T suggested a visualisation - I really don’t want to do it!

barefoot

Sponsor
I’ve recently been talking with my T about fight/flight/freeze responses. And how my default is freeze - I don’t remember ever doing either of the others.

It would be good to have access to fight/flight responses so I don’t end up being really vulnerable because I freeze and can’t do anything to get out of the situation.

It’s not really that I’m expecting to be attacked or assaulted at some point and am trying to equip myself to ninja my way out of an ambush and run for my life.

A key area for me where freeze gets in the way is medical appointments/procedures. I tend to freeze and my voice gets hijacked and I fail to self-advocate and things often then go pear-shaped and I end up very triggered and with a very distressing, stressful and messy experience. I would really like to find a way where I don’t just default freeze in these situations so that I can advocate for myself and have better experiences.

In the last few minutes of today’s session, T suggested a visualisation exercise for me to do on my own every day before our next session.

The exercise is:
- think of a real situation where I froze
- imagine a big tv screen in front of me and imagine that I am holding the tv remote control
- start to watch the situation unfold on the screen
- at the moment when I started to freeze in real life, imagine turning over to a different tv channel. Then imagine a different outcome where, instead of freezing, I had a fight or flight response
- allow this new direction to play out on the screen.

T says that imagining these different outcomes will create and strengthen new neural pathways so that fight/flight can become more available to my brain as response options - not just freeze.

While I want to be able to navigate medical stuff better so I don’t freeze and end up in a very stressful experience, I am aware that I feel incredibly anti doing this exercise. There are a few reasons:

- I have tried a similar process before (with a pause and rewind approach rather than changing channels) It turned into a very distressing experience - I dissociated badly and it took days to regulate myself. I do realise, however, that this was before I’d had any therapy and that I wasn’t in a psychologically safe environment or with a trusted person. But I really struggled with it.

- This kind of exercise feels very NLP to me (the above experience was with a Master NLP coach) I have done some NLP training myself as a practitioner years ago but a lot of it didn’t sit well with me and I don’t use it. My T and I talked about NLP quite near the start of our work together. We both said it wasn’t for us and that we felt uncomfortable with some of it including the ‘cultish’ of aspects of it. So, I’m surprised - and not in a good way - that this is the sort of exercise she has suggested I do.

- I’m not good at visualisations in general. I am not a visual person at all, I find it practically impossible to ‘see’ anything in my head. So, I don’t know how to ‘see’ the scene on the tv. I struggled with this before. Is is important that I can visualise it in this way? Can I just think through different outcomes instead without seeing it like a film, or would this not ‘work’?

- It’s really hard to pinpoint when a freeze started to then be able to ‘change channels’ and imagine what else could happen next. If I froze - especially if I then dissociated - it’s all so patchy and fragmented in my memory - there isn’t a clear moment when it started.

- It’s also hard to identify these specific moments where a situation (eg a medical procedure) often involves a cluster of trigger points. Again, it’s just not clear when the moment is that I’m meant to take as my key moment.

I’m aware that, as well as feeling anti the exercise I am also feeling a bit annoyed with my T. She just sort of rushed through the explanation at the end of our session and has left me to it and there just wasn’t the chance to talk through any of my concerns/previous bad experience with something similar because we had run out of time.

I could email her and tell her. Or just not do it and tell her next time why I didn’t. Or, I could just persevere. But I really feel strongly that I don’t want to do it.

Any thoughts around this?

Anyone done this sort of exercise? How did you find it?

Any tips for getting around my challenges with it?

Should I go with my gut and not do the exercise because I feel such a strong ‘no’ about it? Or should I push through this resistance and make myself try it again?

Thanks!
 
Last edited:

grit

Not Active
this is quite concerning. If you have such strong feelings, I think it is your best interest to say no and if you really cannt say no after so many of being with this therapist, I wonder what else is going on?
The lack of mental images (visualization) is not that uncommon for those with traumatic background - it is almost (IMHO) the most important why we are still here and not dead. It is called Aphantasia...if you have not heard before you can learn all about it.
I have the same thing and found many of the mindful practices fake...cause I was like yeah...everybody is seeing this beautiful beach with gorgeous waves crushing against a nice beautiful rock and I should be walking down the beach with the wind on my back! Parfh!!!
No I do not see images. But I do feel words. I can taste words. I can see syntax even though I am not a good writer, I can tell one.
but I also smoke some joint and found what this visualization nonsense was all about....when I dreamt in IMAX style...so rich and vivid.
PS. I do have great visualization while dreaming but absolutely zero in awake. so not sure if you dream and cannot do that in live or just you might be more in the spectrum of not being able to visualize at all.
Regardless, no therapist should force a method. She should suggest and you could bring it back if you were interested. if you are not talking about it, it should be dropped.
 

whiteraven

MyPTSD Pro
mindful practices fake...cause I was like yeah...everybody is seeing this beautiful beach with gorgeous waves crushing against a nice beautiful rock and I should be walking down the beach with the wind on my back! Parfh!!!
Just want to comment that what you describe here has nothing to do with mindfulness. Mindfulness is about being aware of what is, right now.

