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

Friday

Moderator
I’d never thought of visualising as a skill I could practise, I just thought it wasn’t the way my brain worked.
I had to teach my son to be able to do it... once we realized why he disliked reading was that he was having to memorise them, rather than using his mind’s eye to see the scenes. He “sees” maths, naturally, but words don’t transcribe. Sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, scene by scene, chapter by chapter.... over the course of about 2 years to master the skill set, although there were results from day 1 (he couldn’t “hold” the image in his mind from sentence to sentence for several weeks, and ambiguity annoys the f*ck out of him. Like “The girl stood by the water”. How old? What race? What time period? And 50 other Q’s infuriated him for the better part of a year, until paragraphs and scenes could be held in him mind. Even once he mastered being able to visualise what he was reading? He greatly prefers nonfiction & scripts because it minimizes the amount of visualisation required. Maths, meanwhile? Oh, that equation is representing the dynamic action of something fluid, from the viscosity? Probably water. It’s too regular for rain, far more likely to be an expression of a sprinkler. But either they screwed up the equation in the middle, or it’s describing a kind of sprinkler I’ve never seen before, in an environment without friction. Like maybe a vacuum sealed fuel injection system. But if so, their viscosity is weird.

Whether a person is imagining -or attempting to describe- something mathematically, with words, with images, or in music, etc.? If you can find how you naturally THINK about things... I’ve yet to run across a therapy that can’t be altered to take advantage of that process. And rather than it being “wrong” to adapt the therapy to the individual? It’s infinitely more effective. Like having therapy in your native language, rather than in a language you don’t speak, or are just learning.
 

Justmehere

Moderator
The technique she is describing is really similar to a CBT one - but the CBT one does it without the visuals. All words.

In the CBT version, one writes on paper with words a trigger. Not the worst most horrible trigger, but trigger. Also, it's not the whole event, just up until a symptom might be felt.

Let's say the example is flying as the trigger. The write out might be to write down I pick up my keys to drive to the airport. If that is enough to bring ok a bit of anxiety, the person stops there and then writes out a coping skill and writes out how they imagine they will feel after using that coping skill. It weirdly can actually shift it in real life. Sometimes for some folks. It's called imaginal
desentization - and there are lots of variations on how it's applied. DBT uses another version of this skill set technique. NLP doesn't really have sole dibs on it - that style of therapy just has it own flavor of this general technique.

With as much resistance to it that you have, I wouldn't do it just to fight resistance. Ultimately, therapists will suggest all kinds of things, it's up to us to take what's helpful, try some new things, adjust as needed...

I wouldn't suggest throwing it out wholesale either because of the past experience with NLP. It might be worthwhile to explore other therapy frameworks that use different versions of this to unhook it from being associated with that experience.

You can also take the approach to discuss it more with her next time since you didn't quite have enough time to do that last time.
 
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barefoot

Sponsor
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
Yes, I get that...a bit like when you do a brainstorm...the idea is to bung down every thought that pops up even if it's ridiculous/impossible/impractical and not to judge it....then to focus in on the bits that could be useful/workable. I guess though that I still think...if I include the alien invasion type answers....at some point, we're then going to zoom in on the most realistic ones...which ones COULD actually happen....and that's when it feels to me like, so these are the right answers....these are the responses that are better than what I actually did in real life in those situations. Sigh....I know this isn't the point of the exercise....I know it's not meant to be a judge/shaming/this is what you SHOULD have done then type thing. So, I am a bit frustrated with myself that my brain won't let that go at the moment...

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.

Yes, I think this may help....it might help with the difficulty of knowing when some of the things started to go pear shaped...which I find difficult because I was getting spacey/dissociating as part of the freeze...talking it through with her might help to identify some of the key moments...

It may be helpful to let your T know that you aren't good at visualisations

Yeah...I've said this before. And, tons of times, said I can't 'see' anything in my head and that it's problematic in some aspects of life eg I get lost wherever I go. So, she's either forgotten or hasn't applied that to this exercise...or perhaps she just thought give it a go and let's see what happens...

With as much resistance to it that you have, I wouldn't do it just to fight resistance

This is something I find so difficult in general when I get resistance to things....knowing when it's unhelpful avoidance and it would be good for me to push through and when it's healthy resistance and I should take heed of that and not do something!

NLP doesn't really have sole dibs on it

That's good to know.

You can also take the approach to discuss it more with her next time since you didn't quite have enough time to do that last time.

