There are a number of non-medicinal therapeutic techniques for dealing with traumatic memories. In the world of Mind Management Systems, these are sometimes subtly packaged variations on hypnotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. Take for example Tad James’ Time Line Therapy, a trademarked technique that uses a combination of temporal-spatial awareness, visualization, and a semi-hypnotic trance, to guide clients through a process of recalling and releasing unwanted emotions like anger, sadness or fear.
There is also the practice of EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), which claims that tapping on certain pressure points within the body’s meridian system allows for the release of trapped and unwanted energies. Another technique often used to deal with traumatic memories is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EDMR). It is my contention in this article that Timeline Therapy, EFT and EDMR function in essentially similar ways when diffusing the emotional bombs that traumatic memories trigger when they intrude on consciousness.
In psychological literature the understanding of trauma is that it occurs at the instantiation of an event where the ability to process an emotional response is disrupted at the time due to the overwhelming stimulus (of the traumatic event itself). This disruption becomes a kind of traumatic injury in the mind. Because it was never fully realized and processed at the time, it lingers malignantly as an ever-present reality. Unlike unpleasant or unhappy memories, the traumatic memory fails to fade into obscurity and the pain it causes persists chronically. The memory can surface randomly, or by association when cued by certain triggers (like certain smells or sounds which may have been present at the site of the original trauma). The memory triggers a cascade of neural firings each time it resurfaces, causing an accompanying physiological experience of distress, whether it be panic, anger, fear or sadness.
Traumatic memories can also have a cumulative effect because every time the memory and its physiological cascade are triggered and experienced it becomes more firmly established neurologically. This can explain why a traumatic memory can actually become more malignant over time rather than fade away as one would expect with life’s other bitter experiences. It also explains why someone might feel calm or “ok,” or like “it’s not a big deal,” at the time immediately following a traumatic experience, but end up having a breakdown a considerable time after the event.
Think of a traumatic memory as a computer file containing data. Think of it for example as a Word Document, with all the information that encode the traumatic experience written in that document. This document expresses a sliver of the total reality of the actual event, and it is a sliver that is resulting in neurological firings that match the information in the file. What Time Line Therapy, EFT and EDMR do is access this Word File and add additional, non-traumatic data to it.
Time Line Therapy will have the practitioner revisit the memory and see it from several other view points, like from an aerial view (above the event) and a view from before the event. It may even guide the practitioner to occupy the view point of other people who were present at the time of the event, and it may add information about how they might have felt and what they might have thought, to the file.
EDMR has the practitioner recall the traumatic experience while also laterally moving their eyes back and forth following a target controlled by the therapist. This eye movement adds additional neurological information to that Word file. This information is intended to scramble the data in the original file and to diffuse its neurological cascade, because in addition to the usual neural firing, this memory now comes with erratic occipital lobe activity caused by the lateral eye movements.
Although there are substantial claims that EFT works on the body’s meridian systems, the sensation of tapping various locations while one is recalling or experiencing the traumatic experience, is nevertheless introducing new sensory inputs that have to be processed by the brain, and thus add new non-traumatic information to that Word file.
In essence, if the theory of how and why EDMR works is actually true, it doesn’t matter what additional stimulus you add to the Word file of your traumatic memory while it is being accessed or experienced, so long as that additional stimulus is non-traumatic in itself and so long as it engages neural networks that aid in disrupting and rewiring the neural firing patterns instigated by the traumatic memory. So now every time the traumatic memory surfaces, it begins to surface along with non-traumatic data and is potentially diffused in this way.
A study published in Cerebral Cortex in 2018 by Sanda Dolcos and Florin Dolcos found that focusing on non-traumatic contextual elements of a negative memory, enabled practitioners to disrupt its hold on them. That is, whenever the negative memory intruded, participants were asked to either focus on non-traumatic aspects of the event, (for example one could recall the location, color of the walls, the temperature and other details) or the emotional data connected to the event (e.g how it made one feel, and what it means in one’s life now). When participants focused on contextual rather than emotional data their brain activity demonstrated better working memory performance, and they were able to regain focus on the task in the present rather than remain trapped in a ruminative trance. In essence, participants’ neural activity was being redirected from engaging with the traumatic cascade, disrupting the distress it would cause if uninterrupted.
In essence, a traumatic memory seizes the brain, causing it to relive a toxic pattern of neural firing that can strengthen rather than diminish over time. The disciplined addition of non-traumatic data, specifically those that engage a variety of neural networks while the traumatic memory is being accessed or unwillingly relived, is crucial in both mind management systems and therapeutic techniques.