Are you ever at a party, or perhaps the grocery store and suddenly start feeling nervous, with your heart racing and palms sweating, for no reason at all? Or maybe you’re just hanging out at the park and, out of the blue, you get a strange, panicky feeling about your kids playing on the playground? Maybe you’re an athlete, and every time you come towards the ball, an overwhelming feeling of insecurity and failure takes over and you once again miss the hit?
Our memories work in a very unique way. Sometimes we remember our 10th birthday with such clarity, it would make a historian do a double take. Other times, we can’t even remember what we had for dinner last night. Thinking back to some relationships, we only seem to remember all the bad days, and sometimes, if we’re one of the lucky ones, we might be able to think back to a few good ones too.
And sometimes, most often without our knowing, our brains keep track of the darkest and most unwanted moments we’ve ever experienced. Perhaps these moments are big traumas, such as a terrible car accident, an unexpected death or injury, the moment we found out about our parents’ divorce, or the one when we were broken up with. Sometimes these moments might be small traumas, like the time we spilled coffee all over our new outfit, or said that one joke followed by the choir of crickets. Either way, our brain takes notice of the rush of fear, confusion, embarrassment, and shame that rushes all over our body. It takes a very detailed picture of everything outside and inside our body, storing it for future use, just in case it might figure out a way to help us avoid a similar unwanted situation.
We have a full file with such pictures, and at some point in the future, we come across an item, a smell, or a person, who just happens to somehow match up with details in our stored images. When this happens, the brain suddenly wakes up and alerts all systems, putting us in the fight or flight response, just in case we need to act to protect ourselves. Our brains are our amazing protectors, always focused on protecting us and keeping us alive at all costs. What our brains don’t realize, is that just because one detail matches with a traumatic image, it does not automatically mean the same trauma will happen, which can lead to that sudden rush of fear or panic with no current, real threat in front of us.
There are several modes of therapy that can help our bodies and our brains reprocess and rewire in order to clear out some of those old pictures in our Trauma files. You might be familiar with Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, which has been around for over three decades now, and can easily be misrepresented in crime shows on TV. A newer, similar form of therapy is Brainspotting.
After building a healthy relationship with a Brainspotting-trained therapist, the two of you might decide to use this therapy tool to process and release emotional memories stored in your body. The process is often intensely emotional, cathartic and physically exhausting, but the results can be quick, insightful and very releasing. By clearing old traumatic memories, you can notice less ‘charge’ during conflicts in your relationships, more ease when speaking up or performing in public, and be better able to complete tasks that might be directly related to the old traumas, such as driving, sleeping, or going out in public. If that original picture stored by our brain in our traumatic file is vivid, with bright, neon colors, Brainspotting works to make that same picture into one that’s more of a vintage, faded image, with much less painful details. We still remember the event, but the emotional response is now lessened.
It’s important to remember that Brainspotting is a tool of therapy, to be used as part of the therapeutic relationship; sometimes it is not recommended, and every once in a while, not beneficial for some individuals. It is most beneficial when used as part of an inclusive treatment and supported by important lifestyle factors, such as having a supportive and nurturing environment.