How to heal wounds from the past
Much has been written about the power of our thoughts. But our most conscious efforts to elevate our thoughts can easily be sabotaged by painful emotions harbored by our subconscious brain.
Thankfully, there are keys that can unlock these emotional chains that often hold our choices and behaviors hostage.
Journey with me into the deepest, darkest recesses of your brain.
When we emerge, you will see through new eyes and know how to release emotional pain to live more freely and joyfully.
We start in the left hemisphere of our brain — a world of science, logic, reason, objectivity, linear thinking. You’ll find no imagination here; this is our Spock brain, a calculator that considers nothing but cold, hard facts.
We cross the corpus callosum, a neural fiber network, into the right hemisphere of our brain — our subconscious brain.
Here, we discover a magical, fantastical world of art and imagination where anything is possible. Our right hemisphere does not know right from wrong, truth from fiction. Fiction and movies abound because of our right brain.
We find no language functions in our right brain. It doesn’t think conceptually in words; it perceives in visual images and uses imagination to envision possibilities.
It doesn’t add up one fact at a time to draw logical conclusions. It sees the whole picture, senses all data, recognizes patterns and connects dots to give us intuitions — those gut feelings that tell us there’s more than meets the eye.
Our right brain is also primarily responsible for our emotions.
Ah. Here is where we discover our first key.
Key #1: Journaling
In his book The Right Brain and the Unconscious: Discovering the Stranger Within, Dr. R. Joseph reveals,
“The right cerebral hemisphere is concerned predominantly with social and emotional perception and expression, including the storage of emotional memories.
“It is the initial depository of all our childhood experiences, including our feelings and impressions. Because the ability of very young children to understand and reason is limited, and as their language abilities are also not well developed, most of these very early experiences are stored only within the right brain or in a code not accessible to language.
“Therefore, both the Child and Parent Egos are the result of visual and emotional images, associations, and impressions stamped into the unconscious mental system maintained by the right cerebral hemisphere. The left brain may have little knowledge or understanding as to their presence, except in regard to positive memories which may be more accessible.
“The right brain having successfully experienced and stored in memory the matrix of emotions and feelings which make up the Child and Parent, can at a later time in response to certain situations act on those memories.
“It can also reactivate the unconscious Child or Parent and all its attendant feelings and attitudes, much to the surprise, perplexity, or chagrin of the left half of the brain, which can only respond, ‘I don’t know why I acted that way…’
“The language-dependent conscious mind and left brain cannot always gain access to memories stored in the right half of the brain, particularly if they are negative.”
Simply put, if we were hurt as a child, that memory is stored as painful emotion in our right brain. Emotional defense mechanisms can be triggered by stimuli reminiscent of the original wound.
One key to unlocking and releasing those emotional memories is to pull them out of our subconscious brain through journaling.
Since our right, subconscious brain has no language functions, journaling forces our emotions through our left, conscious brain by putting them into words. This allows us to deal with them more consciously.
In this process of dredging up emotional memories, we must be wary of potential pitfalls.
Key #2: Understand the limitations of memory
There is a pervasive myth that our brain records everything it perceives exactly as it occurs, and we simply have trouble with recall. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In his book What Makes Your Brain Happy & Why You Should Do the Opposite, science writer David DiSalvo clarifies what dozens of studies have proven beyond doubt, that “Memory is not a recording, it’s a reconstruction. We are prone to ‘confabulate’ pieces of actual memory with other information…”
This is not to disregard or diminish legitimate pain. It is simply to point out the danger of relying on memory.
While our pain may be real, our recollection of what caused our pain may not be entirely accurate.
Key #3: Understand the difference between observation & interpretation
Oftentimes, especially as children, we observe human interactions well but interpret them poorly.
For example, a child may approach his father, who brushes him away. The child may process and store that emotional memory as “My father doesn’t love me.” But his father may have simply had a bad day, or perhaps the father didn’t even understand that the child needed affection.
The good news? We can choose how to interpret past events to create a more empowering story.
Key #4: Learn to reinterpret past events
As children, our poor interpretation skills work against us. As conscious adults, our ability to interpret events can be a powerful force for good in our lives.
We’re not stuck in static stories from the past. We can choose our own stories. What happened to us and how we perceive and react to past events are two different things.
Stories of neglect, abuse, and trauma need not be tragedies. We can reinterpret all our junk from the past that previously has dragged us down, to create new stories that uplift and empower us.
We don’t have to stay hurt and angry. We can choose to be grateful for all we’ve learned through our pain.
We don’t have to be hardened by our wounds. We can choose to leverage them to become more compassionate, loving, and forgiving.
Our emotional pain from past wounds is real. But it can be transformed into a source of great power for us.
People in our past may have written a few chapters in our story. But ultimately, we are the authors of our story, and we get to choose how the story ends…