Discover Your Brain Strengths to Navigate Life
Have you experienced situations that left emotional scars and scary memories? I am sharing how I used practical neuroscience to heal my memories of two scary personal situations, one as a 7-year-old child and another as a 70-year-old adult. The healing process involved replacing the scary aspects with positive insights, images and feelings. Replacement strategies were found to work quickly, in less than an hour, whereas “erasing” methods seemed to strengthen and reinforce the memory.
As a 7-Year-Old Child…
I lived in a three-story brick house in Queens, New York during World War II. The attic was off-limits. Being naturally curious, I snuck up there to check things out. I had nightmares about the narrow, winding, creaking stairs leading into that dark and cluttered space with dusty windows and cobwebs. For most of my adult life, thoughts about that attic sent chills up my spine.
Attempting to analyze and rationalize my memories of the attic was futile and caused more anxiety. The only logical conclusion was that nothing actually happened to me. My response was 100% due to my perception of the attic. Things were going on in my sub-conscious brain and I didn’t want to pay for professional therapy.
My do-it-yourself therapy was fun, easy and quick. I closed my eyes and imagined the attic as my favorite playroom and off-limits to anyone except me. First, I threw everything out. Windows were cleaned and opened, allowing fresh air and light to come in. I mentally equipped it with a soft and plush red carpet, daybed and pillows, lamps, radio and favorite toys, including an Erector Set and my American Flyer trains. The initial mental process took less than an hour at age 50. I repeated it only one other time when fear returned. To this day, thinking about that attic makes me feel happy and safe.
As a 70-year-Old Adult…
I was driving down a hill, entering an intersection with a 4-lane Illinois scenic highway along the Mississippi River. I made a rolling right hand turn onto the highway and caught a glimpse of an 18-wheeler scrap metal truck barreling toward me. Then I saw a wall of rusting metal pass by at blinding speed and my driver side mirror hanging by a couple of wires. Within seconds, the speeding truck was hundreds of feet ahead showing no intention of stopping.
In this situation, I had to look at my behavior. The tried and true “stop, look and listen” rule would have served me well. For several days, I experienced fear and anxiety. I needed to do some “inside work” again to heal my memory of this very scary incident.
Admitting my mistake and forgiving myself for being careless was the first step. Thinking about what could have happened, had I been one-foot closer to that speeding truck, made me tremble with fear and served no useful purpose. To defuse the memory, I imagined myself as an improved driver, constantly aware of road conditions and practicing defensive driving. Shortly after the accident, I attended an FAA meeting and listened to pilots and flight instructors sharing their best safety practices. I integrated their ideas into my driving. I am grateful for being alive and able to share this story. And, I am a safer and more competent driver.
Practical neuroscience works brilliantly to heal frightening memories. Be grateful for your brain’s ability to analyze itself, extract insights and replace negative images and feelings with positive ones. It’s never too late to improve the quality of your life if you are plagued with bad and scary memories. You have nothing to lose except the fear you want to rid yourself of.
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