One of the main effects of having suffered significant childhood trauma is that we can become painfully caught up in the past, sometimes reliving our experiences again and again as if we were actually re-experiencing them in the immediate present. This can lead to great distress and can be manifested in the form of obsessive and intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, and nightmares (click here to read my article about how painful memories of early life trauma can remain unprocessed).
TEACHING OURSELVES TO LIVE IN THE PRESENT:
Teaching ourselves to live in the present is beneficial in itself; however, importantly, it also enables us to distance ourselves sufficiently from our traumatic childhood experiences so that we are in a better position to confront, process, and resolve the very negative effect that they are likely to have had upon us.
We need to fully understand that our traumatic experiences are in the past and do not exist in the present so that we may adjust our behavior appropriately (as we may well have developed defensive – but dysfunctional – coping mechanisms which are no longer in our best interests to maintain e.g. drinking excessively, being deeply suspicious of others at all times, etc)
Meditation, particularly ‘MINDFULNESS’, is an effective way to help us to live in the present and to significantly reduce feelings of anxiety and depression – indeed, its effectiveness is now backed up by numerous research studies).
The psychologist, Marsha Lineham, founder of Behavioral Tech and the developer of dialectical behavior therapy stresses the importance of the following skills which can be greatly enhanced through learning how to practice mindfulness:
1) FOCUSING ATTENTION :
– concentrate on one task/activity at a time and try to immerse yourself in it as fully as possible (rather like a young child at play)
– avoid distractions such as worrying about what has to be done next
2) ACCEPTANCE :
– fully accept that your childhood traumatic experiences were not your fault
– fully accept yourself as you are now without making negative judgments – but also accept that you may have developed some behaviors, in response to your traumatic childhood experiences which you unconsciously developed to protect yourself (e.g. extreme aggression) but which it is now counter-productive to maintain as the danger of childhood has past
3) OBSERVE :
– notice what is happening around you dispassionately (i.e. without becoming emotionally involved or making judgments)
– just calmly ‘observe’ your own thought processes. Do not fight negative thoughts (click here to read my article about why ‘fighting’ negative thoughts can actually make them worse). Instead, just ‘watch’ them, and be aware of them, passing transiently through your consciousness as if they were mere leaves floating gently past you in a river, and are unable to do you harm in any way.
– become more acutely aware of present experiences, utilizing all of the five senses (sight, sound, taste, touch, smell); this helps to make the present more vivid and ‘real’
4) DESCRIBE :
– describe experiences and feelings in words (e.g. ‘I am now feeling angry’). This helps to provide distance between yourself and your experience/feelings, which in turn can give you greater control and reduce emotional over-reactivity/dysregulation.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).
Other articles that can help us to live in the present: