Are you suffering from PTSD or intrusive, traumatic memories? Do you have nightmares or flashbacks? Have you ever experienced panic attacks?
On this page we’re going to look at how trauma patterns develop in the brain. More importantly, we’ll look at what you can do to end the nightmares and regain control over your anxiety levels.
Specifically, we’ll be looking at how hypnotherapy is used for the treatment of trauma, including a technique that can quickly de-traumatise your brain from PTSD, negative memories, flashbacks, and other traumatic memories.
It’s time to free yourself…
What causes trauma?
Despite the nightmare scenarios that the whole world seems to be going through at the moment (with Covid), not everyone will be traumatised by what’s been going on.
Three quarters of us seem to have the ability to bounce back from traumatic incidents without becoming traumatised by what we’ve experienced. (1)
But why is it that only some people go on to develop full blown PTSD whilst others do not? What makes the difference? This is a question that has intrigued me over the years and the answer has a lot to do with hypnosis…
When we are highly emotionally aroused (and the effects of the pandemic are a perfect example of hyper arousal all over the globe) we enter the REM state. It’s a bit like a waking dream.
This is where traumatic experiences become embedded in the brain.
Going into REM whilst still awake
We now know that going into REM occurs during waking hours and is not just limited to when we’re dreaming at night.
Any time our attention is focused (and high emotional arousal will easily do that) we enter the REM state as the brain attempts to work out how best to respond.
The most primitive response patterns that the brain can quickly access – in an instant – are nature’s in-built fight/flight/freeze responses. These are states of locked attention. In other words, trance states.
Other patterns are established through our own life experiences. Indeed, all learning is done in the REM state.
Whilst in waking REM, the brain registers images, sounds, words, smells etc. in the environment and stores these details for future reference. This serves as a template, just in case something similar happens again.
PTSD and army veterans
But if you’re suffering from PTSD it doesn’t take much to trigger an embedded memory pattern and the powerful emotions that go with it…
An example of this is perfectly demonstrated by a client I once treated. He’d returned from fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan but was now suffering from PTSD. A mis-firing car exhaust would have him diving into shop doorways for protection!
This also explains the phenomenon of flashbacks and intrusive memories. Because the brain hasn’t fully processed the memories, we remain on high alert waiting for danger.
A scene on TV or a picture on the internet can trigger the alarm reaction, re-invoking the power of those emotions once again.
Other ex-service men and women with PTSD struggle with fireworks and choose to stay indoors, unable to cope with the sounds of the explosions which puts them straight back into the war zone.
These are all examples of faulty pattern-matching, where the brain makes a mistake, assuming something happening now is like something that happened in the past.
Memories stuck in the amygdala
So why is it that approximately 25% of us go on to develop full blown PTSD after traumatic events whilst others recover naturally?
The answer could be as simple as this…
If you’ve developed PTSD, the traumatic incident has become embedded in your amygdala – part of the ‘survival’ brain – and is unable to go anywhere else (until you get the right treatment).
Those who do not become traumatised have been able – somehow – to process the memory themselves.
What this means on a neurological level is that the memory isn’t stuck in the amygdala but instead has made a connection to the higher cortex where it can be given narrative.
Put simply, when you can process the memory using the language and reasoning areas of the brain, you’re no longer processing it solely on an emotional level. In effect, you’re able to view it from a larger perspective.
Shifting emotional memories
Once emotional memories are shifted out of the ‘survival’ brain and given a narrative they can be stored alongside other ‘normal’ memories.
Doing so puts the memories into context; the brain understands that the memory really belongs in the past and that you no longer need such a powerful emotional reaction anymore.
In other words, once you can access the higher cortex and give language to the incident you are processing the events in a different, more holistic way.
But a word of caution here…
The danger of Critical Incident De-Briefing
When I say ‘give language to the incident’ I’m not talking about Critical Incident De-Briefing (CIDB) – a technique used until quite recently in the treatment of trauma. (2)
This approach was based on the same idea I’ve just mentioned – adding a narrative to the memory – but it was carried out far too soon after an incident. The victim hadn’t been given time to process it themselves.
Victims of traumatic incidents were asked to retell the memory of the event (in detail, often more than once) which only served to embed the trauma deeper into the amygdala.
Knowing that 75% of people recover naturally from trauma given sufficient time, all CIDB did was reinforce the emotional impact of the incident in the brains of newly traumatised people.
Research shows that if we’re given time, say a few weeks, the brain will process traumatic events naturally. We don’t all go on to develop PTSD. (3)
The importance of calm in treating trauma
The other problem with Critical Incident De-Briefing is that it lacked a vital ingredient when it comes to recovery from trauma – calmness.