I have tried a similar process before (with a pause and rewind approach rather than changing channels) It turned into a very distressing experience - I dissociated badly and it took days to regulate myself. I do realise, however, that this was before I’d had any therapy and that I wasn’t in a psychologically safe environment or with a trusted person. But I really struggled with it.
I have an enormously tough time with anything medical. Is it possible for you to ask your therapist to work with you directly on this. I think it could be useful, but maybe not doing it all by yourself.
 

scout86

MyPTSD Pro
That approach sounds really complicated!

Full disclosure. My T was involved with NLP at one time. He's no longer involved (i'm thinking the cult-like aspect you mentioned), but he DOES use some of the techniques and I've found some of it pretty helpful.

I don't "visualize" in pictures either. In fact, I didn't realize anyone did, until I started therapy. I thought people were just speaking metaphorically. Since then, I've asked a lot of "normal" people is they can close their eyes & see pictures. Turns out there's a huge range of abilities.

We have a number of other senses though, and it seems like we use them in individual ways as we "think". For instance, I can "listen" to music in my head. Or "listen" to conversations. I can walk across a room with my eyes closed pretty well, because I have way of "visualizing" the feeling of moving through a familiar space. You can use your other senses to do this, it doesn't HAVE to be pictures.

For me, all that business about TV's and remotes is WAY too complicated because I can't do pictures. What I COULD do is "imagine" an old scenario with a different outcome. My T has had me do that a lot. Sometimes it helps to write it down. You're just telling a story. YOU get to write the outcome. You can do as many versions as you want. You can imagine being rescued by space aliens if you want to. The point is to get your brain used to the possibility of different responses.

Before anything else, it would be interesting to know where your strong "No" is coming from. What is it about this that seems so disturbing? I don't know that it makes sense to work too much on the project without looking at that. Although, myself, sometimes when I have that kind of reaction (and I do) it helps to find a way I CAN do an approximation of the exercise. I pretty much trust my T. Usually, when he comes up with some nutty idea like this, there's a good reason and it pays to play along and see what happens. I DO ask myself "what's the downside" a lot. Usually, when I think about it, there isn't one.
 

Friday

Moderator
I’m not good at visualisations in general. I am not a visual person at all, I find it practically impossible to ‘see’ anything in my head. So, I don’t know how to ‘see’ the scene on the tv. I struggled with this before. Is is important that I can visualise it in this way? Can I just think through different outcomes instead without seeing it like a film, or would this not ‘work’?
I had to learn to do the opposite... I think in pictures, and have to translate into words, so all the positive affirmation bulkshit, about 88% of CBT, etc.? Was pretty durn worthless to me. Until I had a therapist ask me what would it look like in my thoughts. Suicidal? Taking the gun out of my mouth & aiming it elsewhere is a radically different thought... from wanting to die to I’ve not only got this, but even if I’m out of ammo I’ve got a helluva paperweight to whack ya with AND why the hell am I outta ammo? Get some clips loaded already! A thousand times more powerful than any word based reframe/pivot, nuanced to a level I’m not even touching here (from urrender to going on the offensive, last resort to planning ahead for multiple contingencies, choices, determination trumping exhaustion, and much much more)... just by changing the exercise to the way I actually think.

So... speaking as someone who has to take a script and paint it in my mind, even if it’s just a single cell, or better yet a story board, if the completed thought is too much... can you do the opposite? Write the script for the scene/movie/situation/conversation, rather than attempt to visualise it?
 

barefoot

Sponsor
this is quite concerning.
Not sure what you are saying is concerning about it. Do you mean the exercise itself is concerning?

If you have such strong feelings, I think it is your best interest to say no and if you really cannt say no after so many of being with this therapist, I wonder what else is going on?

It’s not that I can’t say no to her about this. It’s that we didn’t have any time to talk about it - she gave me the steps of what to do and then time was up. If we’d have had time afterwards, I’d have shared my reservations, we’d have talked them through and then I’d have decided where I was at with it.

I have the same thing and found many of the mindful practices fake...cause I was like yeah...everybody is seeing this beautiful beach with gorgeous waves crushing against a nice beautiful rock and I should be walking down the beach with the wind on my back! Parfh!!!

