Trauma:How to change a negative into a positive

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Trauma:How to change a negative into a positive

Almost all of us experience trauma at some stage in our lives. Recently I have been asked to write an article for the woman’s magazine I write a regular column for about how one finally put the memories of a traumatic event behind you. I find what I learned about this topic so useful and practical and easy that I just have to share it and hope it can help you heal as well.

In his book “Hardwiring happiness: The new brain science of contentment, calm and confidence”, the neuro-psychologist Rick Hanson, describes an effective, easy way to permanently get rid of the emotions that accompany memories of traumatic events. During the evolution process our brains were programmed to learn more quickly from bad experiences than from the good ones to guarantee our survival. This is why it seems as though memories of traumatic events are easier to recall and more deep seated in our memory bank than recollections of positive experiences.

It has fortunately been discovered that while bad memories are easier to recall, they are not permanently cast in stone in our minds : Whenever we actively recall a memory, it can be transformed and is pliable. It is because of this reason that we can paradoxically aid our healing process from traumatic events in the past by recalling the painful memories.A person who relives memories of a traumatic incident in a safe space, can be taught to disconnect from the “alarm” meganisms which makes the memories so painful.

The HEAL process is used to help a person rewire the brain to turn emotions associated with traumatic experiences into positive recollections. the acronym HEAL stands for the following steps in the healing process:HAVE a positive experience. In the first step of this process, a positive frame of mind is activated and during steps 2-4 it is installed in the brain. Recall a positive experience which evoke the opposite emotions that you experience during a recollection of the traumatic event/s you are trying to erase.

EXPERIENCE this positive memory in depth. Think of all the positive emotions it evokes and let your consciousness fill up with these happy recollections.

ABSORB this positive experience and the associated good emotions totally and visualize and feel how every cell in your body gets immersed in it and how it becomes an intrinsic part of your brain and your whole being.

LET the memory of the traumatic experience you are trying to loose, in at this stage of the process. Hanson uses the image of planting beautiful flowers in your garden. In the process of gardening you see the weeds and get rid of them to give the flowers room to grow. When you are ready, get rid of the negative memories like cleaning out the weeds. Whenever you think of the traumatic event in future, only be aware of the positive or neutral feelings that now accompany this memory. Our brain can not contain two opposing beliefs or memories at the same time for long. One of the memories will always be destroyed. In life coaching we call this cognitive dissonance. With the help of this exercise you can get rid of the painful emotions by focusing on the positive or neutral emotions that now consume you whenever the traumatic experience is recalled and the angst and pain that used to accompany it can now be erased.

Paul McKenna, celebrated life coach and author of among others the book “Change your life in seven days”, gives an excellent visual exercise that you can incorporate in the HEAL process on p.231. He claims that this imagination exercise causes an instant endorphin release and that people who suffer from depression instantly feel good when they use this method. He has used this technique ever since he heard of a doctor in New York who uses this process with great success on drug addicts who realize that it is their bodies that flood them with good feelings and not the substances they use- Here is the full exercise:

INSTANT ENDORPHIN RELEASE

  1. Remember a time you felt totally happy and at peace. Return fully to that time now, seeing what you saw, hearing what you heard and feeling how good you felt. (If you can’t remember a specific time, just imagine how much better your life would be if you were totally happy and peaceful right now – If you had all the peace, love and contentment you could ever want.)
  2. Now make the colours brighter and richer, the sounds louder, and allow your feelings of happiness to intensify.
  3. Notice where that feeling of happiness is strongest in your body. Give this feeling of happiness a colour, and move that colour up to the top of your head and down to the tip of your toes. Double the brightness. Double it again!
  4. You can visualize the endorphins like little dolphins at play in your bloodstream, happily swimming from cell to cell or feel the flow of endorphins like a river of golden honey through your body.
  5. Repeat steps 2-4 at least five more times. Vividly imagine in detail that event where you are happy again and again.You can use the same happy experience or add in new ones each time.

Add Hanson’s last step of letting the traumatic memory in so that you can weed it out at this stage in the above mentioned exercise and gradually faze it out with each repetition.


I myself unknowingly used this technique to deal with the painful memories after the trauma of loosing both my parents in a relatively short time from each other. While my mom’s death was very sudden and unexpected, my dad died two weeks after having a massive stroke. The usual feelings of loss and sadness after his death was accompanied by “survivor’s guilt” and feelings that we could have handled things differently in the two weeks leading up to his passing away.

It was only after we scattered their ashes near the beach front of their favourite seaside town, that I started to confront the unhealthy feelings that accompanied my memories of them. My partner and I went to “visit” them one beautiful sunshine day and the setting was just perfect. The sea was a beautiful aquamarine blue and a little red boat was slowly making its way to the beach. I looked up and the rare sighting of both the sun and the moon visible in the sky made me experience my parents’ presences in a special way. It reminded me of one of my dad’s favourite songs he loved to play on the guitar “Brother sun and sister moon” and I just realized in that moment that my parents are very happy together in another dimension and their energy is now pure and fluid and all encompassing like the rays of the sun. Whenever I think of them now, these feelings of happiness and peace and reassurance are evoked in my mind. The whole experience has actually changed my perception of death and I know that our souls, just like my deceased parents’ pass on in another form to a new dimension.

Trauma that has not been dealt with correctly is literally bad for your health. Anxiousness, depression, headaches, inflammation and a weakened immune and cardiovascular system are all byproducts of unassimilated traumatic experiences. It is therefore of cardinal importance for both a healthy body and a healthy mind to deal with trauma appropriately. The simple but effective HEAL method can be used with great success. If you feel overwhelmed and think that you need help to work through this process a life coach can help you to take affirmative action and guide you on your path to health, freedom and success.

Please let me know how this process helped you or if you have any other constructive advise, please scroll down and leave a comment below.

2 Comments

  1. Beverley says:

    Hi, when i recieved your e-mail on trauma i cried so much i had to stop and continued later. Just that morning i made a comment to a colleague how trauma can hunt us in our future if not dealt with properly. I will defnitely put your advice to work. Thanks much

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