Wendy's Blog

Bondage to Our Own Brains

by Wendy Keller

It seems to me that the worst kind of bondage is the prison we create with our own brains.  It’s so easy to get trapped in what I call “the projection of a negative future“.  We ask ourselves “Will this hurt forever?” and “Now that this has happened, can I ever trust again?”  The rules we create as a result of our traumatic events sometimes don’t serve our own best interests.

So why do we do it and how do we free ourselves?

The first emotion, the one that triggers our imprisonment, seems to be fear.  When my kids died in that car accident in 1991, I cried so much that I remember worrying that I might cry forever, for the rest of my life and never have a happy day again.  From there it was a little skip to “I can’t do that!” to a whole host of other decisions: I can’t love anyone lest they die too; I can’t have another child for the same reason (although eventually I did!); it would be wrong to be happy considering that they are dead; I can’t trust the universe to be a good place.

If you’re feeling afraid, worried, angry, trapped or terrified of the future because of what’s happening in your life now – or will in the future – I’ve got some tips that I’ve picked up along the path that you might find useful to test out on your own life.

Act as if…but not in real life.  The old admonition to “Feel the fear and do it anyway” is easier said than done.  Way easier said than done when it comes to major matters of the heart.  So just do this:  PRETEND you are fearless.  PRETEND – just for a half hour – that you could be happy again. 

Here’s how:

A.  Agree to suspend the part of your brain that says, “Why even bother? It won’t come true anyway”.  Not forever.  That’s too much to ask!  Just for fifteen or thirty minutes – or as long as you can stand it.  Psyche yourself up.  Set a timer.  Whatever it takes.

B. Take a piece of paper and a pen and write as much as you can in response to this question: “If I wasn’t so afraid about the future, so worried that I’ll be hurt so badly again, so terrified of trusting, how would my life be different than it is now?”  Go all out!  How would you feel?  What would you weigh? What would you do every day? Who would you hang out with? Who would you love?  What would other people think when they looked at your face?  How would the world respond to you?  What kinds of activities would you participate in?

Keep going until your brain stops working.  BUT if it didn’t even BEGIN working, uh-oh. You have to do it for twice as long as you originally agreed.  If at first all you can write are harsh, bitter, cynical things, write through them until you get to the other side – and you will – and be able to start envisioning what your life would feel like if you were brave, if you threw off the mental chains that bind you.

Here’s why this works:  Your brain has little ruts it operates in. I won’t explain the neurophysiology, but basically your brain gets use to doing certain things. That’s why you know to stop at a red light, and you remember where you keep your socks.  That’s good.  But when we suffer a big huge awful trauma in our lives, our brain runs around frantic and scrambles to come up with “rules” (or “ruts”) for handling the situation.  Rush! Rush!  The problem is, in its haste, sometimes it creates habits that turn out to be stupid, or even harmful.  When you do even a simple exercise like the one I recommended above, you force your brain to peek over the top of the ditch it’s made running back and forth along the same path a bazillion times. It goes, “Hey!  Wow!  Look! There’s a whole other way of seeing this same exact situation!”

And guess what? That first little peek is the beginning of freedom.  Try it!


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  1. Wendy, excellent work. Isn’t it amazing how, with the passage of time, what once was a tragedy can be transformed into a blessing?

  2. Hi Wendy, I recently had a situation were after almost three of being single, I met someone and started a relationship. long story short, we have called it off and decided to be friends at least for the moment. I so easily have been bitter and hurt (was for a very short while) until I stopped to clear the tornado in my head by writng all my feelings/questions/thoughts down. It helped me to see things from a more distant perspective and see the bigger picture. from there I was able to go and have a coffee and talk for two or so hours with him. We are firm friends and I am all the richer for my experiences with him and glad we are still in each others lives.

    • Oh, Susan! I have gone through the same thing myself, so my heart really goes out to you. I seem to go for long bouts with no one really catching my attention, and then I have to remind myself to be consciously thoughtful, mindful and slow as I tiptoe back in. I think it’s sort of like someone crossing the desert who finally reaches the oasis – the goal is to guzzle as much water as you can – but that will truly only make you sick! Perhaps the real goal is to sip it as one would tea…

      Wishing you just the right love next time around!


  3. Wendy, How can one heal when “others control” the situation surrounding the loss, and whole families is held back from closure? When those who are in positions to make life “uneasy”…’they” throw a “monkey-wrench” into you daily life, and each day you ask..WHY? Granted, the saying “Time heals all woes”….and “keep the faith”…but then there are those who keep the wound open…because they can. How do you find closure…of the heart…then?

    • Len,
      I’m guessing since you asked that your question isn’t rhetorical. Have you ever read Viktor Frankl’s work? He was stuck in a prison camp, in solitary confinement, and wrote a great work about how we are masters of our own heads and hearts, despite what “they” do to us. It’s called “Man’s Search for Meaning.” Recommendation #1 – read that book. Recommendation #2 – realize that it’s your brain, your heart, your mind, your soul. No one but you can possibly control those things. If you’ve given your power to “them” then you must claim it back for yourself. Did you read my blog post on Cults from a few months ago? I talk about what it was like to be raised in a cult, with all that mind control they exercised. That might help you, too.

      Wishing you peace, love and joy from this moment forward,

  4. Wendy, Thank you for taking time to answer. I wish I could explain in more detail my/our trials of life since our losses, but I found out the hard way a few years back, better sometimes to do/say nothing, and let truth and time prevail. BUT I am human..
    As far as reading blogs here, I just recently became privy to you and your writtings. Your recomendations I shall look into as time becomes available.
    I wish I could share ALL that has transpired, but as a wise man once was quoted, “Each problem, each situation good or bad, each turn in our lives that we experience AND how we react, makes us unique. But it’s how we react to those who “control” situations, our lives and events, that mold us into what God wants us to be.” With human emotions, Satan’s tugging, and mankind’s perverseness, I learn that GOD brings what I need INTO my life, when I need it most. Thanks for being…here and now.

  5. Have a friend battling with PTSD and generalized anxiety. Found this article on Fear when browsing yesterday and forwarded it to her. She rang e this morning and said how helpful it was to her , how she realizes how minds can un in negative ruts. GAve her huge insight. Thank you for this. Anything else available on these issues..bless you..

    • Elle,

      I’m so touched that my work has helped your friend! You’re very kind to share it with her, and then to think to come back to tell me the result. I’m always so pleased when I hear my writing has helped someone. Wishing you both love, joy and peace.


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