As we know, when you ask a traumatised person (who has not processed the memory) to tell their story it stirs up the emotions again and embeds the memory even deeper. Unfortunately, there are many therapists who still use this approach!
If you’re traumatised, the last thing you should be asked to do is give a detailed description of the event(s).
Although you can feel some relief by ‘opening up’ and sharing your story with a counsellor, this is best done after the memories have been processed properly.
And there is a tried and tested way to do that…
How hypnotherapy resolves trauma
So, knowing that the formation of PTSD involves a high degree of trance (the REM state), it makes sense to use the same state to get you out of it.
This is what hypnotherapy is about: the therapeutic use of hypnosis and the REM state (something I talk in detail about in my free ebook).
Talking therapies like counselling and psychotherapy (using only the conscious mind) will only scratch the surface. They can leave you feeling even worse after the session by ‘opening the wound’ without actually taking the necessary steps to heal it.
It is usually not enough just to talk about things with a counsellor in order to resolve PTSD. You have to actually do something with the memories.
I’ve lost count of the number of clients who have told me of their previous therapist’s asking them to go over and over – in minute detail – the stories of their woes. To my mind this is abusive therapy.
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The Rewind technique
If you work with me to help you resolve PTSD, negative memories, flashbacks, phobias, memories of panic attacks, abuse memories – indeed, any memory that is still affecting you – I won’t ask you details about it. It’s rather like a mental version of key-hole surgery…
Indeed, I don’t even need to know anything about what went on back then because there’s a specialised hypnotic technique that can take the emotion out of the memory.
Instead of asking you details about the incident(s), we can do a type of ‘secret’ therapy. All we need is a ‘code’ word for the memory (and you don’t even need to tell me that, either!)
The ‘Rewind’ technique is a non-voyeuristic method to help your brain process negative memories without the therapist having to know any details. (4)
So, we can have memory A, B, and C, and do the Rewind technique on each memory, de-traumatising the brain in the process.
But how does it work, I hear you ask?
As I mentioned above, one of the key ingredients to recovery from trauma is calmness. It’s often missing in so many of the treatments for trauma. The Rewind technique involves the use of deep relaxation before we go on to process the memories.
Re-coding traumatic memories as ‘no longer threatening’
In a deeply relaxed state you access a part of your brain that is apart from the part that holds the traumatic memory. Put simply, you begin to process the memory – in a relaxed state – by using other parts of the brain.
And once you can hold that memory ‘over there’ (in a sort of relaxed, detached way) whilst remaining calm, your brain learns that, “The fight/flight/freeze response is no longer necessary here…that event happened in the past…it is not happening now.”
In other words, the Rewind technique not only takes the emotion out of the memories but it puts them in context. On a deep level, your brain realises those incidents are history – they belong in your past.
It is only when the brain ‘releases’ the memory from the amygdala, up into the hippocampus (the memory storeroom), that we can tell the story without high emotionality. And when you can do that, you are no longer traumatised.
In the case of the pandemic, yes, there will still be grief and loss to process, but the images of the traumatic memories themselves will lose their power to haunt you. The ghosts are laid to rest.
Getting help for trauma
I hope you’ve found this page helpful and that it might even give you some hope that things can change.
If you – or anyone you know – needs help with PTSD, nightmares, panic attacks, phobias, flashbacks, intrusive memories, abuse memories or any type of memory that still haunts you please get in touch. You don’t have to suffer in silence.
Remember, there is an online Free Discovery Session you can have, during which you can tell me what you’d like to change – without having to disclose specific details of traumatic memories.
(1) Most people (75%) recover naturally from traumatic incidents. The other 25% go on to develop PTSD symptoms. Read more about successful trauma treatment from one of my trainers at Uncommon Knowledge
(2) For more info on the damaging effects of Critical Incident De-Briefing https://www.mentalhelp.net/blogs/the-immediate-aftermath-of-trauma-and-the-dangers-of-psychological-debriefing/
(3) Just because someone has gone through what appears to be a traumatic event doesn’t mean they need counselling! Given a few weeks, trauma can be resolved naturally and doesn’t become PTSD. Find out more at https://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/mental-health/problems-disorders/coping-after-a-traumatic-event#:~:text=Many%20people%20find%20that%20the,to%20share%2
(4) For more about the Rewind technique check out https://www.hgi.org.uk/useful-information/treatment-dealing-ptsd-trauma-phobias/rewind-technique