Previously, I have written about brain retraining and some misconceptions found in the brain retraining community that I have witnessed here. There are more misconceptions, however in this blog I will only address one more. This may be an ongoing topic. Please remember this is my opinion. I am not a doctor, and everything I write is just what I believe to be true based on my experience and research. So, here is another misconception I would like to discuss.
Misconception number 3:
All I have to do is follow the program perfectly and I will get well. All I need to do is the “rounds”, and changing my mindset in order to heal. Well, I would say this is partly true. Yes, you should follow some kind of program, even if it is one you created for yourself. However, there is more to retraining the nervous system then reciting affirmations, interrupting negative thoughts, and eliciting DOSE chemistry by bringing to mind a positive memory. Following a structure daily with repetition is how the brain will learn that you are safe and there is no reason to activate fight or flight. DNRS and Gupta along with other programs put together into a neat package ways for people to prime the brain for more calm, joy and other positive emotions.
However, some people have a difficult time. I have seen a few relapse into illness a few years after retraining and I have also seen people give up during it because they do not “see” benefit.
Clearly, there is an issue with the message of these retraining programs and/or a misunderstanding of how they are used “perfectly.” In this blog, I will speak about this . Please understand, I absolutely know that retraining the nervous system will heal one from chronic illness, but the partial myth is that just “following the system perfectly will lead to good health.” And, I think this is an issue with interpretation of what it means to “follow” the program.
A few things come to mind about relying solely on the different steps of a specific program to heal, namely, 1. How are you actually using retraining to be most effective 2. What about trauma that comes before language? 3. What are you doing after getting well to maintain a regulated nervous system?
Using retraining to be most effective.
First we would have to define what the main principle of retraining is, in order to know how to use them daily. By principle, I mean the truth they are created from, and the foundations they are built on. For all these program there is one *essential* truth. One is stressed because they have pushed past their tolerance physically, emotionally or both (from my experience it is usually both). In the neural retraining world we call this stress, “limbic impairment”, the limbic system is stuck on in a state of fight or flight, after chronic stressors have “injured” it. If you follow the steps in the different programs in a very literal way, it may not lead to healing. In other words, if you just go through the motions it may not be effective. If you continue to stress your nervous system past it’s tolerance for 20 plus hours of the day, while retraining for one, it will be difficult to change the dysregulation. At the same time, if you work at avoiding all situations that may “stress” you for all of your retraining journey, it may not be effective.
For example, if one is dissociated and suppressing emotions, they can interrupt negative thoughts and reframe them to positive, use guided visualizations to elicit DOSE chemistry (dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, endorphins, ), expose themselves in an incremental way to triggers and other neural retraining principles and there may be *some* benefit. However, what about when they are not retraining in an “official way?” What about the other 20 plus hours of the 24 hour day ?
What are you doing in that time? If you go through your day continuing to shut down any negative emotions , engage in behaviors that are detrimental , ignoring any past traumas that have occurred, reciting the visualizations in a robotic way, trying to control the visualization to have a “perfect” one, spending most of your time alone without ever attempting to engage with others, and dissociate , you will probable not fully heal. Also, if you have a pattern of dissociation and once retraining, find yourself with flooding of emotions, it may be too activating. Instead, allowing for emotion to come slowly while also allowing yourself to feel it, and then process it out, can bring you back to regulation.
Likewise, If you are extremely emotional and spend 20 plus hours of your 24 hour day fighting with others, enmeshed in negative emotions, hurting yourself, but use an hour to do visualizations, you will probably not fully heal. These are just two coping style examples to illustrate the point that retraining is more than just an hour or so of your day. At some point, it is inviting you to step into awareness and reflect on what brought you to illness in the first place,as well as change it, or at least change what you are willing.
Continuing to feed negative behaviors and situations causing stress, will continue to activate them. What in your daily life do you need to change to make sure you are “safe”? After you answer that question, then answer, what are you willing to change. For example, I was unwilling to completely let go of a relationship that in the past hurt me. So, I worked on ways to limit my contact, set boundaries, use compassion as a bridge to understanding, continue to use my tools to center, forgiveness and making sure I was resilient when engaging.
Trauma (stress) that comes before language
So, you have followed the program both literally and in a critical way, personalizing it for yourself to use in an applicable way in daily living, and you continue to be stuck with healing. Your health may have progressed some, but stays stuck at a certain level, even though you have examined all of the false schemas your behavior was built on and changed things to benefit you. You also have worked on the visualizations, and tap into positive emotions daily. But something refrains you from progressing. I have thought about those who can’t move forward even when fully aware of what has brought them to illness and working in a kind, self loving way to leave this state. There are traumas held in the body and brain that began before language and it is possible that changing mindset and eliciting DOSE chemistry will not be enough. I began to realize this when getting certified to facilitate in TRE , which I talk about here. So, it may not be enough to use only a top down approach to healing for some.
There are triggers in the external we are not fully consciously aware of based on schemas created in the body from the very first experience. For example, let’s say you had a parent who was ill the first year of your life and unable to care for you. You may not be consciously aware that this even occurred . Each time a person “leaves”, even if the relationship is still in tact, you find yourself overwhelmed with grief, and incapable of being consoled. The body has created certain schemas based on the signals of someone leaving, and reacts to that familiar pattern, it will send stress signals due to the initial trauma which the person cant identify.
This is an example of trauma before language. While working from a top down approach can help with the feeling of abandonment, a bottom up approach can help accelerate the processing of the initial wound that is stuck. Since there are no words to identify, soothe and reframe what occurred to deregulate the vagus nerve, helping to break down the stress patterns in the body physically can help one back to a social engagement state.
I also believe that using bottom up tools can be used in conjunction with programs like DNRS for those with full knowledge of schemas created by trauma.
After getting well
I reached a pretty good state or health in 2020 . One weekend I ended up completely bedridden after knowing I was returning to a situation that I was “afraid” of. I began to get lost in the illness and right back into old ways of thinking and behaving. It was like I never retrained and knew nothing of health. I was defeated for 48 hours. Then, I began to come into awareness about what was happening. And, I allowed this. I allowed myself to see what my body was doing and why. I had come to be trapped in illness again based on certain triggers. I chose to come out of it. By this point it became a conscious choice to use the tools I had to interrupt this “habit” of being ill. I continue to retrain today in different ways. Retraining for me means choosing behaviors that will benefit me physically. I also continue practicing in some way to face life’s stressors, because life IS stressful.
If one reaches optimal health and then returns to destructive behaviors like overworking and toxic relationships, eventually those very new healthy pathways of health in the brain will be overpowered and illness can come. I don’t wish to invalidate how resilient people are becoming with retraining. I remember feeling like I could handle any situation since I had built up resilience. Yes, you will be able to handle much more. However, returning to ways of being that were never beneficial can weaken the body and mind. I feel it is very important to continue leaning into positive emotions and continue a practice to do so even after reaching health, to ensure continued health.
In conclusion, going through the motions when beginning a brain retraining program may help at first. When you find very little positive emotions and motivation, the only way to start is to fake it until you make it. At some point, there should be internal work occurring to step fully into awareness of what else needs to change in order to heal, and a commitment to doing so even after. Also, allowing yourself to use the programs as a tool while incorporating other tools like bottom up approaches can accelerate healing.