Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Not a Hostage

I've heard many widows and widowers talk about the movies that play over and over again in their minds. Usually these films are about the last moments of life for their spouse, and often the following day or two, especially if the death was sudden. Whenever I hear or read of these stories, for some reason I picture Alex in A Clockwork Orange receiving the Ludovico Treatment. I know I felt like that — strapped in, compelled to watch traumatic scenes over and over again in my mind, "for my own good."

Don't get me wrong — I do believe that our bodies know how to grieve, and that these scene reviews do serve a useful purpose on our grief journey. However, they can be quite overwhelming and exhausting. A neat tool I learned helped me to take the edge off these memory reviews while still allowing my body and mind to grieve.

A number of years ago, I read Psycho-Cybernetics by Dr. Maxwell Maltz, a great book about healing inner emotional scars. Almost a year after Deb died, I picked up a personal development course based on this book and other teachings of Dr. Maltz called Zero Resistance Living. Within the first section, I found this gem:


1. Sitting comfortably in the theater of your mind, see a picture on your movie screen of a place you'd really like to be. It can be an actual place or one that you create completely from your imagination - a sunset beach, or a beautiful mountain meadow, a quiet lake or a bright city street. Make a picture that attracts you strongly - the colors rich and beautiful, the scene inviting.

2. Now get out of your mental theater seat. Go up to the screen and enter the picture on the screen. Actually be in the beautiful place you were looking at from the audience. Notice how your feelings change.

Make the experience as completely real as you can without straining. Pay attention to details.

Look around you - What do you see? What do you hear? If you're at the beach, hear the sounds of the waves and sea birds calling.

If you aren't using a mental picture, imagine a place you'd like to be in the way that is most comfortable for you — concentrate on the sounds or the way the place feels. What do you feel? The wind against your face? The sand or the grass under your feet?

What do you smell - the tang of a pine forest, the aroma of the sea - of
fresh cut grass?

Enjoy being in your wonderful place. Notice your emotions.

3. Now get out of the picture (you can float if you want to) and return to your seat in the audience. From the audience, see yourself on the screen in your beautiful place. Watch yourself move. Notice how your feelings change.

You will find that your feelings become stronger when you are "in" the picture and less intense when you are in the audience seeing the picture on the screen.

You will return to your mental theater often as you progress through your Psycho-Cybernetics lessons. You will find that your ability to create vivid, detailed images, your skill at making them brighter, closer, bigger, louder, etc., and your ability to step in and out of them will quickly increase with practice.


Being able to step in and out of your mental pictures is one of the most valuable imagination skills you can have. You will be using this exercise in many different ways through these six lessons in Psycho-Cybernetics.

By practicing this STEP IN - STEP OUT exercise faithfully, you will be reprogramming your servo-mechanism with powerful images of success, achievement, happiness and satisfaction. You will begin to create a self-image that expresses the best you, the strong, capable and productive you.

Do this exercise for a few minutes each day for the next six weeks. It is very simple and very powerful.

1. Remember an unpleasant memory. STEP OUT of the memory and watch yourself in it from the audience of your mental theater. Make the screen as small and as far away as necessary to see the memory and learn from it, without re-experiencing the unpleasant feelings. Repeat this with several unpleasant memories.

2. Then watch a series of pleasant memories on your mental movie screen. STEP IN to each memory. Relive each experience as if you were actually there again. Allow yourself to feel the pleasurable feelings fully.

In a few weeks, by doing the STEP IN - STEP OUT exercise, you will develop the happiness habit. Your servo-mechanism will begin to automatically draw you to positive, pleasurable experiences and to minimize the negative effects of unpleasant experiences.

I can't tell you how much of my stress was relieved by being able to simply project my traumatic death videos onto a wall, shrink them down, and imagine them in black and white with a player-piano as background accompaniment. As I changed the memories, I changed. I'd rate this tool as one of the more important ones in my grief recovery toolbox.


Anonymous said...

I wasn't there for the death of my spouse. My husband died in a car accident while out with his friends one night, I had to be informed that he died, but I wasn't there. Can this be used in a situation where The death was very, very sudden and you weren't there at all? Actually, is it too soon to attempt this exercise? My husband died on the 31 March 2011. What are some things I could do right now given how far into grief I am? I am completely lost. So just tell me what to do, and I'll do it. Leah.

Vic said...

Hi Leah, I am so very sorry for your loss.

Feeling completely lost at two months is unfortunately perfectly normal. Your life has been turned upside down and ripped apart. These are early days yet for you, and it is likely to get worse before it gets better. But it will get better.

Getting through grief is a bit like any major road trip. We don't have the luxury of being able to see the entire journey in front of us. Our headlights only illuminate the hundred or so yards in front of us. But when we cover those couple hundred yards, we can see far enough to get the next couple hundred yards.

My very best recommendation is to find a grief peer support group in your local area. In that group will be other widows whose husbands also died suddenly. Some will be further along the road than you are now. They can provide some insight and understanding in ways that I cannot -- Deb died slowly over a period of 16 months.

I'm very confident that getting involved with a grief peer support group will get you a bit further down the grief road. For me, it was in many ways a dark, lonely, frustrating journey. But it was also a journey that brought me incredible, unexpected rewards. Today I'm so much better off for completing the journey. There is hope.

May you find peace,