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.
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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“The Top Ten Tips to Coping with Crisis”?