Well, our session was last Tuesday and she suggested I do this exercise daily until my session next week....and I haven't done it at all! All I've done is post about it here and sat and felt anxious about it without really properly trying to do it! So, I think I will have to tell her that I haven't done it and the reasons why and then we can talk through the challenges and perhaps try to do something on it together. I worry a little that she will take my not doing it as a sign of resistance because 'we are getting too close to something' and I am disengaging...because that's what she tends to think! And while I know that is sometimes true, I really don't think that's what this is about.
 

scout86

MyPTSD Pro
I know it's not meant to be a judge/shaming/this is what you SHOULD have done then type thing. So, I am a bit frustrated with myself that my brain won't let that go at the moment...
One of the problems with deciding what "we SHOULD have done", is we really don't know what would have happened if we had. Whatever you did do, you did it because some part of your brain thought it was the best and safest course of action. Possibly that part of your brain wasn't operating with the best, most current information, but it's also possible that some of those other things you could have done wouldn't have worked out the way you think. Doctors, for example. We'd all like to think that if we adequately express ourselves, they're going to listen, right? I'm not sure that's actually true. Some people just don't listen readily.

I'm really not sure there's a "right" way to handle anything. There are just different ways, and ways that are more or less likely to have desirable outcomes. But "we" aren't the only factor in the equation. We're just the only factor we have any agency over. Believing there is a "right" thing to do.....I guess that leads to the kind of thinking where we, mentally, assume some control that we may or may not actually have. "I could have kept myself safe, if I'd only done the right thing." In any given situation, that may or may not be true. Hard to tell from someplace else, isn't it?

I guess one other thought is, if you feel like the problem has been you, freezing rather that standing up for yourself, what about the responsibility of the other people in those situations? Isn't there an argument that THEY should have noticed the freezing and done their best to draw you out and make you feel safe? Maybe they shouldn't have proceeded at all, without your affirmative consent. Maybe THEY didn't handle situation as well as they could have either. If you actually do the exercise, consider playing around with different versions of people you encounter too. A
 

barefoot

Sponsor
it's also possible that some of those other things you could have done wouldn't have worked out the way you think. Doctors, for example. We'd all like to think that if we adequately express ourselves, they're going to listen, right? I'm not sure that's actually true.
Yes, this is true. Thinking on it, there have actually been times when I have spoken up and said what I wanted or didn’t want and they just went ahead anyway. Not necessarily because they had ill intentions. More because they were in a rush or thought they knew best or were just doing something the way they usually do.l etc etc. Sometimes health stuff can just feel a bit conveyer belt...and things that might be significant or matter a lot to individual patients are just non-things to them...a lot of medical consultants/surgeons/anaesthetists I’ve come across seem to forget there’s an actual person in the body in front of them. So part of my challenge isn’t just expressing a boundary in the first place, it’s about holding it firmly when I’ve expressed it but it’s being ignored. But, you’re right - I can’t MAKE someone hear me and respect my boundaries/requests etc.

. But "we" aren't the only factor in the equation. We're just the only factor we have any agency over. Believing there is a "right" thing to do.....I guess that leads to the kind of thinking where we, mentally, assume some control that we may or may not actually have. "I could have kept myself safe, if I'd only done the right thing."

I’m going to think more about this...if the ‘should haves’ are somehow tied up with me trying to keep some sense of control over things that have happened...

if you feel like the problem has been you, freezing rather that standing up for yourself, what about the responsibility of the other people in those situations? Isn't there an argument that THEY should have noticed the freezing and done their best to draw you out and make you feel safe?

I think this is probably linked to the above...I do have a tendency to focus in on my behaviour - what I did/didn’t say or do etc - and to perhaps (!) be quite self critical, rather than think about the other person’s not too brilliant behaviour. We actually touched on this last session...T brought up the other person (not a medical example) and how he had behaved completely inappropriately. Deep down, I think there is a little part of me that agrees with that - there’s a reason why the situation still bothers me enough years later to still be talking about it with my T! But there is also a lot of discomfort and resistance around it...and something else, I’m not quite sure what...(anger??), which makes it very difficult for me to share the responsibility...let alone to fully give responsibility to someone else.

Thanks for these useful thinking points @scout86
 

barefoot

Sponsor
Discussed this with my T this week and she said the key thing about the exercise is imagining different outcomes - it doesn’t matter what form the imagining takes, whether it’s a visualisation, a written piece, a story or whatever.

I do quite a bit of creative writing so I’m going to try the story writing route.

I also said I was finding it difficult to let go of the judgment/shaming - the thought that I must now imagine what I ‘should’ have actually done at the time in various situations. She said I could try writing about another character (not me) and that I can either use one of my real scenarios or make up a completely different situation that I haven’t experienced. The important thing is to have a character in a situation who has a fight or flight response rather than a freeze response.

