Tag Archives: anxiety

Memories: Changing the Cycle of Pain and Automatic Reactions

Sometimes we hold ourselves back from certain people, places, dates and times, experiences and other aspects of life because of a painful or traumatic memory.

Unconscious intrusive triggers might inhibit us from participating in good aspects of life because we get hung up on the somatic (physical) and psychological (mental) effects of remembering. We don’t want a repeat of a painful “last time,” and try to avoid such occurrences. Such memory recall often triggers episodes of reliving an experience adding to and even reinforcing the negative experiences we had.  THis may also act as a reinforcer unhelpful belief patterns. When this occurs, PAIN becomes our counsellor, and even sometimes, our governor. What can we do? 

One thing you often can do is to overwrite an old memory by making a new memory with the present opportunity you have. We are constantly overwriting old memories with new material unconsciously. We can consciously do so too with some intention and belief it is possible. Hope is a strong motivator.

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The Brain is powerful in the cognitive function of plasticity. Scientists used to believe that memory was hardwired and once formed, permanent. However, since then it has been discovered through neuroscience and cognitive psychology that each time we recall a memory, it changes in subtle ways. We unconsciously edit a memory with minute subtractions and additions, and the memory becomes re-consolidated (reconstructed and saved) in a new way. 

This is in part why some parts of memory stand out more than others, some parts fade, others increase in intensity and quality, and sometimes other people’s recall of a same event is different than our own. Occasionally our minds even fill in the blanks with color or other details we have forgotten, aren’t true or didn’t actually occur. E.g. “I could swear that motorcycle Joe had was red, not blue.” 

Particularly salient parts of memory are more likely to stand out and last longer. However, even memories of traumatic events such as 9-11, are, and can be, edited as we remember them. An interesting area of study on salient events involves eye-witness cases, which have high inconsistencies and are now considered as somewhat unreliable evidence in courts of law. We can embellish memories or micro-delete aspects unconsciously or by deliberate choice. Memory is influenced by numerous variables and is an interesting study on its own.

This fact also means we be active in choosing how we want to remember by reconstructing a memory association.  I am not advocating telling ourselves lies or myths to cope. This is what I do mean…

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Memory works strongly with associations such as taste, smell, touch, sight, sound, and other senses such as feelings/emotions. E.g. people may forget what you said, but they’ll never forget how they felt when you said it.

I rephrased this popular saying because, regarding emotions (which differ from our physical yet are interconnected) we have power and responsibility in part for our feelings and how we manage or act on them even when another is an initiator of negative events. We may be on a learning curve on how to do this, but ultimately, its within our power to decide how we will allow things effect us long term, and what we will do to begin the process and fulfillment of healing.

When pain and fear anchor as primary emotions in our memory consolidation process, it can create a reinforcement cycle of the memory like a well worn path. Further, painful social situations activate the same nerve and brain areas as physical pain does. This is why we experience heartache as a physical pain, or get pain symptoms in various parts of our bodies (soma-symptoms). However our bodies can learn to release trauma and pain from soma and muscle memory as well.

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dendrites flickr.com

We usually have understanding of the problem of our pain, but are often uncertain how to get our minds out of memory holding patterns. This pattern is what needs changed to heal. By the same principle of the well worn path, a pathway barely used becomes overgrown. In the case of brain patterns and memory, when dendrites and synapses (our brain’s tree branches and leaves, or highways and intersections) are not in frequent use, the brain prunes our memory tree, closes road.

Then as we learn or adapt our thinking, it regrows new branches or paves new roads or adds an overpass, which function differently.  This principle of use and disuse is quite noticeable in things like second languages, directions, or placing a name to a face.

We don’t have to revisit every painful memory for this to happen, like scientists and therapists used to believe. We can actively make new memories in place of the old. It is like overwriting old code. This removes old triggering associations, by creating new ones.

This memory flexibility and resilience underlies certain professional psychological treatments for trauma, phobias, and general cognitive restructuring. The brain gets rewired as to what our focus is on, connects to new associations, forming patterns in our memory, which then re-consolidates into a new framework, or schema. Thus we can remember events or other things without pain or triggers when this change occurs.

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What we focus on expands and magnifies.

 If you find certain places, people, objects etc are triggers for you, you might want to give making new memory associations a chance. It may not happen the first time you try, you may feel very uncomfortable at first. It may even feel worse to begin with, but with persistence and support from others, the memories, experiences,  relationships, etcetera that you want to keep but with new healthy associations, can happen for you. I have shared this concept with personal friends and have started receiving good feedback about its affects.

In reality, we don’t ‘unlearn’ things- we learn again- the overwriting aspect. This plasticity is also a mechanic of the spiritual reality of renewing our minds to truth, and shifting belief patterns. You can be free of negative past associations. Let’s get creative.

*Not every memory is one we want to keep; some we are better off losing completely– I don’t mean repression. Depending on the severity of trauma and our personal experiences, this type of overwriting may work great without other’s involvement, or, people may find they need assistance in this process, whether a friend, counsellor, or by supernatural means.

For those of you whose hope has been crushed by being told you have a disorder that can’t be healed, only managed, I encourage you to seek counsel and wholeness through Jesus our Healer. The greatest helper, Jesus Christ, is the master physician and counselor for memories that have crushed one’s spirit. I, and, many others can personally attest to His healing power and loving process to heal memories.

