In trying to heal from illness using brain retraining , there were lots of very important tools that were missing from DNRS , the program I used to heal. Interrupting pathways of illness, to replace and reframe with positive emotions and ideas led me to have to face many traumas in childhood. And, it led me to have to witness the stories that my brain created as that, just stories. Eventually, I followed the stories to where they originally began ,why they began, what purpose they served, and how they affected my whole life. And what I found when I took away all the stories was the little girl I had lost long ago. I had a few choices each time I encountered her; ignore her, let her continue telling these stories, let her continue using them as a way to navigate the world, silence her, or get to know her again.
In other words, DNRS led me to a path of reparenting.
For example, a frequent behavior was searching for help. I looked to others to guide me, to advise me, to help me. I was sick and did need help, but I found that this behavior of going outside myself for even smaller decisions and tasks, was a pattern I began long ago. I was constantly going to the doctor (and rightly so since no one knew what was happening to my body), constantly asking others for advice (I found myself incapable of making a decision) , constantly in therapy (I have been in therapy since age 16), constantly looking to heal I have tried many different forms of healing), constantly asking for help from others, (I found myself incapable of doing small tasks at times). When I began investigating where these behaviors, that when sick and suffering were somewhat justified, originated, I found a little girl who needed attention and got it when she was sick (at times). For example, at age 8 I was hit by a car. When my mother found out, she was very concerned and seemed to care about me. My injuries were not extremely serious, but it was enough to have her give me attention and worry. I got to stay home to recover and prolonged my suffering because I was too afraid to return to school. I was receiving well wishes from classmates, and wanted to be distant to continue enjoying this. They cared about me when I was far and hurt, but up close and in the classroom I was often mocked for my shyness and nervousness. Being unwell made them love me. Being unwell showed my mother did. This pattern continued throughout my life and the body remembers, manifesting into chronic illness. I became sick but people stopped caring, especially when I really needed them to.
Eventually, I had to learn to soothe the little girl who created these patterns (and many others). I did not have anyone showing me how to do this. I was too sick to make it to therapy anymore and did truthfully whining each time I went about the past was not helping me. It was making me sicker. So, reparenting had to begin with giving myself grace. I had to be alone, in order to heal. There was no more asking for help. I was very sick now, and no one answered my pleas for help, in fact they had not done so in quite a long time. Often I could not get out of bed, and lay there sobbing for much of my day. Since most of my strategies to navigate the overwhelming sadness I felt were physical exercise, I had to find enough compassion to listen to the voice inside and give her time to speak to me, yell at me, and cry about what she was not getting. I started with awareness, becoming aware of the strategies I had always used. This was something I did get out of therapy. From when I can remember, I have been very self analytical, as well as analyzing others. I had to, I had to learn how to analyze my behaviors and others behaviors to make sense of them, since I was often being gaslit to question my reality. I kept notes in my mind about what I did, when, why and how, so as not to lose touch with the truth. Awareness was there. The rest of my reparenting was not found in any linear plan but something that began to come naturally as I continued to face complete isolation.
It went something like this:
- Awareness (as detailed above)
- Connecting– I began to visualize my inner child when retraining in memories from the past. When I first started I could only remember very traumatic memories and often cried during “rounds”. Rounds were the core component of DNRS, 2o minutes of interrupting a trigger, speaking to the limbic portion of the brain, saying a past memory out loud (positive) and a future visualization (where you would like to be). When one is in fight or flight it is normal to access only the negative memories. So, I allowed myself to see only this negative and cry with the child. For example, one memory I used often was sitting in front of a tree because I was so lonely at around 6. I would sit cross legged outside, in the summer just staring at the tree. It seems lovely, but I was so lonely and this was the emotion that came out. In DNRS you are told not to use negative memories, but it is all I felt. When I used this memory for retraining, I would cry with the child who sat there lonely.
- Distraction- When I felt ready that the crying was not necessary in the past visualization (and this was not a linear practice), I began focusing on different “characters” in my visualization to distract, while at the same time holding the negative feeling in the background, since it was so strong. Something brought me to that tree at 6, so I focused on remembering the details of it, the colors, the texture, the insects that were using it as home, the flowers around it. I focused on the sun that shone above me, the ladybug that crawled on my foot, the caterpillar that crawled up the tree to find a limb to develop it’s chrysalis. I was still feeling the loneliness but allowing the rest of the images in (while still holding the negative since it was so strong), helped to interrupt the negative.
