Traumatic memories impact many areas of our lives.
Would you like to:
- sleep better?
- reduce tension and hyper vigilance?
- feel more peace?
- have better self-esteem?
- increase your success in work situations?
- enjoy more positive relationships?
- reap the fruits of better self-care?
Learn to transform traumatic memories, relieving you of their burdens
They can intrude and skew our sense of situations dramatically, making it more difficult to relate with other people and ourselves. They can affect how we talk, work, love, act, and think. The impact and the benefits vary from person to person and each memory has different effects. Processing memories can benefit us in many ways such as fewer nightmares, sleeping better, reduced hypervigilance, more peace, better self-esteem, greater capability for success in work situations, more positive relationships, better self-care that comes more naturally, as well as greater hope and vitality. Processing changes the way we feel the memory through a discharging of emotions and sensations, replacing warped myths/beliefs with nourishing truths, and putting the event in its true perspective.
The difference between intrusive memories and “dwelling in the past”
Processing allows stuck pain to emerge and dissipate. Yet there is a common misconception that processing increases pain. However the truth is that we are exposing the pain that was already there, so we can heal the wounds. What feels like a crazy response to the present is actually a memory playing in the body. It’s not “dwelling in the past” to experience emotions, sensations and beliefs remembered from that time period, it’s simply that memory is not fully processed and resolved during traumatic situations so it can be reactivated and replayed over the years into the present.
Why traumatic memories are so much worse than normal memories
Memory is stored differently in our brain during trauma. Sometimes portions of the memory or even the entire memory can be dissociated (out of conscious awareness). Traumatic memory often carries a powerful, negative emotional charge, frightening images, body sensations (urges, scents, physical pain, remembered pressures, etc.), negative beliefs about self and life, words that were said and other auditory inputs. These need to be intentionally and skillfully processed. The presence of traumatic memories recycling repeatedly in our brains perpetuates emotional wounds. These are wounds that time does not heal. Often one traumatic incident may cause a number of traumatic memories to be stored, and each may need processing. Sometimes these associated traumatic memories need to be processed together to find the inevitable freedom.
What prepares us for healing transformation
There are a number of key ingredients for doing the Processing Path safely and well – sufficient life stability, emotional resilience, being able to be gentle with one’s self, having learned processing skills and concepts, an ability to self-soothe, a support network, and feeling safe enough to do it. Other ingredients that can be very helpful are an ability to harmonize internally, a skilled trauma therapist who fits you well, a safe place to process at home, and a safety plan for difficult times. There are countless other things that people do to help them with processing. If one feels unready for this path, it can be helpful to do other paths and come back when ready. Processing memories safely usually requires skillful and careful help from others. Healing is easiest when one is centered, compassionate and curious regarding one’s self. Compassionately understanding the impacts of the traumatic memories helps wounded aspects of ourselves to open up for healing.
Ways of processing, and what NOT to do
There are a number of methods for processing traumatic memories, and there are new methods being developed all the time. There are many methods, including Internal Family Systems therapy, Brainspotting, EMDR, psychodrama, gestalt therapy, somatic experiencing, art therapy, and many others. We are all different and will find that different things work for us at different times. However, we should be cautious in which approaches we explore. There are many methods that can be more traumatizing than healing. It is a natural tendency to want to stir up feelings, or act them out. For example, forcing memory activation is usually counter-productive and often adds to one’s trauma burden. A sadly common counter-productive method is re-enacting victim situations. Even more tragic is perpetrating abuse on others. Practices should be chosen based on how they help us achieve more joy and less pain for ourselves and others. We find it most helpful to consult our inner wisdom and look for practices that adhere to the Vital Cycles Healing Principles.
An important part of processing traumatic memories is venting the emotional charge. Venting is a critical coping mechanism at other times as well. Venting techniques are like pressure escape valves that help temporarily to ease emotional pressure inside (e.g., anxiety, anger, fear, pain, guilt, and shame). We suggest that any way of venting is healthy as long as NO ONE gets hurt, including the one doing the venting. Some examples of healthy venting are beating a pillow with a hose, hitting a punching bag, hitting balls at a batting cage, writing letters that are not going to be sent, etc. It’s also very important that you are able to maintain the awareness that you are an adult and safe in the present despite the traumatic memories and feelings you are experiencing and venting.
There are many positive outcomes of processing
We find that our hope increases, we feel more joy, celebrate successes, feel lighter inside, more centered, more connected to ourselves, and build healing momentum. The example in the first paragraph demonstrated these outcomes.
For more information on the Processing Path see page 78 of the Healing Toolkit. Then click on Download a “Vital Cycles Healing Toolkit” for free.