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When Trauma Imagery Feels Too Scary

17 Mar

Question:

Belleruth,

I tried using the guided meditation in the Healing Trauma CD and had a very uncomfortable, scary, physical experience, so I shut it off. My body went into a shut down mode when it heard the music, which was staccato-y and unlike the music I was used to hearing on some of your other CDs I've heard before, which were very relaxing.

You said early on this CD that everything on it had a purpose, so I figured there was a particular reason why you had this background music. Have you heard of this reaction before from others?
Is it set up to possibly evoke some underlying response or shift if needed for the individual? Does this mean I should not use this particular CD or go through the experience it is evoking if I feel up to it?

Would there be a better one for me to use to heal trauma deep-seated from childhood incest, emotional/verbal abuse? I have forgotten my childhood between the ages of 3-12 yrs old, except for a few isolated incidents. I am working with a therapist.

Would appreciate a response as soon as possible, as this is borrowed from the library. Thank you very much! I love your other anxiety/stress/sleep cds but I wanted to release at a deeper level.

What suggestions do you have.?

Bonnie

Answer:

Hello, Bonnie,

I'm sorry you had an unpleasant experience with that recording. Yes, some traumatized people do get alarmed by the music in that initial part of the CD, although most are OK with it. As we suggest in the descriptive copy for that PTSD imagery, I think you should probably go back to the daily use of something less intense - the Relaxation and Wellness would work, for instance - or Relieve Stress - and stay with that imagery until you get really good and automatically skilled at what we call 'self-regulation' - the ability to manage your anxiety on your own, with breathing, self-talk and comforting images, so that if/when you start to feel triggered, you can automatically go to your slower, deeper breathing and evoking your positive imagery.

Once that's solidly under your belt, you might then be able to again try the PTSD imagery, but I'd do it with your therapist in the room with you. And with the understanding that you can press that pause button and stop, or do some deep breathing whenever you want to.

Also, it might help you to know that, although the music feels somewhat foreboding in that beginning section, it serves as an important contrast to the lush beauty and sweet peace of the music that follows, as your journey takes you past those darker places (of your symptoms, turned into a landscape metaphor) to a deeper place where you are utterly untouched by ugliness, entirely safe and profoundly uplifted. With each experience, the healing becomes more cumulative and the beginning part will feel less and less scary.

But don't force it, and don't push it. There's no need to produce additional distress if you don't have to, and you really don't have to. If you don't feel ready to try it again, that's OK - just keep working regularly with the less threatening imagery, and that will do you plenty of good too - for some people, it's more than enough. Think of the PTSD imagery as a more potent, intense, direct shot - but there are slower, gentler, more diluted ways to achieve the same ends.

And you may prefer to work with a different technique altogether that proves to be less evocative for you – perhaps one of the "alphabet therapies", like EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), TFT (Thought Field Therapy), SE (Somatic Experiencing) or TAT (Tapas Acupressure Technique). There are plenty of wonderful options, so there's no need to force anything uncomfortable on yourself if you don't have to.

Hope this helps.

All best wishes,
Belleruth

Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award.