Use the Remote of the Mind: Replaying Memories
Once again, one of the most effective ways to promote integration is to tell stories. In chapter 2, we talked about the importance of narrative in integrating the left and right hemispheres. Storytelling is also a powerful activity for integrating implicit and explicit memories. But sometimes, if a child is feeling the effects of an especially painful experience from the past, she may not be ready to remember the entire experience. In that case, you can introduce her to her internal DVD player, which comes with a remote control that lets her replay an experience in her mind. It can also pause, rewind, and fast-forward. Just like you might fast-forward through the scary parts of a movie or rewind to watch your favorite scene again, the remote of the mind is a tool that gives your child some control while revisiting an unpleasant memory. Here’s how one father used this technique.
David’s ten-year-old son, Eli, surprised him by saying that he didn’t want to race a Pinewood Derby car this year with his Cub Scout troop. David was taken aback, because one of Eli’s highlights every winter was working alongside his dad as they carved, shaped, and painted a block of pinewood until it was transformed into a sports car. After several conversations, David realized that Eli was unwilling to go anywhere near the woodworking tools, especially the ones with blades. From there it was fairly easy to make the connection between Eli’s new phobia and an episode from months earlier.
The previous summer, Eli had taken his pocketknife to the park without his parents’ permission. He and his friend Ryan had enjoyed cutting and whittling with the knife, until an accident occurred. While cutting a root, Ryan had sliced through it and jabbed the knife into his leg, leading to lots of blood and an ambulance ride to the emergency room. A few stitches later he was fine and didn’t even seem too traumatized by the whole event. But Eli was beyond distressed as he waited at his house, wondering whether Ryan was OK. A compassionate, responsible boy, Eli couldn’t get over the fact that it was his knife, taken to the park without permission, that had hurt his friend and caused so much trouble. The parents of the two boys got them together that evening and let them talk through what had happened, and both apparently moved on. But now, months later, the memory was clearly working on Eli again, without his knowledge. He apparently had no awareness that he was afraid of the woodworking tools because of what had happened with Ryan and the knife.
David decided to help Eli take that implicit memory and make it explicit. He called his son out to the garage, where he had his tools set up. As soon as Eli entered the garage and looked at the electric saw, his eyes widened and his dad saw fear on his face. He tried to appear normal as he said, “Dad, I don’t want to do the Pinewood Derby this year.”
David responded in his most nurturing voice. “I know, son, and I also think I know why.”
He talked to Eli about the connection between the car race and the knife accident, but Eli resisted this explanation. He said, “No, that’s not it. I’m just too busy with school right now.”
But David pressed him. “I know you’re busy, but I think there’s more to it than that. Let’s just talk again about what happened that day at the park.”
Eli’s face again showed fear. “Dad, that was a long time ago. We don’t have to talk about it.”
David reassured him, then he taught him a powerful technique for dealing with painful memories. He told his son, “I’m going to talk through the story, just the way you told it to me last summer. And I want you to imagine the story in your head, as if you were watching a DVD inside your brain.”
Eli interrupted, “Dad, I really don’t want to.”
“I know you don’t,” David said. “But this is where the good part comes in. I want you to imagine that you’re holding a remote control, just like the one we use when we watch movies in the house. And when I get to a part of the story you don’t want to think about, you just hit pause. When you say ‘Pause,’ I’ll stop. Then we can fast-forward past that scene. Can we do that?”
Eli said slowly, “OK”—the way kids do when they’re responding to a request they think is crazy.
David proceeded to tell the story. He told about Eli’s arrival at the park, about cutting bark with Ryan, and so on. When he said, “Then Ryan picked up a root and started to cut it,” Eli broke in.
“Pause.” He said it quietly, but with plenty of force.
David said, “OK. Now let’s fast-forward to the hospital.”
“To Ryan coming home?”
“To when he came over to our house that evening?”
David then narrated the happy reunion between the friends—how they had greeted each other, then disappeared to go play video games. David stressed that Ryan and his parents had emphasized that they weren’t upset with Eli and that they viewed the whole episode as an accident.
David looked at his son. “So that’s the story, right?”
“Except there’s that piece we left out.”
“Let’s rewind and go back to where we paused and look at what happened. And remember, we’ve already seen that the story has a happy ending.”
David took Eli through the more painful parts of the narrative, and at times Eli used his pause button again. Eventually they made it through the story, and in doing so, Eli began to release his fears associated with knives and cutting. By the time they returned to the happy ending, David could see Eli’s muscles relax, and the tension in his voice had dramatically decreased. Over the coming weeks they had to return to the story and retell it, and Eli still felt somewhat nervous around knives, but with the help of his father, Eli’s hippocampus integrated his implicit memories into his explicit awareness. As a result, Eli could now deal with the issues that had resurfaced. He and his dad then built one of their best Pinewood Derby cars ever—and named it Fear Factor, writing the name on each side of the car in scary, Halloween-style letters.
Remember, your goal is to help your kids take the troubling experiences that are impacting them without their knowledge—the scattered puzzle pieces in their mind—and make those experiences explicit so that the whole picture in the puzzle can be seen with clarity and meaning. By introducing them to the remote of the mind, which controls their internal DVD player, you make the storytelling process much less scary, because you offer them some control over what they deal with, so they can interact with it at their own pace. They can then look at an experience that scared (or angered or frustrated) them without having to immediately relive it scene for scene.