'You can't get rid of the past'Jun 16, 2022
You know what I love most about my job?
Supporting and witnessing behaviour change.
I have supported clients to stop binge eating and start walking more. I have guided many parents to quit smoking and make more healthy choices. I have helped people to stop binge drinking and embrace sobriety.
I have even worked with someone who wanted to stop buying things on credit and free themselves from debt.
By the time a client has found their way to me they have usually tried will power, exhausted themselves with the constant internal battle and defeated themselves time and time again with their perceived ‘failures’ to change.
There are lots of different ways of understanding our ‘errant’ behaviour.
As a hypnotherapist I am most interested in two things when it comes to behaviour change.
Firstly, what is the positive gain of that behaviour? When we decide that a behaviour is ‘bad’ we often start to ruminate on all the negatives that are caused by that behaviour but the truth is the only reason we ever do anything repeatedly is because on some level it is serving us.
Once we know what need the behaviour is fulfilling (it might be stress relieving, it might make the person feel important, it might mean that they don’t have to do something else) then it is usually easy to find another way of positively fulfilling that need.
The second thing I want to know is what is the story behind that behaviour, what have they made it mean AND does that have an origin in an event or trauma.
So, I always ask ‘when did you start doing this?’ which usually opens their history and with it, their understanding of the problem.
Many unwanted behaviours come about because of trauma or difficult life events.
When trauma leaves us with anxiety and a dysregulated nervous system it is natural to try and self sooth with food, drink, drugs or other controlling behaviour.
At some point when behaviour is linked to a difficult or traumatic life event that will need to be acknowledged, resolved, and understood.
TBR 3 Step Rewind is a great process for gently lifting the old ways of thinking, feeling and responding. It creates space for new behaviour, new feelings and new thoughts to be experienced.
The new behaviour is then practiced, at first using mental rehearsal (imagination) and then experienced in real life. In this way the brains neurochemistry doesn’t know the difference between what is real and what is imagined. It will fire accordingly either way.
With each practice, either real or imagined, the brain is building new pathways to new regions, creating new responses.
The old pathways still exist but if the new pathways are used more, this will be the behaviour that will become dominant.
Dr Bruce Perry, Psychiatrist and Neuroscientist talks about this phenomenon in his book with Oprah Winfrey; What Happened to You?
He describes this new way of learning as like building a better road to travel on. Every now and then something in life might derail us onto the old, crappy, potholed road because the neural pathways are still there but if we have a new improved, better functioning road we can always get back on it.
He says of therapy:
‘You can’t get rid of the past. Therapy is more about building new associations, making new, healthier default pathways. It is almost as if therapy is taking your two-lane dirt road and building a four-lane freeway alongside it. The old road stays, but you don’t use it much anymore. Therapy is building a better alternative, a new default.’
I love Dr Bruce Perry’s metaphor because it really explains how trauma recovery isn’t linear or permanent. The old road is still there, and we might often be derailed onto it. But we can build a new road and by using it more frequently it becomes our new experience.
A few places still remain for September’s live Zoom dates.