The following information is provided to help therapists and counselors assist their clients in processing through the exercise of integrating “uncomforted” memories. In addition, this article can be used by individuals struggling to heal from a painful past and aren’t sure how to begin.
The content of this article is based on the work and research of Dr. Bonnie Badenoch, the compassionate therapist. For a thorough explanation of these ideas, I would recommend her book, The Brain-Savvy Therapist Workbook.
According to Badenoch, what goes unseen and uncomforted remains isolated in our brains; i.e., these memories are in an unintegrated state. When people experience negative or traumatic events in their lives, they do not necessarily have anyone near who can offer them comfort. When no one is there to assist with healthy processing of difficult experiences, the traumatic memories often remain stored in an “unintegrated” neural-net state.
The following exercise can help people unblock these neural nets by “rewriting” (re-wiring the neural networks within the brain) the experience within the presence of a comforting relationship – both with the therapist and with the inner self.
Before proceeding, some definitions are in order:
Compassionate inner observer: This is a “part of self” that sees within with no judgment, only validation, encouragement, and empathy
Explicit: involves conscious thought
Implicit: Does not require conscious thought, but rather involves the “unconscious” or “below the surface,” or “felt” mind/memories
Integrated memories: Processing memories in such a way that the emotional dysregulation and dissociation associated with them no longer exists
Mindful: Having focused awareness
Neural Net: A network of brain cells organized in a certain structural pattern.
Uncomforted memories: These are memories created by traumatizing or otherwise negative experiences that are not resolved within the context of a healing relationship
This exercise will take time and should be conducted in a safe and quiet environment. A journal is recommended as writing is part of the process. This assignment can be rather tricky because most of it requires closed eyes. If you are doing this as a solo exercise, then you may have to read one instruction and then close your eyes, do the work, and then open your eyes to read each succeeding step.
- Create a nonjudgmental space.
- Close your eyes.
- Identify a nonjudgmental and compassionate inner observer.
- Relax into this nonjudgmental space with your inner compassionate observer.
- Open your mind to any troubling experiences you have had within the past week.
- Wait with kindness and curiosity to bring these experiences to mind.
- Once the thoughts arrive, focus on bodily sensations that are brought up.
- Ask yourself to think of a time in your earlier life when you felt these same feelings.
- Wait patiently for your inner self to bring these earlier memories to the surface of your mind.
- As you mentally observe your memory, slowly move toward it with warmth and respect; allow yourself to merge with the feelings and sensations.
- Stay with the experience, with your caring and compassionate inner observer. Have your inner compassionate companion “hold” the experience with his/her presence.
- Mindfully follow the memory as it unfolds. If the process becomes too painful, open your eyes. Otherwise, stay with the memory and allow the implicit messages that it brings of discomfort to be realigned to the present experience of comfort and containment.
- Consciously remind yourself to bring this memory to present time.
- As you experience this “disconfirming” experience, that is, as you replace the uncomforted memory with this new, confirming and comforting experience, the neural wiring in your brain will be replaced, thus, unblocking the negative memories and integrating them in the present, healthier state of being.
- Repeat the process of comforting these unpleasant memories throughout the week by visualizing the new experience of safe presence within.
- As you process through this, use your journal to draw the implicit feelings and thoughts that come up, and consciously bring the implicit memories into the explicit present.
This exercise is not meant to be a one-time event; rather it is part of a process, where negative memories are continually brought to mind and reworked over a period of time. It is important to “process” through your negative memories little by little until each unintegrated memory is revisited and addressed in the therapeutic relationship.
Badenoch, B. (2011). The Brain Savvy Therapist’s Workbook. New York, NY: The Norton Publishing Company.