SOME HEALING THOUGHTS FOR INCEST SURVIVORS: Part 2

Incest is traumatic to a child in terms of both the sexual abuse, and the negative thoughts and feelings that are generated... and then recycled for years to come. Most children--even those who do not fully understand what is happening to them--feel that what they are doing is wrong; that they are bad, helpless, out-of-control people who can never reveal their "shameful" behavior to anyone. They learn to believe highly negative things about themselves, acting guilt-ridden, angry, and worthless during a variety of future life experiences.
Sexual trauma is but one example of how past experiences can cause problems in one's life later. However, if traumatic experiences can cause future problems, it can also be reasoned that positive experiences can serve as resources later, too. This is the basis for an alternative model of change that can produce effective results with incest and other trauma victims. If you believe you need to recycle and store traumatic experiences until they overflow, you will become quite skilled at doing just that: recycling guilt, shame, depression, rage. However, it is not necessary to re-experience all that remembered pain in order to change. In fact, this approach can often be cumbersome.
Usually, it is quite difficult to change a traumatic experience directly, because the person has such a strong response to the trauma; and this negative state inter- feres with any alternative helping suggestions. It's like trying to learn to sail during a tropical storm! More effective results can be achieved by learning to produce a positive, healing, internal "resource" experience-- containing elements of past learnings and accomplishments-- that is automatically triggered as easily as the negative state. The resource experience can then become part of the change process. A word of caution: Attempting to alter long- term traumatic events can be difficult. Most sexual trauma victims have tried in vain for years to overcome bad memories using everything they know. But there are aspects of the change process that require complex understandings only available through professional treatment. However, there are some basic concepts that when practiced, alleviate some symptoms in those who have suffered this abuse in their lives. Essentially, this involves learning to compare the structural elements of both the traumatic and the resource experiences. The idea of structural elements of experience has been described previously as, "sub modalities"; the variations of internal visions, sounds and feelings of which it is comprised such as, size, brightness, location, color; "movie" vs. "slide", pitch, loudness, texture, degree of warmth, tension and weight.
Ask someone who feels "ashamed" about having participated in an incestuous experience how it is perceived and often it will manifest as a picture of "big" people staring disapprovingly at that comparatively smaller individual. In terms of other structural characteristics, the picture is usually dim, still, and in black and white. Understanding how someone creates negative experiences such as shame, guilt or rage lends itself to change. Here are several useful steps.

  1. Think of a time when you committed an error of judgment but rather than having a feeling of shame, guilt, rage and so forth, you had a more positive, resourceful response. Yet, one that showed a sensitivity for those against whom the error in judgment was levied. Pay attention to the sub modalities of this experience.
  2. Sort each type of experience according to the ways they differ. That is, how does the resource experience differ from the negative one? Most people see them in different locations in their personal space (front, sides, etc.) and/or at different distances. Furthermore, the people involved are often of different sizes in both kinds of experiences. Pay attention to whether each experience is a movie or a still picture, color or black and white, clear or fuzzy, as well as any sound and feeling variations. This resource can then serve as a catalyst to transform the unwanted experience.
  3. Make the negative experience structurally like the resource by transforming the sub-modalities. For example, change the location of your negative picture to that of your resource picture. Some of the other characteristics will change spontaneously. Make any other structural changes so that the negative experience approximates the resource as much as possible. This will likely take practice.
  4. Do you have the same resourceful feelings about both of these experiences? If not, continue refining the structural elements of the negative experience until it is like the resource. Patience! It is important to understand that both the negative emotions and behaviors associated with trauma, and those which comprise a resource experience, develop from beliefs we form about the world. Negative responses often arise from faulty beliefs such as, "I should please others." Unfortunately, this can result in someone's submitting to sexual abuses without a complaint. When transforming negative experiences, it is essential to recognize the difference between someone else's beliefs and our own, and to carefully select those that are useful for us. This leads to a positive sense of "self" that allows us to exist as individuals who can stand contented and alone