Not sure where I’ll go with it, but I’m going to give it a try.
 

barefoot

Sponsor
I’ve written a story ‘based on real events.’
I’m quite shocked...unsettled really...by how it turned out.

The point was to write a story - real or imagined - where something happens and the character has a fight or flight response rather than freeze.

I haven’t exactly done that. Instead, in my story, we pretty much end up swapping roles and I become the perpetrator.

I wasn’t expecting that and I feel quite mortified and anxious about it.

On the plus side, I guess it has helped me let go of the resistance I had to the exercise on the grounds that it felt judgey and shaming (‘imagine what you should have done instead of what you actually did’) Because in no way do I think I ‘should’ have done what I do in this story in real life all those years ago. At all.

Part of me thinks I haven’t done the exercise ‘right’ because I think the idea is that rewriting the narrative is supposed to help ‘close the loop’ of a trauma...so I write an ending where the character uses fight/flight and escapes. In my story, I didn’t escape unscathed - I still got assaulted but it was cut short as then I switched things around and took revenge and assaulted him. I don’t know whether I could loosely claim that as writing a fight response?? But, even so, I don’t think this was really the point...’In the story, I get assaulted but then I do the same to him, so, yay!’

Regardless of whether I’ve done the exercise correctly or not, I think there is probably a lot in the story that T and I can unpack and explore. I think that, unconsciously, by putting him in ‘victim’ mode and describing his feelings/responses, his character mirrors the real life experience I had. I think by writing this and focusing on his feelings, I have perhaps been able to connect to my own feelings about the real life events, which I’ve never really been able to do before.

So, therapeutically, I think it has turned out to be a revealing and useful piece of writing - even if I may have drifted off brief! I think my T will actually see this as positive progress, that I can connect to the emotions of being assaulted.

BUT - I feel horrible about it. Horrible that that’s where my head went with it. And the thought of reading this out to my T this week makes me feel so anxious and so ashamed.

I have a couple of days so could write a different one for the session. But I feel so mind blown by this one that no other ideas seem to be emerging yet...this one just seems to be taking up so much space in my head.

I feel disgusted with myself :(
 

scout86

MyPTSD Pro
I think that's pretty creative and a perfectly ok approach. That's one of many possible scenarios. I don't see any harm in writing a bunch of different versions, but I think you're right, it will be well worth discussing this one with your T. (I don't think "disgust" is really justified.) Well done!
 

Friday

Moderator
I have a couple of days so could write a different one for the session. But I feel so mind blown by this one that no other ideas seem to be emerging yet...this one just seems to be taking up so much space in my head.
I love and adore where your head went... not that you feel ashamed, but the fact that you DO feel enourmous things with where it went -regardless of content- makes it the BEST thing to bring to your T. Because that’s huge. In a gazillion different kinds of ways. Which could take up the whole session (in a reeeeally good way) without even reading it.
 
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!
I’m really confused by this...maybe someone can make sense of it for me, but my T is trying to help me find ways to stay in my window of tolerance so that I DONT fight/flight/freeze, so it’s a bit strange to me to think of *trying* to activate fight or flight instead of trying to find a healthy way to deal with it (since I can’t imagine either of those would be helpful in a situation with medical professionals either, at the very least, and my understanding is that they’re actually more damaging when activated outside of life threatening situations). Maybe I’m missing something here, but I’m confused, and when I try to imagine how either of those would go, it doesn’t seem like it would be good.
Otherwise, though, I have the same problems with both having the freeze response with professionals (of any type) and being unable to advocate for myself for that reason, and with being completely incapable of visualizing things. My T is trying to get me to come up with a “rescue” visualization - something safe (like a memory, place or situation that makes me feel good) that isn’t associated with any sort of trauma I’ve experienced, that I can call on when I’m getting pushed outside my window of tolerance and into fight/flight/freeze to bring me back to being able to handle things - but I’m having a lot of difficulty with it due to my inability to visualize anything. It seems like a decent concept, though.
 

Mach123

MyPTSD Pro
I don’t t know what to do about it because anything mental seems so ineffective. I can’t prepare because it’s like how you wake up in a nightmare and it’s already happening, and it’s like trying to tell yourself you are ok when you are throwing up. Like trying to tell myself I’m detached, except I’m puking. My brain unplugs and it’s like sleep paralysis. But I forgive myself now. It doesn’t mean it won’t happen anymore. I hope you can work to make it better. Good thread. This for me is extremely isolating.
 
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