(This information is taken from material by Dr. Jim Wilder and Dr. Karl Lehman)
Sometimes events happen that bring us lots of pain and, as we looked at in the last blog, a word of truth does not always take away that deep level pain we feel when not able to be with a certain person. In Part Two I would like to talk briefly about how all of the five brain levels work where pain is concerned and then describe in a simplified form how the five levels affect the resolution of painful memories.
As we look at the how the brain processes pain, it is important to realize that unresolved pain from the past may be affecting the pain of a present event. When pain from the past is amplifying present pain, we call this “being triggered.” Resolving painful memories from the past not only brings freedom and health, but it also helps our relationships–when present pain does not get triggered and amplified by pain from the past, making the present pain worse. Since all of us are eager to keep pain at a minimum, I think it will help to take a quick look at the five brain levels and how pain feels associated with each one. I will first describe the brain level, how the pain feels and how that part of the brain works to resolve a trauma.
Level 1 pain (the thalamus) is where we feel the attachment pain we looked at in Part One. Attachment pain can make us feel like our whole existence is painful, causing distortion in our personal reality. We are hurting because a long-term bond we have is experiencing some kind of break in it. We feel very alone. At birth, Level One needs two secure attachments to train that part of the brain how to relate with others in joy. Any time a joy bond is broken, we feel attachment pain. If we do not quickly return to joy with the person, and the disconnect is prolonged, this can cause a trauma. In order to resolve a painful memory or trauma, one needs a secure attachment with someone during the process. In other words, Level 1 must be engaged in the process. We will need someone with us that we feel connected to. Jesus can be this other person if we have a close relationship with Him and can sense His presence. If not, we will need someone else to help us process the pain.
Level 2 pain (the amygdale) is characterized by pervasive fear. The amygdale’s job is to tell us what is good, bad or scary and prepare us to fight or flee. When experiencing Level 2 pain, we have lost our maturity, we can’t relate with others and we just want whatever is going on to stop. We feel disconnected. In order to process present overwhelming fear or fear involved with a painful memory from the past, we need someone with us who has the capacity to be there and help us stay connected to the situation and the pain involved in order to process through it. Jesus can be that person if we are able to connect with Him and sense His presence. If not, we will need someone else who can be in the pain with us and not get overwhelmed themselves.
Level 3 pain (the right cingulate) is characterized by being stuck in one of the Big Six emotions—anger, fear, shame, disgust, sad, or hopelessness. This pain causes our brain to melt down (become desynchronized) and we cannot act like ourselves or stay relational. We feel overwhelmed. In order to process pain at this level, we need someone with us who can synchronize with us and be glad to be with us in the emotion, not get overwhelmed, and help us get back to being relational. Jesus can be this person if we can sense His presence and connect with Him. If not, we need someone else to be there who can handle that emotion while in it and help us return to joy.
Level 4 pain (right prefrontal cortex) causes us to lose our focus, our direction, and how to live out of our true heart. We lose our maturity and we feel very inadequate. We don’t know how to act like ourselves or what it would be like us and our people to do in this situation. We need a model or an example that shows us how it would look to feel satisfied with how we handled the situation. Jesus can be the person who is our model and an example. His presence in the memory changes how the painful memory affects us, thus bringing calm and peace. If we cannot connect well with Jesus, someone else can sit with us while we process and then help us see what it would be like us to do in this situation.
Level 5 pain (the left hemisphere) brings internal conflict and a dismembered identity, not knowing who we are. We have faulty information and/or are believing a lie that distorts how we see ourselves. We feel very confused. Level 5 is the area we talked about in Part One that can be helped by a word of truth. At the end of the processing of a painful memory, we need to make sense of the event and fit it into the view of ourselves. Jesus can give us the truth we need to replace the lie and He can give us His perspective to bring meaning to the experience.
As we process a painful memory through the five levels of the brain, Jesus does the healing, and the old trauma is now stored as a regular memory that will no longer trigger us. This five level process can take place anywhere from a few minutes to an hour or so depending on the intensity of the feelings involved and the capacity we have to work through it. When the memory/trauma is healed, we will experience a new place of freedom.
So let’s summarize the “steps” to this process as it relates to the the Immanuel Process from one of my former blogs. When I am helping another person process a painful trauma, I want them to connect with Jesus before we begin so that He is there at each step. This way they will have two secure attachments at the beginning–their Level 1 need. I have noticed when helping another person that Levels 1, 2, and 3 are almost “automatically” taken care of because they have an attachment to Jesus and me. I can sit with them and help them stay connected to both Jesus and the pain they are looking at (Level 2 need), and Jesus and I are able to synchronize with them in the emotion and help them stay relational (Level 3 need.) As they process, Jesus will show them what it is like them to do (an example) in the situation and I can talk to them about that as well (Level 4 need). As we finish the process, Jesus will help them see the message they got from the trauma and what the lie caused them to believe about themselves. Then He can give them the word of truth that will finish the healing and bring meaning to the experience (Level 5 need).
If we have enough capacity and can sense His presence, we can learn to do this process by ourselves- with Jesus- as I mentioned in the other blog about the Immanuel Process. Recently I experienced a deep healing by myself with Jesus that concerned an old trauma where I was accused of something I didn’t do and the message given and received was, “You’re bad.” If the unresolved piece of this trauma got triggered by some kind of vague accusation, I would melt down into fear that I was bad and would not be able to act like myself. I lost my maturity and began walking in confusion. When Jesus took me back to this old memory, He was my secure attachment (Level 1), the One who could keep me connected to the pain (Level 2), and the One who could experience the emotion with me to keep me relational (Level 3). As I got to the end of what He was showing me, I asked Him to be the model to show me how to act like myself when falsely accused (Level 4). Instantly, in my mind, I saw Him standing tall before the court when He was accused of blasphemy. He knew who He was and was not swayed by accusations. I then asked Him for His word of truth that would make sense of the trauma and the event that had triggered me. He told me, “You are never bad. If you do something wrong, I will tell you, but don’t ever take that you are bad. I brought this current pain into your life so that the trigger would prompt you to come to Me and you could have this healing.” (Level 5)
As I walked back through the painful memory of the trauma with Jesus present, my heart was healed and I experienced His deep love and acceptance in a new way. I cannot recommend this too strongly. And if you want to know more about this way to process painful memories, check out www.lifemodel.org for the Share Immanuel booklet or Dr. Lehman’s website www.kclehman.com