Whether you are struggling with physical pain, body memories, illness, headaches, or any of the other distressing symptoms that come with being a trauma survivor (or even someone with a chronic illness) - there are imagery techniques out there that can help alleviate your suffering! As I'm sure you're well aware, medications do little to nothing to relieve your body of pain that it may be reliving from the past, or even a nervous system presently under siege following trauma. Conditions like fibromyalgia and other autonomic/nervous system disorders are not only highly prevalent amongst survivors, but of the countless illnesses that cause pain, these show some of the greatest resistance to treatment through medication or other external approaches. There are many proven therapies that can help release your mind and nervous system of these specific types of pain, but one solid tool that you can use anywhere and anytime, no matter what shape your body is in, is imagery. More specifically, Healing Pool or Healing Light imagery.
We'll walk you through both of these techniques, but to make sure you have the greatest chance at success, we want to be sure you understand the concept of imagery and how it's used first. (If you're already familiar, you can skip this part and head straight to the exercise!) Imagery is a coping skill that allows you to picture things in your mind's eye very vividly, in excruciating detail, to bring yourself and your body to a calmer state - to relieve pain, put away upsetting memories or intrusive thoughts, contain distressing emotions, retreat to a safer and quieter place, get some desperately needed rest, or any of the other plentiful uses. This is a skill that, like all tools in combatting symptoms of trauma, does take practice and is something you should try to do when you don't "need" it. This way, when you're flustered, overwhelmed and unable to think clearly, it's second-nature to you instead of "some dumb thing that's probably useless anyway". (Yes, we're very familiar with that rhetoric and guilty of it ourselves from time to time.) This technique is built upon being as detailed, descriptive, multi-sensory, and personalized as possible. Imagining yourself in a place or scenario that holds absolutely zero interest to you, you have a hard time visualizing, or is even upsetting to you, is NOT going to be helpful. Commanding the full use of your mind and its senses will engage so many more neurons in your brain and ask them to get off the upsetting or painful feedback loops they are currently on - which is good not only mentally but to your physical body and health. So, more detail, more customization to me and my preferences, got it! What else?
Have patience with yourself. Sometimes your mind is going to wander, that's okay. Sometimes it's just not going to work well, and you might feel frustrated, but that's also okay. It's not your fault, or inability to "do it right", or "never going to work". It's just your body under a lot more distress than can be managed at that moment. If for any reason it's making something WORSE, maybe there's something triggering about the scene you chose that you hadn't even considered. Or, particularly in DID, maybe there's a part of your mind who has misgivings about allowing you a chance to feel some comfort or make the pain "go away". (Even if you don't have DID, some aspect of your mind may feel that way.) This happens sometimes. It doesn't mean all is lost, that you'll never be able to use this skill, or that you're mind is sabotaging you. You just need to work with that stumbling block and either talk through it or at least find a compromise. And, finally? The more you truly BELIEVE these skills are working for you - drawing out that pain from your actual physical body, sealing up those memories nice and tight, slowing not only the intense emotions but your heart rate and tense body too - the better it will work. If you just go through the pictures in your mind and don't try to connect them to what your body and mind are truly going through (whether that's because you're sure it couldn't possibly help given the amount of pain you're in, are just doing it to tell your therapist you did, think coping skills are dumb, yadda yadda), welp, then, you're right, it's not going to work. The mind is sooo powerful. And it's also highly susceptible to the input YOU give it. If you tell your mind that you're now feeling differently and that parts of your body have been numbed or relaxed, it's probably going to believe you at least a little (if not much more) and follow suit. (And not just in a hocus-pocus frou frou kind of way, but a well-researched, biological way - based on the new neural connections you decided to help your body make.) Trust in it; the more you do, the better success you'll have. And honestly, if you're in distress and just want the madness to pause, or the pain to stop - what do have to lose by committing your whole self to the exercise? You've probably tried everything else, things with serious side effects even. This has zero, so why not just give it your all?
Now for the fun part!
Healing pool is just what it sounds like. It's imagery that relies on a body of water with personalized healing properties to target and alleviate your pain from head to tippy toe.
