Thursday, August 16, 2012

Dealing with Distressing Memories

King David compared one who has faith in God to “…A suckling child beside its mother…(Psalms 131:2)” Imagine how an infant feels while resting after being nursed. When we realize our Creator is guiding our lives and we unconditionally accept His will, the peaceful feeling of complete reliance and contentment can be ours.

Maintaining an attitude of reliance and contentment can be very challenging, especially when faced with a distressing incident or memory. You may find the following exercise helpful. The first part of this exercise is based on the pendulation technique by trauma expert and author Peter A. Levine. In this technique, a person gently shifts awareness back and forth between focusing on something which currently brings up emotional distress and something which brings up emotional calm. This can help neutralize the emotional distress which the incident used to bring up.

Only do this exercise with memories you feel safe thinking about and not with ones that are overwhelming or very disturbing. In those cases, seek professional help, or at least read works focused on the treatment of trauma, such as those by Peter A. Levine, among other authors. If while doing this exercise you feel increased distress, stop the exercise, and do something else which you find calming and relaxing.

Exercise: Sit comfortably or lie down. Bring to mind the image of an infant resting after being fed. Imagine you are that infant, resting in the protection of your Creator who provides for all your needs. As best you can, try to tap into feelings of trust, safety, peace and contentment. To facilitate this, you can recall a time when you felt those feelings. You can also use a different calming image if you find that more effective.

Now, think of a distressing event – start with only a mild one. While visualizing yourself in the unpleasant situation, realize that you are like that infant, always resting in the protection of your Creator, no matter where you are. Gently shift back and forth, between visualizing the distressing incident and feeling the emotions associated with it, and visualizing the comforting image of the infant (or a different image) and feeling the emotions associated with that. Keep doing this, until you generally feel calmer, and/or are able to feel some feelings of safety and protection even while thinking about the distressing event.

When you are ready, begin the second step of this exercise which will incorporate the use of affirmations. While thinking about the distressing incident, say out loud, “My Father is always by my side.” Imagine a trusted confidante asking you, “How does it feel to have your Father always by your side?” Pause, while you tap into the feeling.

While still visualizing the distressing incident, say, “I relax into my Father’s support.” Imagine being asked, “How would it feel to completely relax into your Father’s support?”

Clear your mind of the incident and take a deep breath in. As you exhale slowly through the mouth, with a sigh of relief, feel your body go limp; allow yourself to completely let go and relax into your Father’s support. Do this for at least two exhalations.

Now rest in a state of being completely supported and protected.

After you have done the above technique a number of times, you can try the digest version: While thinking about or experiencing a distressing event, take a deep breath in and as you exhale slowly through the mouth think, “I relax into my Father’s support.” Do this for at least two exhalations.

An alternative exercise is to think while slowly breathing in, “God is with me” and while slowly breathing out, “I relax into my Father’s support.”
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