Hello and welcome back once again to the Therapy Spot. Two years ago, I decided it would be “the year of Self Compassion” — but one year just wasn’t enough! It turns out, I have so much to learn and to teach about this topic. We really can change our brains for the better when we include ourselves in our circle of care, compassion, and kindness. Let’s talk about how Self Compassion can help us heal from negative events and emotions.

Amnesia is Not the Answer!

In the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, characters can have their memories — of a romantic relationship, a family member, a job, and so on — removed entirely. Just, poof! Gone. Wouldn’t it be so much easier to forget the negative events in your life, and all the pain that came along with them?

I know I have wished for this, especially when I can’t seem to stop thinking about what happened. I want to push away the thoughts, cover them up, and just forget. But the truth is, we’re actually lucky that we can’t give ourselves amnesia. By moving through the process of emotionally healing from negative events, we become better equipped to navigate more situations in the future. 

When we heal our past hurts and let go of the emotions around them, we get better connected. But before we can heal, there’s something we need to understand about our brains.

The Velcro in Your Brain

We humans have incredible brains, as well as some incredible expressions about our brains! Have you ever heard this one? “The mind is a dangerous place: don’t go there alone.” How about this one? “It takes 20 positive comments to outweigh 1 negative comment.”

Personally, this was the expression that helped me: “Our brain has velcro for negativity.” That means we tend to remember negative events more easily, and more clearly, than positive ones. So if you’ve ever been stuck in “I can’t stop thinking about this!” mode, I want you to know 2 things.

One: You are not alone. This is a normal and very human reaction to a negative event. The purpose of your brain’s negativity velcro — just like your vulnerable parts — is to protect you. It wants you to notice and understand what happened so that you can prevent it from happening again. Of course, unfortunately, constantly reliving the event in your mind can be so painful! That’s why I want you to also know…

Two: You can change your brain. Nothing will change the past — but you can change your relationship to it. There are ways to shift your thinking around these negative events so that you can release the emotional pain that goes along with them.

H. E. A. L. From Painful Emotions

Just because the negativity bias is normal doesn’t mean we can’t strive to change. We need different practices to help nudge our brains in a different direction and step out of those habitual responses. The H.E.A.L. Process, developed by Rick Hanson, Ph.D, helps us to meet ourselves with kindness and pull us out of the negativity hole!

So here is a quick overview of this way of working with your own brain.

  • H: HAVE a positive experience. I recommend starting a gratitude journal to help you notice all the positive experiences in your life right now!
  • E: ENRICH that positive experience! Do this through:
    • Duration: make it last longer.
    • Sensation: bring the experience out of your head and feel it in your body.
    • Novelty: ask yourself, “What’s fresh about this good thing today?”
    • Personal Relevance: think about the positive benefits that will ripple outwards as you cultivate this inner strength.
  • A: ABSORB the positive experience. Give yourself over to the moment, without worrying about how long it will last or what comes next.
  • L: LINK your current positive experiences to memories of past negative experiences. Since “neurons that fire together wire together,” Hanson suggests that “linking” positive experiences to past negative experiences can soften the emotional charge of those old experiences. (Note: he discusses this in depth on his “Being Well” podcast here)

Want to learn more about the H.E.A.L. process? I encourage you to read Rick Hanson’s book, Hardwiring Happiness.

Changing Our Brains Through Self Compassion

Remember: it is an act of Self Compassion to guide ourselves towards positive experiences and savor them longer. When you listen to this episode, I hope you’ll come away feeling like you can change your brain for the better.

I will be taking a break from the podcast for the rest of the summer to savor the long days, the warm weather, and all the positive experiences that come along with it. Thank you so much to all of you out there listening to the show and sharing with your friends. For all of you who I have met with in person or online, I am so glad to know you! If you’ve found me through this podcast, I want to know you, too. Has the Therapy Spot helped you to know yourself better? Do you have a topic you’d like me to cover on the show? Send me an email at betterrelate@gmail.com and let me know!

Image source: “Heart and Brain” via theawkwardyeti.com