To start, choose a location that feels the most calming or soothing to you based on the kind of pain that you're in and what appeals to your senses. Nothing is off limits! It can be a real place that actually exists, or a magical, mystical wonderland that you fantasize of escaping to. Try to paint the scene as vividly as you can imagine. Is it a tropical oasis? ..on a beach with crystal clear waters, sand, and an ocean breeze? Is it in a mythical forest? ..with a hidden spring, ancient stone fountains, and tall woodland trees surrounding you? Is it in a rainforest or Hawaiian escape? ..with tall, cascading waterfalls emptying into a quaint natural pool? (Hey, it can be magic, remember? That pool doesn't need to empty out somewhere else just because there's a waterfall leading in!) Or, do you prefer something in a colder climate? A northern, mountainous retreat with perhaps a hot spring bubbling up, or a cooler lake to calm the aching? If none of these environments are pleasing to you, you can even leave this world behind and be on your own planet, in a futuristic world, or high atop the clouds in a land with its own fantastical body of water. Creativity in imagery knows no earthly bounds!
Once you've chosen a general landscape and water source that is perfect for you, go deeper still into that world. What do you hear? Are there birds or other animal/nature sounds? What kind? Are they quiet and sporadic or filling your ears like music? Does the water itself make a trickling sound, have crashing waves hitting the shore, or does it bubble as it waits for you to enter? What do you feel? Is the air warm? The hot and muggy kind, sunny but breezy, still and "just right"? ....ooor is it instead cold, clear and refreshing? What about the time of day? This may change each time you return, but is your healing hideaway in the sunny daylight, in the beautiful colors of a sunset, or is this a moonlit dip in the water? (You can try all the above in future visits!) Now, return your focus to the water. This is your healing water - not just any old water. Does it have a special color? Does is glisten or sparkle? Does it have any billowing mist coming off of it? Maybe it's not even earthly water, and instead a mystical, dry-ice-like fog? Or, perhaps it's more like a warm liquid gold? What about crystal blue ocean water with iridescent ribbons of light eager to heal your pain? The possibilities are endless!
Now it's time to get in. I know that when you are in terrible pain and agony, the urge to just jump right in and submerge yourself immediately can be so intense - anything to stop the pain immediately. But, this technique actually works much better, and for longer, if you can gradually go through each part of your body, one at a time - really feeling it work not only in your mind, but your actual skin and muscles. (Some can even see the coloring in their skin shift through different techniques as their body responds as though this were entirely real.) So, go slow and commit yourself to experiencing the variety of sensations, and relief will find you much more completely.
Go ahead and stick your toes in. What happens? Does the water change color? Make a sound? Begin to draw the pain out of your body, dissolving it as it hits the water? Is it cold on your toes - almost making you shiver or giving you goosebumps? Or is it everything you ever wanted, so warm and inviting, leaving you to sigh at first touch?
Now, go ahead and let it cover your ankles. Wiggle your toes around and paddle your feet, remembering that this is YOUR healing water, no one else's; it knows just what you need.
Move further still, putting your calves in. Notice them relax, surprising you at just how much tension they were holding with you totally unawares. Give your legs another kick, pushing and pulling against the weight of the water, feeling it whisk between your legs as they pass each other.
Now scoot further in now and let it cover your knees. Spend some extra time here and let it fully soothe your tired legs and aching joints. Notice how incredibly weightless they feel. It's quite possibly the best feeling you've ever had.
Slide in now and feel the water come up over your thighs and up to your hips. It's not too hot or too cool, it's exactly what your body craves, almost as if it was pulling you in. Notice your legs just completely melting, almost sighing to themselves in relief. It's as if not only the healing elements but the water itself goes straight through your skin into every tissue, cell and fiber - drawing out every ounce of hurt or tiredness in your poor, tired legs. They feel almost euphoric in the release.
Go in up to your ribs now. As a wave of relief washes over you, even the coloring in your face changes and the tension held in your pained expression relaxes. All the nausea and cramping and pain - any body memories or low back pain - it's all just drawn out of your body and replenished with a comfort you didn't even know was possible. Cooling, numbing, calming every inch, while warming and softening other aching muscles.
Go ahead and let your arms start to fall in now. After your fingers dip in, it's only natural to want to play with the water. You've never been in anything like it! What does it feel like? Does it swirl? Can you pick it up, does it change when you hold it in your hands?
Now sway your wrists and hands through the water, pushing and spreading it out. See how cramped and pained your hands were? You maybe didn't even notice in all the rest of your body's aching. Or, maybe they were swollen and rigid and tense and this was exactly what you wanted. Spend extra time on them. Now you can open and close a fist without pain, wiggle your fingers loosely, and dance in the water without pressure or restriction. They feel FREE!
Drop your arms until the water covers your elbows - now able to stand completely comfortably, your shoulders more relaxed. Take a nice deep breath. Do you want to keep walking around in it now, free to twirl around - or would you rather sit on an underwater stone or rocky ledge and just take it easy?
