Bad Memories & Intrusive Thoughts
Updated: May 6, 2020
Distraction through comedy films and exercising, or drugs and alcohol? Or....
On the one hand, I deeply believe whatever helps us stay on the planet is nothing short of holy. On the other hand, though sometimes distraction helps me too (and I do plenty of it), I find I'm then always having to battle the memories/thoughts to keep them at bay.
Instead, I've been turning towards the thing with compassion. I have found Anne Weiser Cornell of Focusing immensely helpful when she suggests not to be the thing (don't merge with it or be captured by it). But don't exile it, either. Instead, she suggests the phrase "I am noticing something in me...." and then name it respectfully. > is showing me the time when.... > is repeating xyz in my head > is clenched so tight in my chest it's hard to breathe > etc. Then I talk to the memory or thought like I would talk to a scared or hurting or angry or sad child. I don't tell it to go away and I don't try to fix it. Instead, I might say, "I'm here with you" or "You're showing me something that was really scary and I'm so glad you are finally able to let me know" or "I believe you" or "You want me to know that you felt so helpless. And I also see that you tried to protect yourself" or whatever the memories show me. The key is then to listen to see how it feels about what I said to it. Does it get more intense? Does it settle? Does it sigh in relief for finally being heard? Does it want to tell me something else? Does it not trust me and turn away, hands on hips?
I found it's more about listening with care and compassion than telling it what I think about it. I find that this is not easy. Our culture does not model really listening to children--or to anyone for that matter. But the goal is to let it speak, finally, and it getting to have a caring presence who will listen and respond with compassion, then listen some more. Something I never got when my original scary things happened. And it's what I found heals it.
Also, I found that when I started to be willing to listen, that place inside started to settle. It took a bit for it to trust me. But as it started to, I found it was really willing to negotiate with me if there was too much for me. Like, "I have to get through this job interview, but can we take time to write about this when we get home?" And then I had to make good on my word! Or, "this is coming too fast for me to be able to deal with. But I want to be here for you. Can you give me a bite-sized piece?" and then allow something to bubble up. It might seem not related or silly, but for me it always turns out to be surprisingly just the right thing.
One caveat---if you go to turn towards it with compassion, and something inside screams or whispers "no!" or says, "I hate that part" or in any way tries to let you know you don't want to...then please don't force it. This is crucial. Our original wounding was all about being forced past our "no" and not getting our "yes." I am definitely not asking you to replicate your original trauma by disregarding "no."
Instead, why not turn to the part that says "no!" with gentle curiosity and offer that part, "I am noticing something in me that is saying no!' or "....that is showing me it hates that other part." Then do the listening and reflecting and accompanying with that part.
I even do this with ear worms...you know, songs that get stuck in your head. And with physical pains, and free floating anxieties, and looping thoughts when I'm trying to get to sleep. I can lie there literally for hours not being able to sleep with racing thoughts. When I finally remember to turn towards them and say, "I'm noticing something in my head racing with so many thoughts about xy&z. And I hear you, and I'm right here with you." I'm usually asleep within minutes. It just seemed to need to be heard and cared about. Please feel free to disregard any of this if it doesn't resonate. You are the expert on your experience!