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Why Time Doesn’t Heal All Wounds

Why Time Doesn’t Heal All Wounds


    (Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post by Francine Shapiro, PhD, author of Getting Past Your Past: Take Control of Your Life with Self-Help Techniques from EMDR Therapy. Shapiro is a senior research fellow at the Mental Research Institute in Palo Alto, California, director of the EMDR Institute, and founder of the non-profit EMDR-Humanitarian Assistance Programs. As the originator of EMDR, she is a recipient of the International Sigmund Freud Award for Psychotherapy of the City of Vienna, the American Psychological Association Trauma Psychology Division Award for Outstanding Contributions to Practice in Trauma Psychology, and the Distinguished Scientific Achievement in Psychology Award, from the California Psychological Association. As a result of her work, over 70,000 clinicians have treated millions of people during the past 20 years. For more information please visit http://www.emdr.com)

    If we cut ourselves, unless there is an obstacle, we tend to heal. If we remove the block, the body goes back to healing. That’s why we’re willing, to let ourselves be cut open during surgery. We expect incisions to heal.

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    The brain is part of the body. In addition to the millions of memory networks I’ve just described, we all have hardwired into our brains a mechanism — an information processing system — for healing. It is geared to take any sort of emotional turmoil to a level of mental health or what I call a level of adaptive resolution. This means a resolution that include the useful information that allows us to be more fit for survival in our lives. The information processing system is meant to make connections to what is useful, and let go of the rest.

    Here’s how it works: Imagine that you’ve had an argument with a coworker. You can feel upset, angry or fearful with all the physical reactions that go along with these different emotions. You can also have negative thoughts about the person and yourself. You might imagine how you’d like to exact revenge, but let’s hope you resist those behaviors; among other things they would probably get you fired. So you walk away. You think about it. You talk about it. You go to sleep and maybe dream about it. And the next day you might not feel so bad. You’ve basically “digested” the experience and now have a better sense of what to do. That’s the brain’s information processing system taking a disturbing experience and allowing learning to take place. Much of it goes on during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Scientists believe that during this stage of sleep the brain processes wishes, survival information and the learning that took place that day. Basically, whatever is important to us. The bottom line is that the brain is hardwired to do that.

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    After uninterrupted information processing, the memory of the argument has generally linked up with more useful information already stored in your brain. This can include past experiences you’ve had with this coworker and others. You may now be able to say, “Oh, that’s just the way John is. I’ve handled something like this before with him, and it came out fine.” As these other memories link up with the current disturbing incident, your experience of the event changes. You learn what is useful from the argument and your brain lets go of what’s not. Because the negative feelings and the self-talk are no longer useful, they’re gone. But what you needed to learn remains, and now your brain stores the memory of the event in a form where it is able to successfully guide you in the future.

    As a result, you have a better sense of what you’re supposed to do. You can talk to your coworker without the intense emotional turmoil you had the day before. That’s the brain’s adaptive information processing system taking a disturbing experience and allowing learning to take place. It’s doing just what it’s geared to do.

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    Sadly, disturbing experiences, whether major traumas or other kinds of upsetting events, can overwhelm the system. When that happens, the intense emotional and physical disturbance caused by the situation prevents the information processing system from making the internal connections needed to take it to a resolution. Instead, the memory of the situation becomes stored in the brain as you experienced it. What you saw and felt, the image, the emotions, the physical sensations and the thoughts become encoded in memory in their original, unprocessed form. So, whenever you see the coworker you argued with, rather than being able to have a calm chat, the anger or fear comes flooding back. You may try to manage your feelings out of self-preservation, but whenever the person appears, your distress goes up.

    When reactions such as these refuse to go away in the present, it’s often because they are also linking into unprocessed memories from the past. These unconscious connections occur automatically. For instance, your immediate dislike of a person you just met may come from memories of someone in some way similar who hurt you before. Also, consider the case of a woman who was raped. Years later, she is in bed with someone she knows is a very loving partner. But when he touches her in a certain way, her emotions and body respond automatically. The terror and feelings of powerlessness she had during the rape flood her. If the information processing system did not function properly after the attack, a touch similar to the rapist’s can link into the memory network and “trigger” the emotions and the physical sensations that are part of that stored unprocessed memory.

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    The disrupted information processing system has stored the memory in isolation — unintegrated within the more general memory networks. It can’t change since it is unable to link up with anything more useful and adaptive. That’s why time doesn’t heal all wounds, and you may still feel anger, resentment, pain, sorrow or a number of other emotions about events that took place years ago. They are frozen in time, and the unprocessed memories can become the foundation for emotional, and some times physical, problems. Even though you might not have had a major trauma in your life, research has shown that other kinds of life experiences can cause the same types of problems. And since the memory connections happen automatically, below conscious level, you may have no idea what’s really running your show.

