Re-scripting Your Life, Part 12
The Sticking Points
In our last post we left off at the end of Elaine’s story. Now we are going to take a look at the process she used to rewire her brain and rewrite her story.
It is important to understand what is happening in our brains when we speak defining words and statements at the moment of a traumatic experience (or an exceptionally pleasurable experience). The trauma has triggered an alarm that releases a potent hormonal cocktail that is controlled by a small, but powerful part of our brains called the limbic system. This system comprises a number of small structures that work together in the formation of memories, emotions and action patterns. Our purpose in this section is not to get overly technical with brain function so I will give a very simplified example of how this system works in relation to Elaine’s problems.
At the moment of the revelation of her uncle’s violations of her, Elaine’s brain began the process of figuring out how to protect her and how to prevent this from happening again. One of the structures in the limbic system, the amygdala, secretes hormones that creates a “fight or flight” emotion that elicits some type of protective or preemptive action. In Elaine’s case, her first action was to make a definitive statement that would initiate all future thoughts and actions related to situations that could lead to similar traumatic experiences in the future. This thought process is stored in another structure in the limbic system, the hippocampus, which is believed to act as a memory storage tank for these situations.
Elaine’s definitive statement contained two directives that her teenage brain now had to figure out what to do with. The first directive was to never trust a man like she trusted her uncle. The second was that she did not want men to think of her in terms of sexuality. These statements made in a moment of traumatic pain were now being processed into a core belief system that would set in motion Elaine’s behaviors and decisions for the rest of her life - unless there was an intervention and a redirection of this thought process.
As Elaine and I talked about her life from the point of this revelation to the present day, she recounted how her thought process developed. She said to herself, “if I can gain enough weight to make me look less attractive to men then I won’t have to worry about getting into a relationship where trust and sex will come into play.'' This thought seemed logical at the time of trauma (always the wrong time to make definitive statements) but it was in direct conflict with Elaine’s present desire to get married and have a family. Elaine believed that gaining a “little” weight would keep her safe. However, as the years passed, there were some men who were interested in her, even with this little extra weight, so Elaine needed to increase the buffer by increasing her weight. Thus, the cycle spiraled out of control to the point where her life was in danger.
Elaine remembered how when these relationships started to get serious she would abruptly end it and escape to the food pantry and the refrigerator for her comfort. Elaine felt trapped in this vicious cycle but as hard as she tried to control her weight she was powerless to affect any real change. The stomach bypass surgery was her last hope that any help was possible. And now her only hope was hanging on the balance of getting to the root of her emotional eating addiction that her doctor required of her before doing the surgery.
In this next section we will outline the first step in the rescripting process that Elaine implemented that broke this pattern and opened the door to a life that she was helplessly locked out of. This process is universal in nature. The steps and exercises presented are designed to take you on a journey into your past, not to bring up old hurts, but to bring about new revelations of how you think about the past hurts in order to give you the truth and tools needed to begin to rescript your brain. Whether the traumatic event was a one-time bombshell like Elaine’s or a protracted series of repeated hurts and offenses, the truth gathering process will give you the raw materials to build a better brain and live in wholeness and freedom that God intended for you.
Roots to Fruits
Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. [Psalm 139:23-24 NIV]
A journey into the past can be like driving through a dense fog bank in the dead of night. Your headlights are on but it is difficult to see clearly and make out where the road is going. This is why it is critically important that the piloting of this journey is turned over to the Holy Spirit, Who Jesus told us would lead us and guide us into all truth (John 16:13). So, your first order of business is to ask and allow the Holy Spirit to search out the memories of your past and bring to the surface any thoughts connected to those memories that do not represent the truth about your security and significance as a child of God. Another way to see this is as a divine edit of your current life script. Remember, that before you were born into the world here, your story or script was written by your Father in Heaven. You are asking that any reactions to painful events that created fear and insecurity be revealed so that your interpretations of those events can be rewritten in a way that represents truth. It is important to remember that this journey is not about trying to change past events. We are not looking for ways to deny that bad things happened to us. We are looking for ways that bad things have derailed our thinking about our security and significance. God has promised that He will make all things work out for good if we love and trust Him (Romans 8:28). God desires to use our past pain as a catalyst for transformation so that what Satan meant for destruction will ultimately be the very thing that opens the door of our destiny (see Joseph’s story in Genesis 45-50).
Before you can move forward in your life, you will need to investigate your heart and clear out all the baggage from past traumas, hurts, and disappointments and see if faulty thinking has been packed away hiding somewhere in your memories. Many times in your relationships with others, all you will see is the fruit of this packed away pain.
As a result, you are constantly trying to deal with the rotten fruit instead of getting to the root of the problem. This exercise will help you both identify root problems in your past and present so you can clean out your heart to make room for forward progress.
Identifying the Cycle of Pain in Life
All of life can seem cyclical - what goes around, comes around. If the cycle is a process that brings repeated pleasure, we have great anticipation as the expectation builds for the good that is on the way. However, if the cycle is a process that brings repeated pain, we have great anxiety as the expectation builds for the bad that is on the way. Try as we may, we cannot control all the events in our lives, and therefore, we are at the mercy of the nature of the event to either bring us pleasure or pain. As true as it is that we cannot control what happens to us, we do have the power to control what happens in us. The purpose of this exercise is to build a map of this thought cycle and identify where the faulty thinking has driven you off course. To do this, we will outline five steps in this cycle and answer some exploratory questions. Following below are descriptions of these steps to help focus your investigation.
A very simple definition of expectation is a strong belief that something will happen. This belief can come in the form of believing that a person, place, or thing will produce or perform in a specific way based on the nature of the event. For example, if you go into a restaurant and pick up the menu, read the description of the food that you would like to eat, and place your order, you have an expectation that in a few minutes you will be eating exactly what the words on the menu described. At that moment, your expectations will either be met or not based on your interpretation of the food presented.
Another type of expectation is one that is developed out of a repeated pattern of experiences that have convinced you that something is always true or not true. This type of expectation will project into the future exactly what you can expect to happen based on what you believe is a predetermined outcome.
For example, if you grew up in a home that was always struggling financially to make ends meet and you heard repeated comments about how difficult it is to get ahead, it will be very easy to develop an expectation that life for you will turn out to be the same way. You will enter adulthood expecting to have lots of financial struggles. As soon as the first financial hurdle appears, your expectations are confirmed and the cycle begins. These are the types of expectations that must be revealed and rooted out!
In Elaine’s case, her expectations were formed out of a traumatic event that necessitated quickly developing a core belief with associated expectations that would predetermine her actions before the event ever happened. When she said, “I will never trust a man like I trusted my uncle” she was also saying that all men will eventually be found to be untrustworthy. Therefore, be on guard and be ready to preempt the relationship the moment that you see or sense that your expectations are coming true. These expectations locked her into living a life of false pretense - all men are untrustworthy- and therefore, locked her out of finding the men who were actually very trustworthy. When Elaine said, “I will never let a man look at me sexually again” she was setting in motion another expectation that all men eventually only want one thing - sex. This expectation would not allow for the possibility that there were men that truly wanted to love and cherish her as a person and not just for sexual gratification. These two powerful expectations locked Elaine into a painful pattern of hope deferred (she will never get married and have a family) making her heart sicker (I might as well keep eating because it doesn’t matter how undesirable I become because I won’t have what I want anyway). Although these expectations became the expected outcome, deep in Elaine’s heart she wanted desperately to have these things. This set up the next step in this cycle: loss.
In the next post we will outline the remainder of the 5 steps in the cycle of pain. So, stay tuned, and tune in!
by Pastor Jim Anan