- Compassion: This crying evolved into deep compassion for her, and from her when storytelling from the past I would interject myself as an adult and embrace her, play with her, speak to her. I would focus on the connection between her and the tree, and the friendship that evolved, the way I as a child had deep compassion for the insects around the tree, and elicit this feeling as I told my “story.” If I, as the adult version came into the visualization, it did change a real memory, it added the parent I was becoming to take the place of a parent that wasn’t emotionally available to meet my needs. Sometimes, the tree that I (the little girl) had such deep compassion for was the adult reciprocating the empathy I was giving it. It often felt like a good friend, and I began to access this very real relationship I had developed with trees outside my house as a child, but forgotten since I was “stuck” in the emotion of loneliness. You can read more about compassion in my healing here.
- Setting boundaries: As I continued to retrain, I understood the negative emotions of these visualizations to come from the child, and did allow for them, even though DNRS advises not to. It just didn’t seem possible for me to go straight into being positive. I had spent my life trying to distract from emotions and often being overwhelmed by them, but this was grief , and it seemed necessary to feel it, until it didn’t. At some points, I began to interrupt the crying, to redirect to a more positive state. While telling my stories of the past, at first as I said, I would feel the grief, but grief in my life had turned into self pity and could last all day. So, I started setting boundaries to the crying that came. There came an inner dialogue, “Ok I know you want to keep crying, but it just isn’t necessary anymore and now I will tell a different story” quickly redirecting to a more positive story (which I didn’t feel at first but practice makes perfect). I learned to set boundaries with myself, as I had never been taught this skill. Boundaries with myself eventually led to being able to set boundaries with others.
- Forgiveness: I have made a lot of mistakes in life. I have hurt not just myself but others. When retraining, I began to clearly see all these mistakes. They were known to me before, but my work deepened to compassion and forgiveness for each new memory I accessed. My dialogue went something like this, “Oh I see what you did there, and I understand. It wasn’t a great thing to do, but you are human.” and released it. Forgiveness was part of my day, in each moment of realization, forgiveness played and plays an important part of healing. This wasn’t smooth and linear of course, often I became angry and harmed myself emotionally, (in the past I did so physically as well) , but when I caught myself, I could redirect to forgiveness (when ready 🙂 ). Forgiving myself, eventually led to the same practice with others. I began to see others as their little kid, and became curious about why their little kid may be acting in certain ways. I began visualizing them as children as well. Tapping into this empathy was necessary to help me forgive them as well. Forgiveness was not a one time thing, but a practice each time I accessed a memory and realization or ( later) had an interaction with others that was hurtful.
- Curiosity: As mentioned above, I became even more curious about others. I had always been overly analytical about myself and others in my life, but now I approached things with a curiosity and gentleness. As I got better, I could explore more about the people in my life, and what led them to be who they were. This practice of course helped with forgiveness, but it also extended out into exploring the world more. I became more and more curious about things I had never seen before. I started to add to my DNRS practice of interrupting old neural pathways of the past to redirect, by redirecting my senses to nature. For example, I would (when able) on walks or just sitting in the park observe things around me , the colors, the textures, and what they may be feeling, thinking. I began to tap into a great sense of awe with the world around me and it very much felt like everything was alive. I had dialogues with flowers, trees, clouds. I placed myself in their “shoes” to see life from their point of view. I felt deeply connected and safe in this. My world began to open up in ways I had never believed possible. I was not as alone as I had thought, and joy, and peace began to evolve.
- Fun: As my practices progressed, I felt deserving of fun , rather than needing it to escape. I practiced laughter, intentional laughter and even led laughter yoga sessions with a group I created. This practice like all felt very fake at first, but the brain does not know the difference between “fake” laughter and real laughter and releases the same beneficial neurotransmitters. I brought this laughter to others, such as my family. I gave myself rewards for each new step I was able to accomplish and didn’t allow guilt (example – ice cream and its calories were now ok ). I sat under trees in the park, watched children play, began to (when better) find new projects I had always wanted to do, (drawing, guitar playing). I was now able to have fun, and wanted to share it with others in any way I could, even if it was by laughter.
DNRS also asks for an affirmation statement and to interrupt neural pathways of the past with positive statements. The affirmations I used were directed at the inner child as a soothing to the fear she was feeling. My first statement was, “I am strong, happy, healthy, loved, safe and free.” I used different affirmations internally as needed. “I am curious, I am sweet, kind, playful, gentle, sensitive.” This helped to tap into the higher self I had started to access, the essence of who I was from childhood. For a while this essence had been interrupted, but learning to reparent brought me closer to seeing her, and it was a profound experience that I tap into regularly now. I had to learn that others would only be able to give me what they knew how to , what had been given to them. In order to soothe the inner child, I now had to take on the role of the parent . My love for the inner child began to grow as I remembered who I was in that pure state, before the scripts given to me began to create the entire story of my life. I was and am sweet, caring, curious, sensitive, playful and empathic.
You can find more information here about DNRS.