Yes, I find these sorts of visualisations tough too , though I guess this is slightly different as I’m not having to imagine anything from scratch as it is replaying memories for most of the time. But, yes, not being able to ‘see’ stuff makes these kinds of exercises clunky and a bit frustrating.

Regardless, no therapist should force a method. She should suggest and you could bring it back if you were interested

Just to be clear, she isn’t forcing to do this. She has made a suggestion of an exercise I might try to address the issue we’ve been discussing (about trying to develop/access more response options rather than just freeze) But, if I said I didn’t want to do it, she’d respect that decision. She would probably ask me about it to understand what was behind my decision. But she’d never try to force me to do it. Similarly, if I tell her next session that I didn’t do it, she wouldn’t be annoyed about it. She’d just be curious about it.

It’s more that I want to get a sense check on whether I should leave it as I don’t fancy it or whether this is unhelpful avoidance and I should push through

I have an enormously tough time with anything medical. Is it possible for you to ask your therapist to work with you directly on this.

Sorry to hear you struggle with medical stuff too. She has been a big support helping me to prepare for appointments/procedures and set boundaries etc. But if something unexpected happens or something I planned for/requested in advance doesn’t happen etc, that’s when I tend to freeze and can’t speak up and fail to self-advocate. So, this exercise was supposed to help with that.

I must admit, when she said the week before about doing a visualisation, I did think she meant a guided visualisation that we would do together. Though, to be honest, I also found the thought of that quite stressful. I feel very self-conscious doing things - even breathing exercises - in front of her. I’d always rather she just showed me/told me how and then I’ll go and try on my own.

So, she may have thought leaving me to do it on my own would be my preference. Or maybe she’d planned for us to do it together but because we got stuck into other stuff first, there just wasn’t enough time to do it together, so she just flung it out there quickly at the end of the session so I could be getting on with it rather than waiting until next time. I don’t know. But I don’t think she will be expecting me to be finding it this much of a challenge.

For me, all that business about TV's and remotes is WAY too complicated because I can't do pictures. What I COULD do is "imagine" an old scenario with a different outcome.
You're just telling a story. YOU get to write the outcome. You can do as many versions as you want.

Yes, it does all feel overly complicated and hard!
I guess this is partly why I was posting here because I wasn’t sure whether visualising (ie actually seeing images) is the way the exercise HAS to be in order to ‘work’.

If I can write down different options instead, that would be do-able. But I think part of the point is that it’s not meant to be an ‘intellectual’ exercise but one that’s a bit more embodied/experienced/felt.

I think I’m also thinking that the other options are quite obvious (even though I didn’t do them!) So, for instance, if I froze when someone touched me, I could re-write that to be pushing them away or asking them to stop or telling them to eff off or punching them in the face or whatever.

Or, when I had an initial freeze in a hospital when I wasn’t given a pre-med which had been agreed in advance, instead of just ‘losing my voice’ and carrying on without having a pre-med, which ended up very messily, I could have asked for a pre-med and they could have brought one. Or, I could have asked, they could have refused and I could then have chosen to leave the hospital without having the procedure.

And those examples just feel a bit...basic! And the exercise then just feels basic...and quite glib.

Scout86:
it would be interesting to know where your strong "No" is coming from. What is it about this that seems so disturbing?

Sorry, don’t know what happened to my quoting there ^^^

It’s partly because of the complicated exercise and my inability to ‘see’ in my head...so the sense that I can’t do it anyway.

It’s partly that it stirs up memories of the bad experience doing a similar exercise with the NLP coach. Though I do understand that my T is very different from him - and our relationship is very different.

There’s also an aspect of feeling some judgement in the exercise. That it feels like when I ‘change the tv channel’ I am to imagine something I ‘should’ have done instead. So, instead of freezing and getting assaulted, I ‘should’ have pushed him away or kicked him in the groin, or called out for help or run out of the room or whatever whatever.

I’m sure this isn’t the point of the exercise. I know my T wouldn’t say/doesn’t think that I ‘should’ have done something else in various examples. It’s about opening up options so my brain might choose a different response in future. But there is something that feels like this imagining is putting something right...responding in the ‘right’ way...which means that what i


if the completed thought is too much... can you do the opposite? Write the script for the scene/movie/situation/conversation, rather than attempt to visualise it?

Yes, this would be do-able, I think. There just seems to be so much emphasis on the tv screen and changing the channel and watching a new ending...I’m just not sure whether the visual element is the key to the exercise being effective?
 

grit

Not Active
Thank you for taking time to respond. It appears I completely misunderstood about visualizations. I honestly did not know therapy does going through trauma memories. What I found concerning was a method of any type, IMHO, is suggested and if the client does not pick on it, it is dropped and at my initial reaction was why even entertain? It is like dreams or free association or even EMDR - some people prefer not to do them and they do not. But as often the case is, there is always more to the story than meets the eye.
I hope you find what you are looking for as it seems you got variety of experience to reflect.
 

