SERIES VII OF VII
Empower Yourself: Re-Write Your Story
In life, we often create a story for ourselves. For example, you might say things like, “I haven’t recovered since my girlfriend broke up with me,” or “I feel victimized by what happened, and it wasn’t fair,” or “I was too shy as a kid so I never made enough friends at school,” or some other story that you keep identifying yourself with. If you identify yourself with what I call victimized or powerless stories, you continuously behave as if these stories still have an effect on you, and it becomes difficult to create healthier and more functional behaviors until you begin to change your story of yourself.
Retell Your Tale
If you retell your story to yourself and to others in a different way, still keeping it truthful, you give your brain a chance to adjust and to feel a sense of power over the situation rather than feeling victimized. I tell you, this is one of the most powerful and life-changing exercises I have experienced.
For example, a small story from my childhood could be retold in the following way:
- My teacher walked up to me one day in the classroom and was very cross that I had my lunch box next to my desk. I had no idea that this was a problem. She picked it up and flung it across the floor to the other end of the classroom and screamed at me. I felt extreme shame and terror and have been afraid of her ever since.
I can slow down the events in my memory into different pieces, making it easier for my brain to process small parts of the story in little steps:
- I was sitting at my desk when suddenly my teacher walked up and was angry at me for something. I am not quite sure what. In her anger, she picked up my lunch box and threw it across the floor. I was ashamed and confused, and I think it was because my lunch box was next to me, even though I am still not sure if this was the real problem.
Since I have separated different parts of the experience into separate emotional components, I can see clearly that perhaps the teacher was not only angry with me, but just an angry person. I can even try a little humor in my story to make it lighter:
- My teacher was a really strict and angry woman and all the kids were afraid of her. She even came up to me one day and threw my lunch box across the floor of the classroom and screamed at me. I was shocked, and all the kids were surprised, but we knew that was her typical behavior.
In retelling the story this time, I realize that a lot of kids were afraid of her and that maybe she was a generally angry woman. I give myself a chance to feel less guilt and shame about the whole situation because all the kids were afraid of her, and her anger was not only personalized toward me. I suddenly feel a sense of support from all the kids in the classroom. Perhaps my teacher did not know how to behave appropriately with children and was emotionally irresponsible. As I realize the generality of my teacher’s anger, I feel a slight shift in my body where I was holding onto some fear from my past, and I now feel less threatened by the memory of her.
It might take many attempts for you to feel less emotionally affected by your story. This is OK. Every time you feel a slight shift in awareness or feeling, your brain is recovering from the event. You can also write your story out differently many times and go through the awareness shifts on your own; however, it’s better to do it with people because of the energetic exchange you get from sharing with people. You can also do this as a group of about 5 or more people, with each person mingling with different people in the group, retelling their story in different ways with each person. Practice rewriting one of your memories a couple of times and see if it makes a difference to you,
Imagining Positive Experiences
Another exercise to resolve emotional trauma from an event is to imagine the event occurring on a stage or on a television screen, with you as a spectator in the audience. As you watch the experience, imagine the event occurring slightly differently. Use your mind to bring in helping scenes or more positive outcomes to the event.
For example, to heal myself from a situation where I was emotionally abused by someone in my past, I imagine him on the screen looking away briefly from me and being interested in something else. This lessens the intensity of his glare and actually helps me breathe a little more deeply. As I continue the exercise over time, I might be ready to imagine this person walking away periodically. This gives me more breathing space and helps my brain reprocess the event in a more relaxed manner. Doing this repeatedly actually rewires your brain and alters your emotions surrounding stressful memories, therefore stopping your brain from continuously stressing your adrenal glands.
Another memory that I healed with this method is when I found it difficult to recover from the intense grief I went through during a prolonged breakup with my girlfriend. It was a long period of rejection and arguments where I suffered quite a bit. What I did to lessen the intensity of my grief was to imagine her on the screen smiling at me once in a while during our hard times. Doing this reduced the pain in my mind that was still there and helped me smile a little, too. You see, I didn’t need to change the entire memory—I altered it subtly enough so it remained believable in my mind. As I continued this exercise, I actually resolved a lot of grief and self-esteem issues that stemmed from this event and managed to develop a healthy relationship with someone else.
A third example is the memory of a teacher who was really mean to me when I was a child. As I envision him on the screen glaring and shouting at the little me, I imagine a bird coming to rest on his shoulder. Automatically, this discharges the focus in my brain from his anger and menacing look to something more gentle and safe to experience for a young child. I might even imagine my parents or somebody larger coming to talk to him as a way of protecting me. This also reduces the anxiety in my unconscious memory. Because I am less threatened and feel safer emotionally with my memory, my brain stops sending stressful unconscious signals to my adrenal glands, and I regain some of my emotional strength.
