I have had the privilege of meeting Dr Norman Doidge, a Canadian psychiatrist who has greatly influenced the way I work with changing behavioural patterns. His book The Brain That Changes Itself, showed research that supports the belief that behaviour can change through changing our thinking patterns.
Before his book and the exploration of the research I noticed unhappy clients dredging up the past and critically analysing themselves, friends and partners. I wondered how helpful this was in changing their out look because instead of giving themself insight and awareness it simply reinforces their unwanted pattern. I now know that this behaviour simply led to them re-traumatising and reinforcing their neurological pattern.
I see how it plays out with unhappy couples in their communication of criticism and blame. They continually bring up the past, focusing on their spouses misdemeanours. It is interesting that this creates such stress and cortisol release that can even lead to memory loss.
Couples that want to move forward in their relationship strategise on ways not to bring up the past. The most important thing is having a 3 to 6 month hiatus, where nothing negative from the past is brought up and discussed. This can enable new brain plasticity to form as the couple focus on positive bonding experiences. The only way I have seen this work if for my clients to take an active role in changing their thoughts before their anger starts to rise. Initially distracting themselves from their negative thought eg. getting up and making themselves a tea or having a glass of water, think of something pleasant to do, ring a friend etc. This starts to change the pattern while relaxation techniques are the key to reinforce real change. Leaning how to say to yourself “ …. is doing the best they can”, “ .. was not done on purpose”, “ I am not going to let small things effect me, because I won’t feel the same about this in a week, a month, a year, so how would it feel if I felt like that now ”.
I have watched wonderful results with highly stressed and anxious clients as they became focused on helping themselves by re-train their brain through a different way of thinking. Their commitment over a period of weeks and months lead them to be able to have choices in their communication.
I have used this process many times on myself and remember a few years ago when I was going through a difficult patch, I consciously decided not to focus on my unresolved problem but on what made me happy and fulfilled. The problem did not resolve for many months and yet I was able to find meaning and pleasure in my life, which meant that I could appreciate what I did have rather than what I did not.
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