    (Photo credit: MousyBoyWithGlasses via Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0)

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    Last Updated on December 10, 2019

    5 Smart Reasons to Start Journal Writing Today

    5 Smart Reasons to Start Journal Writing Today

    Here’s the truth: your effectiveness at life is not what it could be. You’re missing out.

    Each day passes by and you have nothing to prove that it even happened. Did you achieve something? Go on a date? Have an emotional breakthrough? Who knows?

    But what you do know is that you don’t want to make the same mistakes that you’ve made in the past.

    Our lives are full of hidden gems of knowledge and insight, and the most recent events in our lives contain the most useful gems of all. Do you know why? It’s simple, those hidden lessons are the most up to date, meaning they have the largest impact on what we’re doing right now.

    But the question is, how do you get those lessons? There’s a simple way to do it, and it doesn’t involve time machines:

    Journal writing.

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    Improved mental clarity, the ability to see our lives in the big picture, as well as serving as a piece of evidence cataloguing every success we’ve ever had; we are provided all of the above and more by doing some journal writing.

    Journal writing is a useful and flexible tool to help shed light on achieving your goals.

    Here’s 5 smart reasons why you should do journal writing:

    1. Journals Help You Have a Better Connection with Your Values, Emotions, and Goals

    By journaling about what you believe in, why you believe it, how you feel, and what your goals are, you understand your relationships with these things better. This is because you must sort through the mental clutter and provide details on why you do what you do and feel what you feel.

    Consider this:

    Perhaps you’ve spent the last year or so working at a job you don’t like. It would be easy to just suck it up and keep working with your head down, going on as if it’s supposed to be normal to not like your job. Nobody else is complaining, so why should you, right?

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    But a little journal writing will set things straight for you. You don’t like your job. You feel like it’s robbing you of happiness and satisfaction, and you don’t see yourself better there in the future.

    The other workers? Maybe they don’t know, maybe they don’t care. But you do, you know and care enough to do something about it. And you’re capable of fixing this problem because your journal writing allows you to finally be honest with yourself about it.

    2. Journals Improve Mental Clarity and Help Improve Your Focus

    If there’s one thing journal writing is good for, it’s clearing the mental clutter.

    How does it work? Simply, whenever you have a problem and write about it in a journal, you transfer the problem from your head to the paper. This empties the mind, allowing allocation of precious resources to problem-solving rather than problem-storing.

    Let’s say you’ve been juggling several tasks at work. You’ve got data entry, testing, e-mails, problems with the boss, and so on—enough to overwhelm you—but as you start journal writing, things become clearer and easier to understand: Data entry can actually wait till Thursday; Bill kindly offered earlier to do my testing; For e-mails, I can check them now; the boss is just upset because Becky called in sick, etc.

    You become better able to focus and reason your tasks out, and this is an indispensable and useful skill to have.

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    3. Journals Improve Insight and Understanding

    As a positive consequence of improving your mental clarity, you become more open to insights you may have missed before. As you write your notes out, you’re essentially having a dialogue with yourself. This draws out insights that you would have missed otherwise; it’s almost as if two people are working together to better understand each other. This kind of insight is only available to the person who has taken the time to connect with and understand themselves in the form of writing.

    Once you’ve gotten a few entries written down, new insights can be gleaned from reading over them. What themes do you see in your life? Do you keep switching goals halfway through? Are you constantly dating the same type of people who aren’t good for you? Have you slowly but surely pushed people out of your life for fear of being hurt?

    All of these questions can be answered by simply self-reflecting, but you can only discover the answers if you’ve captured them in writing. These questions are going to be tough to answer without a journal of your actions and experiences.

    4. Journals Track Your Overall Development

    Life happens, and it can happen fast. Sometimes we don’t take the time to stop and look around at what’s happening to us at each moment. We don’t get to see the step-by-step progress that we’re making in our own lives. So what happens? One day it’s the future, and you have no idea how you’ve gotten there.

    Journal writing allows you to see how you’ve changed over time, so you can see where you did things right, and you can see where you took a misstep and fell.

    The great thing about journals is that you’ll know what that misstep was, and you can make sure it doesn’t happen again—all because you made sure to log it, allowing yourself to learn from your mistakes.

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    5. Journals Facilitate Personal Growth

    The best thing about journal writing is that no matter what you end up writing about, it’s hard to not grow from it. You can’t just look at a past entry in which you acted shamefully and say “that was dumb, anyway!” No, we say “I will never make a dumb choice like that again!”

    It’s impossible not to grow when it comes to journal writing. That’s what makes journal writing such a powerful tool, whether it’s about achieving goals, becoming a better person, or just general personal-development. No matter what you use it for, you’ll eventually see yourself growing as a person.

    Kickstart Journaling

    How can journaling best be of use to you? To vent your emotions? To help achieve your goals? To help clear your mind? What do you think makes journaling such a useful life skill?

    Know the answer? Then it’s about time you reap the benefits of journal writing and start putting pen to paper.

    Here’s what you can do to start journaling:

    Featured photo credit: Jealous Weekends via unsplash.com

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