Initially, you might feel intense emotions doing these exercises. As you continue to do them, the intensity should lessen because your brain will have discharged some of the stress associated with your memories. Negative events in your past hinder your authenticity and alter the way you behave with others. If you continue to live your life in a compensated way, you perpetuate the negative feelings you carry. As you recover emotionally from past events, you begin to feel more confident and open in your life. Healing is an opportunity to awaken a freer and more joyful self and to interact with the world in a more positive and self-supportive way, which will hopefully bring you better health and more positive experiences.
Ho’oponopono is an ancient Hawaiian practice of forgiving and loving the part inside of you that is experiencing a trauma or disturbing event. Ho’oponopono became famous when Dr. Ihaleakala Hew Len in Hawaii cured mentally ill criminals without even seeing them. He would study their medical charts and look within himself to find which part of his consciousness created the person’s illness in his reality. As he forgave and loved this part inside him, Dr. Len managed to cure a whole ward of patients.
This seems like a far-fetched story, however it has worked for many people and is based on the principles that everyone’s world is a projection of what’s inside of them and we are responsible for everything we experience in our world. We can heal anything by taking full personal responsibility for the experience and healing the part in us that is creating the experience. To do Ho’oponopono, whenever you feel disturbed by a situation or have a past trauma that is not fully healed, allow yourself to open up to the part inside of you, which feels hurt or troubled by the experience, whether it’s in the past or in the present. Once you feel this place inside of you, place both hands over your heart area in the center of your chest and say the following words to this stressed part of you with as much love and compassion as possible:
“I’m sorry, I love you, I forgive you, thank you.”
You can think of these words silently, whisper them or say them out loud. Keep saying them to the stressed part inside of you, notice how you feel and trust the changes you are feeling inside. Do Ho’oponopono on each experience you wrote in your timeline healing diary to help lessen the emotions surrounding difficult situations in your life. I do Ho’oponopono on daily situations and on many past experiences and I often notice a shift in my emotions, in the way I relate to people and in the way I behave now.
Did you know that volunteering for a worthy cause actually improves emotional well-being? Yes, it’s true. I’ve done it myself numerous times and it really feels good. Studies show that volunteering actually alleviates depression and prevents people from relapsing into depression as well. Volunteering also helps you develop social skills, gives you a chance to make contacts and friends, and prevents social isolation, which is a major cause and outcome of depression. Often, volunteering is stress free and can feel rewarding, meaning your body will actually produce endorphins (feel good hormones) from feeling satisfied and appreciated. Give your time to a good cause this weekend, or whenever you have free time. Take a risk and find out what might be fun for you to do. You don’t have to put yourself in a difficult situation to volunteer – I remember spending one-weekend planting trees on Mount Kenya in the name of conservation. I’ll give food to an orphanage for children with AIDS every Sunday, which is a really nice thing to do because the laughter and hugs from the children feel so good. These are just a couple of examples of rewarding environments where you can volunteer your time. And who knows, you might even help someone change their life for the better with a unique gift you didn’t even realize you gave!
Friends, Family, and Support Groups
“Friends are the medicine of life” – Unknown.
Being open with, and gaining support from family, friends and self-help groups, can make a big difference if you suffer from emotional issues. It can be intimidating at first, but disclosing your problems to a trustworthy person starts a chain reaction of help and emotional release. They might give you advice, share a similar situation in their lives, or know someone who can help you. Even if you do not get all the help you need from the first person you talk to, sharing your problems with one person gives you the courage to open up and seek further help with other people.
As a friend or family member of someone with emotional issues, it is important to listen carefully when he or she discloses feelings and not be judgmental. Show that you care and are interested in the problems rather than immediately trying to suggest solutions. A person revealing anxieties and emotional issues is being vulnerable with you. The more you listen and allow that person to feel OK sharing this vulnerable side, the stronger and more open to help he or she will become.
Ask how you can be of help, but try to be patient and nonjudgmental if your help is refused. People with emotional difficulties often have a hard time judging the best solution. Another way you can help is to find meditation, yoga, personal growth, or self-help groups. Perhaps you can attend a few sessions with the person to give some encouragement. Having support at the initial meeting or inquiry helps dissolve many barriers people experience when first seeking help.
Dr. Ameet Aggarwal ND is a naturopathic doctor and psychotherapist (Gestalt, Family Constellations, EMDR) with years of experience treating physical issues, anxiety, stress, depression, abuse, relationship issues and also working with UNICEF, UN Staff and other large organizations. His online course on using the 5 pillars of health, (free videos on health.drameet.com), lecturing around the world and being voted top 5 speaker on 2 world summits has earned him the recognition of top 43 naturopaths to follow.