[ Significant emotional events set up a chain of learning || Breaking the chain of the past || Emotional relief that lasts || Releasing emotion.., past, present and future ]
A powerful, easy to use technique for releasing negative emotions like anxiety, guilt and anger and building resiliency.
[ Note: The following is not a replacement for medical advice or supervised therapy by someone qualified to do so. The examples given are for illustration purposes only and anyone who suffers from any trauma, phobia or PTSD are advised to seek qualified help. The technique in this article is modified from the original and is incomplete for the purposes of helping with serious challenges such as those. It is intended to be used for mild cases of uncomfortable emotions when used without supervision ]
There’s a term used in psychology called a gestalt that refers to the idea that the whole is more than the sum of it’s parts.
Often we consider our perceived reality to be the sum of the parts of the environment we are in. But this is not always true. As meaning making machines, we will often fill in the blanks of an experience even if those ‘fill ins’ are not actually there.
And this can lead to us making meanings that are not useful. Many of those meanings lead to lifelong feelings of stress, worry, anxiety, guilt, anger and much more.
Gestalt therapy, which was one of the precursors to NLP, led to the goal of helping people deconstruct the whole to get a new perception of the parts and then reconstructing it back into a new whole. It does this in a number of ways including sometimes exaggerating a behaviour to discover the emotions behind the behaviour.
The emotions behind a behaviour are often the thing that causes a behaviour to be a problem. And our memory of events depends on how significant and emotional the event was.
We have strong and lasting memories of many events, and yet we can forget others moments after they happen. And even memories of past events are never exact reproductions. We remember some pieces and forget others.
Furthermore, the details we recall are shaped by our current life situation, beliefs and state of mind. Our memories are actually not real memories at all but constructs that change over time.
So although the past in reality is not reality (wrap your mind around that), it does effect us in the present as if it was.
And those effects are sometimes uncomfortable to say the least.
Significant emotional events set up a chain of learning
We learn by trial and error and observation. If you touch a hot stove when you are young and pull away in pain.., then chances are you will learn that that glowing object or sensation of heat is painful if you get too close. Later as you experience more glowing things like flames and light bulbs the learning becomes more robust and cemented in your neurology. A chain of related events has linked together to provide an often life long learning that in most cases will serve you well. And an appropriate learning has taken place for hot surfaces in this example. The body and mind are making an assumption to protect you in the future.
General versus specific learnings
This is how significant emotional events shape our later life. We feel a strong feeling.., look for a cause.., and then construct a meaning that links neurologically and behaviourally to that cause.
However, sometimes when something significant like this happens the reaction on looking for a cause to the pain, is generalised instead of specific. Touching that hot stove could lead to the false learning that stoves are dangerous and not just the heat they can produce. This is where the idea of a gestalt comes back in.
Related events get linked over time as one whole learning/Gestalt that reinforces itself in each instance getting stronger and stronger. Each time you react to an event or situation in the same way it enhances and strengthens the reaction.
Phobia’s and PTSD as false learnings
It’s this over-generalisation of a significant event that is the root of severe reactions like phobia’s and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Whether it be a phobia of spiders, or a severe reaction to load noises, the mental processes in place are very similar.
If a woman is assaulted by a man then in her mind and body she may store that as a learning that ALL men are seeking to assault her and she may never be able to have a loving relationship again. And even if intellectually she knows that this is false and trusts the people she spends time with.., she may find that the moment a man tries to be intimate with her that she reacts with fear and panic. Will power is often not enough to overcome this. The past memory has created an association between men and fear that is unconsciously imprinted and the reaction is automatic and beyond her rational control.
This is an extreme example but it is sadly true for many women.
You CAN be helped
My first ever use of the technique I am about to refer to in a modified form, was at my NLP practitioner training. It’s called ‘The fast phobia and trauma cure’.
The woman who was my client at the training had been gang raped with a knife held to her throat. I cannot imagine how terrifying that must have been. She could not relax around men or even her friends and lived a restricted life.
When I heard that I was nervous as heck. “What the h*** do I do with that?”
I trusted the process though and she trusted me so away I went. And it worked!
She contacted me a few weeks later saying that some of her friends were complaining to her that she seemed different and didn’t want to talk with them much anymore.
Changes at this level are often far reaching
At first she thought something was wrong with her. Then on reflection she realised she just didn’t have much in common with them anymore as all they did was complain and talk about how unfair life was. They were all friends she had made from her own place of fear and hopelessness and therefore had that same old energy.
What had she been doing for that few weeks? Having fun with other friends and making plans for her future. Was she now any less careful and mindful of unknown men? No not at all. She still made sure she was not alone and took proper measures to be safe. The difference, is that the fear and anxiety had been removed so that she could think clearly and act appropriately for the situation.
The positive learnings were preserved while a new emotional set point had been made. A huge shift for her that totally changed her life for the better.
Breaking the chain of the past
The very fact that similar events get linked in our neurology as being part of the same whole can be used to our advantage to break the link from the past to the present and future.
