I’ve learned from practice that I can rewrite the negative out of bad memories by using visualization to change my internalized reaction to the memory. I will give you an example. As a child I had the following recurring nightmare.
I was alone in a cable car traveling over a vast bleak landscape below. The sky was the sickly orange-brown of an impending deadly storm, and dark, mangled, apocalyptic shapes were all I could see below. I was heading towards a gaping black hole and I was absolutely terrified. I knew if I went into the hole, I would die. I would awake just before the cable car entered the blackness.
That recurring dream eventually stopped, but my memory of having it remained. Whenever I would think of this nightmare, I associated it with nasty feelings from childhood of feeling alone, worthless, and invalidated. I interpret this dream as a symbol of my depression — if I gave in, I would die.
I decided that I no longer wanted this dream to end with a narrow escape from a darkness that always threatened to return. So I utilized guided visualization to create a new ending for this memory and thus a new emotional association that would better represent my life and worth as I now choose to see it. I will share this visualization with you.
I went to a location that very viscerally represents for me what I consider to be the origins of these childhood feelings. In the floor of this place, I noticed a hidden trap door that was so disguised I never saw it before. I pulled it open to reveal a dark stone staircase winding down into the depths of the earth below.
There was just enough light filtering from somewhere unknown that I could make my way cautiously down the stairway. As I rounded the final steps, I found myself in a cave with light filtering in from around a corner to the right. At the foot of the stairs and strewn all around the cave, beautiful and fascinating treasures were piled everywhere, glittering with gold, silver, and jewels.
But I was curious where the light was coming from, so I made my way around the bend in the cave. There I discovered a large hole in the earth wall and a stand and pulley system for a cable car. I looked out the hole and saw a car making its way to the cave. There was a terrified little girl in the car and I immediately ached to help her.
As the car entered the cave, I stopped the mechanism, opened my arms, and beckoned the little girl to come to me. She was so scared, but she hesitantly made her way to me. I held her tight while she cried and cried. I rocked her and comforted her, kissed her head, and told her that everything was okay now that she was with me.
When she finally calmed down and had rested, I got up and took her hand. I led her around to the cave and showed her that it was a safe place full of treasures that were all for her. I noticed that the staircase was gone.
We went back to the cable car and rode it together back outside the cave across a beautiful landscape of mountains, trees, and wildflowers. At the other end, we got out near a little rippling brook, with fish swimming around and frogs jumping from rock to rock. There were butterflies floating all around and flowers of every color. The girl ran around happily, picking flowers and splashing in the brook.
I told her that I would always be there for her, so she was safe now. She could play wherever she wanted in the beautiful landscape. She could ride the cable car for fun and help herself to all the treasures in the cave. She could call me anytime and I would be there instantly.
I much prefer the new ending of this dream!