Our brains can be really good at replaying, over and over again, experiences from our past that were embarrassing or painful.
Sometimes our brains put those experiences on a loop, and just repeat them, over and over and over again— seemingly for no reason.
Does your brain ever do this? Mine does.
(Most people’s brains do this, at least every now and then.)
Our brains are particularly good at replaying experiences we wish we could do over.
In my own case, my brain loves replaying experiences I had with a particular mentor. It was a relationship that served me well, academically and professionally, for a relatively long period of time— but which ended unpleasantly.
This kind of thing happens. Sometimes we outgrow relationships. Sometimes the people we become are incompatible with the bonds we’d established once upon a time— and sometimes we don’t handle those transitions well.
So my brain does what a lot of peoples’ brains do. It replays interactions I had with my former mentor, again and again and again— even though there is no way to change the outcome of those interactions.
This is a minor example of what happens when people experience trauma or loss.
Many people reading this have experience with much more dramatic, much more intrusive, and much more upsetting memories that play, over and over again, in their brains.
What’s happening here is, we are going through a pattern of focus and experience in our nervous systems, wherein one memory or sensation is triggering the next, and the next, and the next, like dominos falling one after the other.
You can think of this chain of memories and sensations as being similar to matches in a pack. If one match in a pack gets lit, it’s virtually impossible for the match next to it NOT to ignite, because of their proximity and their predisposition to flame.
When we get into these memory loops, we are running a pattern.
If we want out of the loop, we HAVE to find a way to interrupt the pattern.
Many people have devised many ways of interrupting patterns they get into.
Ever wonder why some people harm themselves physically? There are multiple reasons why people do this, but very often it’s because harming themselves is the only way they can think of in that moment to interrupt an awful pattern that is unfolding in their heads.
Ever wonder why some people dive into mindless pleasure seeking behaviors, such as acting out sexually or abusing drugs? Again, there are many reasons this happens, but the common denominator is often that they are looking to interrupt a pattern that is dominating their focus and physiology.
An important key to recovery for most people is to find ways to interrupt patterns that are unfolding in their heads…WITHOUT putting themselves at risk, WITHOUT doing things that harm their physical bodies (because it is virtually impossible to develop self-esteem and feel worthy if we’re repeatedly harming ourselves), WITHOUT creating bigger problems than we’re trying to solve.
A big part of therapy is experimenting with pattern interrupts that actually work, and that do not create bigger problems than they solve.
I train my patients and clients to sink into trance-like headspace, where they have a better chance to control the imagery and other sensations unfolding in their heads…so they can use various techniques of “scrambling” the patterns that are making them miserable and driving them to risky behavior.
I call this “scratching the record.”
A record will play the same way every time you put the needle down on it, because it has grooves. Patterns of grooves.
But if you scratch it…it doesn’t play the same way.
And if you scratch it enough…it won’t ever play the same way again.
Once we realize that this is exactly what we’re doing in therapy and recovery…we’re more than halfway home.
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