NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Using the Affect Bridge to Heal Old Emotional Wounds

Old emotional wounds often get triggered in intimate relationships. Most of these unresolved feelings are core issues that originated in childhood and usually involve one or both of your parents or caregivers. These old wounds might involve feelings of abandonment, betrayal, feeling unloved, feeling abused or neglected, feeling like you're "not good enough" and other similar feelings.

Bridging Back to Heal Old Emotional Wounds

These feelings can come up unexpectedly, whether your partner behaves like one of your parents or not. So, for instance, to others, who might be more objective than you, your partner's behavior might seem like a minor slight or a minor empathic failure.

But if you have an early history of emotional neglect or abuse and you get triggered by a current dynamic between you and your partner, you would probably experience this slight or empathic failure as being much more intense.

This is because you're not only experiencing the current situation--you're also feeling the old emotional wound that is getting triggered, so you're experiencing both together. This adds an emotional charge to the current situation, and when you feel hurt, it's often hard to distinguish the old emotional wound from the current situation.

Unresolved wounds have a way of remaining just beneath the emotional surface where you might not be aware of them most of the time. But under certain circumstances, when you feel hurt by your partner, these old wounds come alive, as if they just happened yesterday, even though they might have occurred many years ago.

When you see a competent hypnotherapist, who is a licensed mental health professional, clinical hypnosis is often very effective in helping to heal these emotional wounds. In order to heal, it's important to be able to deal with the original emotional wound that is being triggered. There is a technique called the Affect Bridge and when it is performed by a competent hypnotherapist, it often helps to heal those old wounds.

Clinical Hypnosis and the Affect Bridge
As a hypnotherapist, when I use the Affect Bridge technique, I prepare clients beforehand by making sure that they have the internal resources that they need to feel safe, calm and emotionally protected. Internal resources is another term for coping skills.

Clinical Hypnosis and the Affect Bridge

The following vignette is a composite based on many clinical cases and demonstrates the use of the Affect Bridge in clinical hypnosis treatment:

Alan and his wife were married for five years. They had a good and stable relationship most of the time. However, whenever Alan felt that his wife, Evelyn, was distracted, not listening to him, or not understanding him, he became very angry and upset. An hour or two later, Alan usually realized that he over reacted and he would feel very guilty and remorseful.

At first, Evelyn was understanding. She accepted his apology and forgave him. But, after a while, as this continued to happen, she got annoyed. Each time that it happened, Evelyn tried to remind Alan about how he over reacted in the past to similar situations between them and how this was another one of those times. But, when Alan was in this state, he was unreachable and he could not hear what Evelyn was saying.

When they came in as a couple, Alan admitted that he would over react for relatively minor incidents with his wife. He explained how, at the time, it felt like she was ignoring him or not hearing him, and this felt intolerable to him in that moment. He said he felt like he was "going crazy" because, when he was upset with his wife, he couldn't hold onto the fact that this was another situation where he was over reacting to her--no matter how many times it happened.

As I explored Alan's history, he talked about having an alcoholic mother who had a long history of drinking heavily and then passing out on the couch, leaving Alan and his younger brother to fend for themselves. His father had left the family when Alan was three, so there were no other adults in the household.

During the preparatory phase of our work together, I asked Alan to choose protective figures that he could visualize. I told him that they could either be real people that he knew or, if there was no one, he could visualize a fictional character from a book, movie, or TV program. Alan chose to visualize his first grade teacher and his Little League coach as his protectors for the clinical hypnosis work we were about to do. I suggested to Alan that he picture these protective figures as being with him as we began our hypnosis work together, which he was able to do.

Using the Affect Bridge technique, I asked Alan to focus on the feeling that he had when he felt that his wife was not paying attention to him or not hearing or understanding him. He said he felt it like a tense, heavy feeling in his stomach. Then, I asked him to go back in his mind and remember the first time that he felt this way. Alan remembered many incidents with his mother when she didn't hear him because she was in a drunken stupor.

His earliest memory of these feelings was when he was four years old. As usual, his mother was passed out on the couch as a result of a day of heavy drinking. Alan was trying to cook a meal for himself and his younger brother when his pajama sleeve caught on fire. He became very frightened and called out to his mother to help him, but she didn't hear him. Although he was very frightened, he was able to turn off the gas by himself, but not before he sustained a second degree burn on his arm. The neighbor who lived downstairs heard his cries and came running upstairs to help him. His mother never roused herself from her sleep.

Revisiting this memory during clinical hypnosis sessions and picturing his protective figures with him and helping him at that time had a healing effect on Alan. Although Alan knew what had actually happened when he was four and he got burned, after a while, being able to re-experience this memory with his protective figures allowed him to heal this old wound.

He felt safe, protected and nurtured by the protective figures that he visualized. As a result, after doing this hypnotherapy work for a while, he was no longer triggered when his wife either didn't hear him or misunderstood what he said. It was not just a matter that Alan realized this in a logical way, he actually felt healed and the old trauma was resolved.

Getting Help With Clinical Hypnosis
Clinical hypnosis is a safe and effective form of treatment when performed by a competent hypnotherapist with advanced training.

If you think you're becoming triggered by unresolved trauma, and regular talk therapy hasn't helped to resolve these issues, you might benefit from seeing a hypnotherapist for clinical hypnosis.

To find out more about clinical hypnosis, you can visit the web site of the professional organization, the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis also known as ASCH.

I am a licensed psychotherapist and hypnotherapist in NYC. I have helped many clients work through trauma.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.