Either way, dip yourself slowly lower until the water is up over your chest. Feel your chest cavity expand and the fresh oxygen rush into your lungs. You'd been holding your breath for so long in the pain and you're suddenly invigorated with such clean, healing air. You didn't know your lungs could open so far! Notice your heart rate slow and steady. And the PAIN held in your heart and chest, the spaces between your ribs, all of that weight from such emotional anguish and hurt - it just dissolves. ...almost as if the healing water swirled around inside of you and gave your heart a warm, loving hug. Stay here as long as you need. This is so important.
When you're ready, cover your shoulders - possibly relaxing back against a cozy ledge. Goodness, it's like your whole body has become jello now. Some of those last bits of tension are melting away and releasing the hold on you they'd had for so long. Take another deep deep breath. Close your eyes if you want to. And, now it's up to you if you want to take your head under or just splash some on your face instead. If you have a headache or migraine, I'm sure you almost can't wait. If you don't want to, that's okay. Just being close, or rinsing your face with it will be more than enough.
If you want to dip yourself under, go ahead. Good news is that in this healing pool, you don't have to worry about holding your breath. Just let the water relax your jaw, smooth away the creases from your brows and forehead once contorted from pain, and draw out all of the throbbing, aching, pounding, or sharp pains in any and every part of your head. Your thoughts calm and slow, and the worries, memories or awareness of pain just disappear. Everything goes quiet, and feels still. You could almost sleep in the absolute serenity. You're only right here, right now, and it's all you could ever imagine. Breathe deep. Spend all the time on you and your body that you need before lifting your head out of the water.
You can decide if you want to stay here and swim, take a nap in it, or just relax for a few more moments - making sure you truly experience deep, deep healing in even the most stubborn parts of your body. And when you're ready to leave you can slowly bring your awareness back into the present, but don't worry, the healing doesn't just leave you. You take at LEAST a piece of it with you, for the most sore parts of you, more if you're able. It wants to gift it to you. And, if it wears off, you can return. You can go back to this at any time and change any part of it that you need. ...customizing it for any future aches and pains, headaches or body memories.
You may need to take a couple extra moments for grounding after coming out of such a calming oasis. If you're heading to bed or doing this before sleep, you're a-okay. But if you need to return to the regular world, you may need to shake the fog from your eyes and fully connect with your surroundings before re-engaging with life again. So be sure to orient yourself fully. (If you aren't sure what to do for grounding, good thing we've got 101 Techniques for that!) But, even though reconnecting with the real world can be undesirable, that doesn't mean the calm, peace, and pain relief found there just goes away! You're more refreshed than you've been in...maybe ever. Just be sure to fully re-orient, even if that haze seems more inviting. ;)
Healing Light works in a very similar way to Healing Pool, but it's especially great for anyone who has any kind of uneasiness around water, needs more of a localized "spot treatment", or has a harder time creating more scenic imagery in their mind.
Just like Healing Pool, this will be more effective if you make this as descriptive and detailed as possible - only this time you mostly need to focus on detailing the light and not your surroundings. It can reach you right where you're sitting/laying right now if you'd like. But, if you want a more soothing environment in your mind, you are more than welcome to include one! So, when it comes to light, the possibilities here are also endless. Is it a sun ray that bursts through the clouds and finds you? Is it more like a secret weapon, a thin pain-zapping laser? Is it more like a glowing orb of light, personalized just for you? Or, is it more conical like a flashlight, being emitted from some other precious source that you can turn on and off? Perhaps it's no beam of light at all, but more like a dancing, ribbon-y, spritely kind of light flitting through the air. Is there a trail of shimmer or glistening particles follow it in its magical nature? Is it warm and calming, or cold and tightening? ...or possibly even something more gaseous or like pressurized ice that could flash-freeze and numb ANY type of pain? Does it make a twinkling sound, the whirring of a pulsating sphere, or more like a buzzing and zap of a machine as it obliterates the pain? Does the light come in one color or many? Maybe you have different colors for different areas of the body...or maybe a variety of light styles entirely depending on the kind of remedy you need it to supply for each type of pain. Perhaps you have one that heats and softens the skin. ...another that freezes the pain dead in its tracks. ...a different one that envelopes and "holds" the pain until the throbbing stops. ...a more aggressive light that shatters the pain into a million pieces and then individually dissolves each one. ...another that injects coolness through the area and feels like an internal ice pack. ...a super unique one that simply erases the aching entirely as if it were never there. ...and a satisfying light that suctions or draws the pain out from your body. ...you could even have one that incorporates a more spiritual element or the energy and care of someone you love, who could bring a very special kind of comfort like no other. So many options!