You don’t have to find the root cause of a negative reaction to release it’s grip on you. And that is great news. Finding even just one strong example of an event that caused you to feel bad and dealing with that, is often enough. With this you can break the whole chain and therefore allow you to make a new decision on how to act and react in future situations. I’ve seen this many times and done it myself. By working on the most prominent remembered example of a problem situation in someone’s past.., the brain generalises the change to include ALL similar examples including the root cause.
Emotional relief that lasts
Sometimes when we work on changing something within ourselves the change doesn’t last. There can be a number of reasons for this but one common one is that you’ve had the ‘habit’ for so long that it has become a default reaction. When experiencing so many variations on the same theme and acting upon them in the same way.., you build a generalisation that encompasses them all. So to give an example. Instead of reacting one way when a friend criticises you, and another way when a stranger criticises you.., you react the same way no matter who it is. You have one choice instead of multiple choices.
One secret to making change last then, is to change the whole chain of similar experiences.
Our past is actually and literally a re-construction from the present. IE: Our past memories are fabrications. Yes they have aspects of accuracy to them but they are not the fundamental reality. This may seem hard to accept but it’s been proven in studies.
So, any effective change in the present.., changes your past as well!
How do you do that?
Lets get to the technique in question. And as an example, I’m going to focus on one emotion that is prevalent in today’s society. And that is anxiety.
Releasing emotion.., past, present and future
The following technique will work for most emotions but for ease of description I will stick with anxiety as the example.
Seek the assistance of someone trained to guide you through this or similar processes if you suffer from PTSD, strong phobias or past trauma. They will take additional steps for your comfort, safety and emotional support.
I separate this technique into discrete steps for ease of instruction but the whole process is actually very fast.
As I mentioned above it is possible to do this with just one strong example from your past. Better still though is to have a few examples that you can use.
Think of a few times in the past where you have felt anxious that have an event or situation attached. For example, maybe you got told something by someone, or maybe you stood up to give a presentation and lost your words.
Once you have a few examples of this, move on to step two.
Start with the mildest one and imagine you are watching yourself in that situation on your phone or tablet as a video of yourself. So it’s a small sized video of you getting anxious from just before the event till just after it is over. Let it play out obviously faster than real time was but slow enough that you get the idea of the situation. Taking about a minute or less to do this is typical. Freeze the video at the end as a still frame.., a snapshot of time.
[This watching yourself is a form of dissociation. IE: You’re not in the experience but merely observing it. As far as feeling intensity goes this is like comparing watching someone on a roller coaster compared to being on it yourself looking through your own eyes. Same situation.., very different feeling intensity.]
Imagine in your mind stepping into your phone or tablet into the still frame of the video at that end point. Now you are in the situation seeing through your own eyes but still frozen in time.
Associated (through your own eyes) into the experience at that end point, now reverse the whole original video as if someone is pushing a rewind button. So you experience the whole thing going backwards at super fast speed. Everyone moves in reverse, talking is backwards etc. And this whole rewind happens in about 5 seconds so very fast compared to what real time would be. Actually hear in your head the sound of fast backwards speech and see everything in reverse.
Speed is key here.
Once fully back to the beginning then stop and step back out of the experience again.
Step back out of your phone mentally.
[This step is scrambling the neural pathway in your brain for that memory making it hard to play that way again]
Now imagine going through the same event but this time as you would have liked it to have gone. IE: Imagine it going perfectly. If it was a presentation.., imagine you confidently giving the presentation and getting a loud round of clapping and congratulations at the end. Feel free to indulge in this step and really feel the buzz of something going REALLY well. This is just a fantasy so make it great!
[This is my own addition and is not part of the original NLP Fast phobia/trauma cure technique. This step is NOT about changing the past. The past is only a construct from the present anyway. This is to give your brain another choice of experience to draw feelings from. The original experience is and always will still be accessible. We all have multiple experiences of similar events in the past with different feelings attached to them. By taking the strength out of one and adding another choice even though it is fictitious, you give yourself more emotional control over future similar experiences. ]
For a few seconds do something completely unrelated. Look out the window.., stand up and stretch, get a glass of water. Anything different to break that state.
[This step is to mark the end of one round of this technique ready for another round].
Repeat steps two to six again with the same example about 3 times. Then move on to example number two of the few examples you came up with in step one of times your were anxious.
Future pacing success (Bonus step)
This will supercharge your results. It is a technique from NLP called future pacing. Sometimes called mental rehearsal.
Think of some times in the future when in the past you may have felt anxious and imagine those going perfectly too. Pick a time a week from now, a month from now, a year from now.., and play them out in your mind as the new calm confident you. This is how your brain prepares to be anxious if you let it.., so use the same strategy to your advantage. See what you would see and hear what you would hear etc.
Generalised or specific future pacing
Do you want this new way of being to be in one specific area or do you want it to generalise to multiple areas?
You may for example only want to be calm in a business meeting and not while playing sport. A little anxiety in sport may suit you well to keep you on your toes.
To make this future pace a specific change, use only examples of that specific thing but still at different times in the future.
To make the change generalise, use examples in different situations, locations, times, with different people etc.
That’s it.., once you get used to this it becomes very quick and easy to use with all sorts of past experiences that you want to free yourself from emotionally.
At first this may seem difficult but this is a very powerful and useful way to give yourself more emotional freedom and emotional intelligence.