Sideways

Moderator
So, I did this with one of my Ts. Very similar (although without the tv) - just remembering a traumatic moment, then making a decision to write a new narrative for how it played out.

At the time, it was disastrous. I was fairly new to using visualisation as a healing technique, and whenever I tried, my head went in the direction of catastrophe, rather than healing.

I've been practicing guided visualisation with guided relaxation tracks, and I'm much better at it now. It didn't occur to me (or the T I had at the time), that using visualisation was a skill. A learned skill. We both assumed it was an intuitive thing. We were wrong!

In a way, that's possibly good news. First, because if you get some really good guided relaxation tracks that are very clear about what they want you to visualise? It's a skill you can learn. I'm heaps better at it these days, and know I can control the visualisations pretty well.

If I was to approach this again? Knowing how it went the last time? I'd actually do it as a therapy session, with my T there talking me through what I was visualising, and ready to prompt me with guidance suggestions when the visualisation starts to go awry. Maybe it's something you can try with your T present? Talking through what you're visualising, so that you've got someone there to steer things if it starts going amiss?
 

barefoot

Sponsor
@Sideways this is interesting - I’d never thought of visualising as a skill I could practise, I just thought it wasn’t the way my brain worked.
So, are you suggesting I try some relaxing guided visualisations first, simply to practise and develop the skill of visualising. Then I could move on to this tv screen exercise?

Did you try the changing the narrative exercise again once you had practised other visualisations? And, if so, did you find the exercise helpful?
 

Rani G2

MyPTSD Pro
Anyone done this sort of exercise? How did you find it?
Pure visualizations don’t work for me either. Too much interruptions.
Need haptic experience, temperature, or just a smell while doing visualizations. It needs to come with multiple senses. I’ve been doing the laying 8 visualization (Phyllis crystal) With feet in a cold water bucket and orange oil on my forehead.

Not sure if this works for anyone, it has been useful for me.
 

scout86

MyPTSD Pro
But there is something that feels like this imagining is putting something right...responding in the ‘right’ way...which means that what i
I think I experienced the same thing. That's why I mentioned "space aliens". I wasn't kidding. You can use this sort of thing to sort of defuse possible responses. They can become just "possible responses" in your brain. I've gone out of my way to pick the ridiculous, especially at first, just to help get comfortable with the process. Once you've run a scenario in your head with a few outlandish responses on your part, it gets easier to approach ideas that are more likely in real life.

Whether or not it would work to write it probably depends on how engrossed you get in your writing. The point, I think, is that you have to get involved enough in the process to be, well, engrossed in it, I guess. I don't think it matters which senses you use. It's almost like you're ruminating on the event, but with the deliberate step of varying the outcome. I'm not sure there's a "wrong" way to do it. The more you get wrapped up in your imaginings, the better, as long as you play around with your part of the script.

All of this is definitely a skill that can be practiced and improved. My T says he couldn't "see pictures" either. He also thought that "seeing their face" business was a metaphor. He says he spent a lot of time working on it and now he can see pictures. I've spent some time playing around with it too, with some kind of odd results. It doesn't really matter. There are ways to use this technique regardless of your brain's preferred method of imagining stuff.
 

Sideways

Moderator
So, are you suggesting I try some relaxing guided visualisations first, simply to practise and develop the skill of visualising.
Yeah - your T may be able to suggest some good ones. I really like the yoga nidra exercises on my Relax Melodies app, because they don't really leave a lot of space for your brain to start filling in blanks with disaster. But there'd be plenty around.

Did you try the changing the narrative exercise again once you had practised other visualisations?
No. I switched therapy teams and it hasn't been suggested again. I'd consider doing it with my T if she was there guiding me through it, helping to get things back on track if my brain started going berko again. I think the point of it was just to practice, and get insight into, different ways you can manage things now. Before you get good at doing that in the present, it's easier to start by looking at examples where things haven't gone so well, and working out different strategies you could use in those lived situations.

But, that also doesn't need to be done by visualisation. If you were to simply write the memory down, for example, you could talk through the experience with your T and identify together when things started to go pear shaped, and alternative strategies you could have used at those points. That may be an easier (but still potentially helpful) way to accomplish the same thing.

Yes, visualising yourself being successful in those situations would probably be really helpful. But if there's other methods that you can use, like writing or discussion, you can probably achieve a similar outcome.

It may be helpful to let your T know that you aren't good at visualisations, and what your preferred methods might be.
 
Top