Many of my clients beat themselves up about why they can’t just get past their past. They are frustrated that they are still struggling with their mental health. Does this sound like you? You look out at the world and see that other people seem to be having a much better life than you. They seem happy, you don’t often feel that.
We often compare what we are thinking and feeling inside to what other people display externally. We look at the portrayal to the world but we don’t really see what is happening internally. When we look at the swan gently gliding across the water we don’t really see how hard the legs are kicking under the water to make that possible. So we compare ourselves against something that is not real. This can often add to our distress and does not help us work through our past experiences. But this is certainly a factor that maintains our problems.
The past may well be long gone in terms of time but in terms of how it may be stored in our memories this is not the case. When we experience traumatic or overwhelming things our brain is often functioning on a different level. The amygdala is activated which puts us into survival mode, the hormone adrenaline is circulating through our body to prepare us for survival, that fight, flight or freeze response means that the experience is stored differently in the brain. This experience is raw, emotionally driven and it has no sense of time. So even though something happened a long time ago when it is activated in our minds we can be thinking, feeling and re experiencing things as if we were back at that time.
I do think that we have a natural tendency towards healing, towards moving forward but traumatic experiences can have such an impact that it blocks this tendency and stops us from moving forward.
As a species we are biologically predisposed for survival. A consequence to this is that we automatically scan our environment for danger meaning that we are often on high alert and trying to keep ourselves safe, sounds exhausting right? We don’t have to work at this, it happens naturally. What we do have to work at however is calming down this system, turning this off, going into a rest state. I don’t think that as a society we emphasize this enough. Self care can often be seen as being too wo wo or selfish but we need this it’s so important to keep us going as humans.
Psychological therapy can help in many ways, we can learn ways to self care, we can learn skills to manage our emotions, it’s not easy and it’s about trying to consistently do these things. When this foundation is there we can then start to work through these past experiences, we want to be able to sever the bungee rope that ties us in the here and now to what happened to us in our past, in our there and then. We want to be able to look back and remember what happened but not re experience it now. Have a read of my blog to find out more about what happens in a therapy session https://drhannahbryan.com/2020/06/what-happens-in-an-emdr-session/