Visual Images: The Language of the Mind
The role of visual images in healing emotional traumas
PET, the substance of memories
50 years of research in various scientific fields agrees with ancient sciences of yoga: the brain speaks to itself in visual images.
In an experiment with subjects holding thermometers in each hand, being told to make one hand hotter than the other, no difference in temperature was recorded no matter how hard the subjects ‘tried’ and no matter what verbal commands they gave their hands. When told to imagine a hot potato in one hand and a piece of ice in the other, however, the hands registered different temperatures.
It is important, in healing painful memories, to remember that a memory is composed of 3 things: visual images, emotions, and thoughts. To effectively heal a painful memory, all of these three components must all change.
This is done by first identifying the present time prevailing painful emotions, and then using this constellation of emotions to identify prior times in life when this same constellation was activated, then narrowing down which of the memories has been subconsciously activated to cause present time emotional distress. This memory is termed ‘the infected wound’.
The next step is to name this memory, determine the subjective units of distress being experienced from it [SUDS} and identify what negative beliefs about reality and life came from going through this experience. This is followed by identifying the positive beliefs about life and reality that came from this.
This process causes a deep inner focus on another time, it is a mild trance state that gets deeper and deeper. It is important for the helping person, the facilitator, to not to break this trance by interrupting the process. The only input from the facilitator is to gently guide the trance state deeper when nonverbal cues are given by the triggered person. For example, when the triggered person [TP] has a far away look, is in silence, or has the eyes closed, they are in deep inner processing. This is when the healing is taking place and should not be interrupted. When the TP needs help, he/she will look up at the facilitator for instructions on the next step to take.
The step of identifying the negative beliefs reveals the thoughts that must change for emotional relief to be permanent. [The positive belief list actually begins the healing process, of healing the victim self image.]
The next step is to identify a still image, a ‘photograph’ of the memory, a still snapshot that represents the who, what, when, and what of the memory. This is the visual image that must change for emotional relief to be permanent.
At this point the triggered person begins a tell/retell process, alternating between telling the memory from beginning to end out loud, then reliving it silently, then out loud, then silently, over and over until the SUDS reaches zero [subjective units of distress, from 0 to 10 where 0 is no distress and 10 is the highest].
In the tell/retell process there are times when the triggered person [TP] will express a question, or a desire to change something, or to express something to someone else in the memory. At this point it is important to gently suggest, to guide the TP to actively carry out this desire in the mind’s eye, reporting what happens when this is done.
For example, in one session the TP said, “I do not think that my mother wanted me to be born, I do not think that she wanted her pregnancy to end.” It was suggested that she silently ask her mother about this and see what her mother replied. After a long silence with eyes closed, she opened her eyes and reported that her mother explained to her that being pregnant had made her, the mother, feel needed and important, and that she was very afraid of how she would feel if she gave birth. This fear had made the birth several weeks over term, and horribly painful for both mother and child. The TP then went on to forgive and comfort her mother in her mind’s eye, crying tears of relief while embracing her mother in love and forgiveness. This powerful healing image effectively rewrote her previously expressed negative beliefs that those who love her hold her back and that life is very painful. Because of this, before this healing session she had never been able to form close ties with anyone in a loving committed relationship. At this point the negative thoughts about reality have changed and the feelings have also changed..
By taking the visual image of this embrace, and merging it with the original still photo of the hospital room full of pain in which she was born, a beautiful resolution image emerged of a joyful and happy birth. This step, merging the final healing image with the original still photo, and watching them merge into one healed image, is the final step of healing the original visual image. Now all three elements of the memory have changed, the visual image, the feelings, and the thoughts.
Our clinical research spanning10 years treating both civilians and combat veterans with PTSD have shown through follow up assessments that these three elements must change for emotional relief to remain permanent.