signs that he understands us.

    • Linda Gabriel

      Thank you for your comment. I know that the mind is powerful, yet I hope nothing I say here will be construed in any way to “blame” people for their illnesses. A person’s soul path is complex. In my experience, children such as your son are often our greatest teachers. Have you read Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey Into the Afterlife by Eban Alexander, M.D.? It’s a compelling story of his own experience which should have left him in PVS (persistent vegetative state) but did not. I feel certain your son is aware at a soul level no matter what the status of his physical brain. My heart goes out to you and your family. Thanks again for stopping by.

      • Max Harvey

        Hi Linda,

        This is a beautiful, powerful story. I feel you are not including some of the things that we ‘are’ and that I feel did enable Sally to heal and repair herself. The Heart is actually more powerful than the mind. The mind will and can be you’re instrument to translate you’re dreams. This lady had a son. She clearly had a full/ healthy emotional ‘body’. She had a connection to her higher self.

        I feel the most important thing here, was she was well balanced and had good development of her inner self. Her heart knew that it did not want that prognosis. Her heart knew what she was capable of. She knew love. Perhaps her mind was able to translate this into action, and the steps necessary to achieve what she knew.



        • I appreciate your input Max, however knowing the bigger picture of Sally’s life at the time, I can assure you that her connection to her higher self was not a conscious one. I doubt she would agree that her emotional body was full and healthy at the time. In fact she was just beginning to emerge from a period of deep grief when this incident occurred.

          I agree with your point about the heart being more powerful than the mind, however I want Thought Medicine readers to know that it’s not necessary to “know love” or have a “full/healthy emotional body” in order to begin healing oneself through the power of intention. Start wherever you are, and yes, be sure to include the heart.

          Thanks again for your thoughtful comment.

  • Inga

    Thank you so much for this article. I was recently released from the hospital after having an extremely rare cervical ectopic pregnancy (where the embryo attaches to the cervix). The doctor told me that this was so rare that none of the doctors in the hospital had ever encountered it, they were going to give me a drug to terminate the pregnancy and that the possible side effects were hemorrhaging and emergency hysterectomy. She didn’t tell me the “best case scenario” until the next morning when I asked her. I completely panicked and have been riddled with anxiety since. Even though I know the power of the mind-body connection, the power of the “hypnotic trance” induced by an authority figure like a doctor is amazingly strong! I’m so shocked that I, a naturopathic, mind-over-matter, “psychically groovy earth woman” could be so influenced by the words of a woman in a white coat! I’m ready to take my recovery into my own hands and say “NO!” to the pictures playing over and over in my mind showing me what “could” happen, and replace them with positive images of a full, easy, speedy, and downright BORING recovery process! 😉 Thank you, truly, for this article.

    • Linda Gabriel

      Thanks for writing Inga. I’m so glad you found inspiration in this article. I also want to assure my readers that this article is not an invitation to ignore or refuse medical advice. In fact my friend embraced her medical treatment. But she did say “No” to her doctors’ predictions of her outcome. You are right Inga – that white coat is a powerful archetype. Picture me wearing one as I affirm your full, speedy, and BORING recovery!

  • Michelle Brown

    I have always believed in the power of positive thinking, and you have shown how it totally works! I’m so impressed and glad that you have recovered. I only hope I’ll have enough positive thought if anything happened to me. I’ve lived with MS since 1996 so it has served me well so far! Also, I had Breast Cancer a couple years ago and went through the lumpectomy and radiation with a smile. I wish you all the best!

    • Linda Gabriel

      Thanks so much for stopping by Michelle. I’m glad you are using positive thinking to help maintain your health. It’s powerful!

  • I found you on Mary’s page and feel better already knowing I can read and re-assure myself that I really need to use my mind more as the few times I did visualise the impossible my ‘thoughts’ guided me to the right person at the right time. Your Blog will keep me in check every day. I would have loved to had a Blog like this but started a positive site about JDM after an author asked me if I wanted him to write my story and I was afraid he would not write the truth. I am still learning in fits and stars due to age and disabilities. This story connects to me big-time as I shouldn’t be here either! Your writing is really good as it pulled me in right away just as I am bout to commence work on telephones.

  • Kya

    Excellent read, Linda! It definitely hit home for me. If any negative thoughts pop into my head, I hope to fight it with a confident, “No.”

    Thank you for sharing.

    • Linda Gabriel

      Thanks for your comment! It’s important not to suppress our negative thoughts, but we don’t have to believe them. I like to use them as a signal to think a better thought.

  • Just found your site Linda. What a wonderful “story” filled with hope and inspiration for us all. We are all part of the great whole which is infinitely abundant and all we need do is say ‘yes’ to what we want.

    I’m full of admiration for Sally and thanks for sharing.

    • Linda Gabriel

      Thanks for stopping by Elle. Happy to share. Looking forward to sharing even more of what you’re writing too.

  • This is an incredible story and I know that we have the ability to believe for greater things and what so many people say is impossible!

    An awesome story that should encourage all of us to shift our thinking!

  • What a powerful story! Our mind is truly stronger than our bodies (and especially stronger than what other people define as our limitations).

    Even, apparently, when a piece of our brain is missing. Wow.

  • Linda, great post. Thank you for sharing this story. I can relate to Sally’s stubborness. It was very similar to mine. I did not discount what the medical people were saying, it was just as if I knew I was going to prove them wrong. It made no difference to me what they said.

    I wonder what all could be accomplished if we just refused to believe the limits others put on us…even medical “experts”.

    • Linda Gabriel

      Hi Debbie,
      Your story is so inspiring too. You’re living proof of what we might accomplish without believing in the limits others put on us – and not just medical issues.

  • Linda,
    This is a great example of the power of the mind to heal and the power of “mind over matter.” I always tell myself that I can do anything if I just set my mind to it and this truly validates my point. Very inspiring! Thank you.

    • Linda Gabriel

      Thanks Angie!

      I was inspired to write this article because a current client has been dealing with “informed consent” issues related to his upcoming radiation therapy. His doctors keep listing all the terrible side effects he may have. I’ve been reminding him that those are worst-case scenarios and not necessarily what will be his experience. Hypnosis helps a lot.

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