For further interest, this book was recommended to me by my oversight (a practicing psychiatrist) in my undergrad course Abnormal Psychology  regarding my course project: investigating  DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder) and Depersonalization–Derealization Disorder (DDD–which is in fact more common than generally realized by practitioners). For those who like a little more scientific info, or wonder about the mechanics of how focus affects any number of our systems including spiritual focus see:

New York Times Bestseller, FOCUS: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, by Daniel Goleman.

 

Is it Mental Illness, or is it Psychological Warfare?

Several years ago, I had an a very negative experience.

The church I attended was experiencing some big changes and although these were good, an enemy had an agenda too.

Difficulties began to emerge relationally, a number of people were confused, hurt and communication began to break down. People’s minds and hearts were under assault. It became clear that there was more at work than human souls.

I assumed the affects were localized to people directly involved in some of the conflicts. Therefore, My experience seemed bizzare and unrelated to praying about these issues.

I began to have mental flashes, intrusive mental pictures and short movie type scenes playing in my mind that no one would want. They seemed intermittent at first and were disturbing. Then the frequency increased and occurred both at night and in the day.

At this point of such an experience, many people begin to wonder, “Am I  going crazy? Am I losing it?” or assume that this can be the only plausible answer. Sometimes, maybe most times, it’s psychological warfare.

Because I didn’t understand what was occuring and didn’t seem to know how to completely block these images from my mind, I began to feel distressed and anxious. My present experience seemed to outweigh my spiritual training–my understanding needed upgraded, but not the way I expected.

When we encounter new things, or the unknown, we are in learning mode. We Don’t feel we have all the info needed for the present. We have past experience and victories to guide our responses, but more so, we pay close attention to our commander for more Intel and directions.

On Ground level, such experiences may feel chaotic. It’s hard to see what’s actually taking place, and Friendly Fire may occur. What we experience at ground zero may feel intense, confusing, painful.

At some point, I shared with someone that I was experiencing some unusual things and found out that many others were as well. In this situation, trying to figure out what spirit is creating the trouble is often typical protocol for spiritual warfare.

Many, if not most of us, have been taught in both the natural world and the spiritual, we need to trace the source of the enemy attack in order to be free, to find out how the enemy found a door or legal right. This typical response is so opposite of what Holy Spirit began to teach me.

Often we are taught things that sound spiritual but aren’t necessary to our freedom and may even cause us to feel more bound up. When we honestly desire truth, He will lead us into it.

Eventually the trouble all stopped, and in the aftermath I could see so clearly what I couldn’t in the midst of the experience. Because it had seemed so real, I was afraid that somehow I might be at fault for what I was experiencing, or that I might be losing the ground I had previously gained-even though my whole heart was resisting and I just wanted it to end.

I’ve learned so much since that experience about a new kind of weapon. A type of “warfare” that consists of a state of Rest.

Sometimes people describe contending for something and yet as I listen to them it sounds more like they are praying from a place of fear, or trying to shadow box (which is what I’d been experiencing with those mental flashes).
True contending comes from a place of standing firm in confidence, knowing that we have the upper hand in authority and power, convinced that we are already triumphant.

As I thought about that past experience, I found myself wishing that someone could have identified the real issue and told me:

The fact is you Are Free, and no attempt to affect you changes that. Nothing has changed in reality; you are experiencing a ruse.  

All I really needed was to know that it was merely smoke and mirrors; it wasn’t me and wasn’t mine and I didn’t need to react as though it was. I could have simply rested and known I was just fine, ignoring the mind tricks. Any tactic the enemy was using was simply that-a tactic. Nothing had actually changed.

None of it was real. 

Like in the Divergent serieswhen Tris is in the water tank and seems about to drown (which felt very real to her in the moment) but suddenly she saw and knew the truth:

“This isn’t real.”

The experience was a phenomena of the mind that felt very real, like a dream might, but when she realized it was merely a psychological phenomena, she was free that instant-actually she had been free the whole time. She simply came to that awarenessTest over.

The experience I had was one of the worst types of torment I’d ever experienced. But now I know something I didn’t understand then:

If it’s not His, it’s not mine.

I am one spirit with Christ (1 Corinthians 6:17). I don’t have to shadow box a defeated enemy. I don’t need to wear myself out resisting, repeatedly declaring, binding, and trying to block the enemy from messing with my head, sparring until I’m exhausted, only to start all over again the next day or time.

Here’s a fact. Our spiritual enemies are narcissists. They love for the focus to be on them. The more you spar the more egomanic they behave. That’s why Rest is an amazing weapon. It’s function is much like the imagery in Psalm 23.


THE LORD is my Shepherd [to feed, guide, and shield me], I shall not lack.
He makes me lie down in [fresh, tender] green pastures; He leads me beside the still and restful waters.
He refreshes and restores my life (my self); He leads me in the paths of righteousness [uprightness and right standing with Him—not for my earning it, but] for His name’s sake.
Yes, though I walk through the [deep, sunless] valley of the shadow of death, I will fear or dread no evil, for You are with me; Your rod [to protect] and Your staff [to guide], they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head withoil; my [brimming] cup runs over. Surely or only goodness, mercy, and unfailing love shall follow me all the days of my life, and through the length of my days the house of the Lord [and His presence] shall be my dwelling place.

I can dismiss whatever isn’t good, pure, noble or trustworthy because the Strong Man (Holy Spirit) lives in me. This house is filled. I can set my gaze on the One who loves me and gave himself for me.

Experientially we learn to live in our dominion too. When we know the truth, we experience and live the Helmet of Salvation, the mind of Christ.                                  Our mind becomes a fortress of peace when we understand the truth.

We don’t have to feel vulnerable,  we can be confident in trust, and enter His rest.

See TheologyMom for another testimony.