Like before, sometimes it's more effective to start with an area that's unaffected, or to more gradually approach your "target" area so that your mind and body can fully connect this imagery to your actual pain. [If you're a fan of those that obliterate and destroy the pain with like dry ice blocks, etc, you miiiight want to give the light a "seeking" function that just cools and nurtures the healthy areas as you begin the process, letting it 'scan for' the painful section you hope to destroy. We don't need you feeling like your forearm just got pulverized or flash frozen when it was your shoulder that was waiting for the relief ;) Ya dig?] Okay, so, first.
Visualize in your mind's eye where the light source is coming from, likely feeling the anticipation for the relief you know is finally coming. See its glow, feel the warmth or coolness emitting from it, hear its unique sound. If it's your head that is throbbing, perhaps maybe allow the light to first hit your spine - releasing and soothing each vertebrae as it climbs your back and neck. Allow the healing particles to weave throughout your jaw and mouth, completely relaxing them along with your brows, forehead, and eyes. Then send it to your pounding skull. If your abdomen or low back are aching, maybe show some love to your toes, feet and legs first before reaching that midsection pain. If it's your shoulders or neck, let the light graze your fingertips and creep up your arms before it tackles your upper body pain and eases that suffering. This light is so detailed and meticulous, so specified to you and your needs. It reaches through every capillary, tissue, cell wall, vein and nervous fibre. It knows what you need without your instruction. Visualize what's happening beneath the surface as it finds your pain. The way it coats, cools, and soothes your pulsating nerves. See the light ripping through all the parts of you to find your toughest tissues and muscles, melting them to the greatest relaxation you've ever felt. Imagine how your light sprinkles your skull with tingling, healing properties, and how they then trickle down through all the wrinkles and spaces and curves of your brain - quieting and soothing not only the aching but all your frenetic thoughts, too. Picture its warming and swirling path to all the cramping and twitching muscles that are remembering something from ages past. See it drawing out the inflammation and "darkness" that can feel so heavy when it gathers in your joints, or even in your lungs. It's gone now. You can breathe. You can feel that relief. It may have even felt so good that now you need that light to go everywhere else. That's perfectly okay! Practice that self-care and bathe in that light if that feels right to you. This is your light. No one else's. It's made just for you, for your pain. No one can change it, tamper with it, even know about it if you don't want them to! This is YOUR healing light.
When you've decided that you are finished, you can watch the light slowly leave your body - taking any last stubborn remnants of pain with it. Take a deep breath knowing that as it leaves, the pain will not just immediately return; it's been healed. Your mind and nervous system have chosen a different path and sent wellness to that area. You aren't just "imagining" relief, you've neurologically and chemically given your body some different instructions. And when life is being a jerk again, you can call on your healing light any time to give your body that relief once more. It is so precious.
These techniques are only a mere couple in a sea of treating ailments or managing distressing symptoms from trauma through imagery. We have a few others that involve using colored water inside of the body that drains out from the heels. Another semi-silly one taught in some trauma units called "flick the pea" that has you shrink your pain down in size until it's so small (the size of a pea) that you can flick it away. There's another that is specific for numbing that just involves ice cold water that is very effective. We've already made an IG post on Color Breathing (which can help with emotions and panic, but also pain). Also on IG, we've shared an additional imagery technique involving dials to modulate intense feelings, memories, or even pain - and that can be found here. If you would like us to share the first few in more detail that we've not yey posted, we can certainly do that. We are planning to make many more articles on imagery - particularly containment skills (for memories, emotions, intrusive thoughts, self-harm urges, etc etc). They do take time though, so if you have any imagery skills that you love, be sure to comment below so that together we can share these resources even faster than we alone are able to turn them out!
We truly hope this helps! Feel free to expound upon any of these, make them your own, or - if you're just learning - even let your phone or computer read them out to you so that you can just close your eyes and follow along, visualizing as it guides you through! These can work for anyone, not just trauma survivors! So don't be afraid to share these with anyone you know - particularly if they have chronic pain or any chronic illness! Good luck, and if you have any questions, please ask below or message us!
More Resource Posts You May Find Helpful:
- Nighttime 101 and Nighttime 201: Sleep Strategies for Complex PTSD
- Grounding 101: 101 Grounding Techniques
- Coping with Toxic/Abusive Families During the Holidays