• jennagosta m.d.

From Managing to Healing

Awhile back, a friend said, “AA is like an intervention, Al-Anon teaches management skills, and ACoA (Adult Children of Alcoholics) gets to some healing.”

Many people are familiar with these different phases of growth and self-care. Each one is valuable. Knowing how they are different can be key to understanding where we are today, and what the next step may be.


First, let’s look at Management. Just like it sounds, the Management approach teaches how to manage emotions and emotional reactions. Makes sense, right? We learn how to handle emotions for ourselves, and in communication with others.

The Anger Management workshops used in the corporate workplace at one point (the 80’s?) were geared to this. People were taught what to do when anger takes over. People learned about behaviors that soften, turn down the volume, and reduce tension in charged situations.

Examples: “Take a deep breath,” “Count to 5 before saying anything,” “Use ‘I’ statements,” “Focus on solutions.”

These are great skills - we need them! And they may need a bit of practice and polish, so working with them is a good thing.

But why don’t we naturally have them?

And why can they be so hard to learn and actually use?

Where Are Those Skills?

I knew of a guy who got sent to several Anger Management workshops.

It turns out we don’t always integrate emotional skills easily — we may hear about them, but actually using them can be a lot harder than anticipated.

In addition, just learning about the skills doesn’t get at why we don’t have them, why they can be hard to use (after we have supposedly learned them!), and why we have been overreacting in the first place.

So, the reason we don’t have the skills to start with, the reason we may not easily integrate them, and the reason we have been overreacting to begin with, are all pretty closely related.

And it is when we heal those deeper causes that the management skills begin to flow more and more easily.

It’s true that VoiceGuided VisionWork can help develop and practice the management skills.

It’s also true that Voice Guided VisionWork can help heal at the deeper levels.

Management: Self-Regulation Via Brain Circuitry

The management skills we’ve been talking about are all self-regulation skills. Just like that sounds, they are about how we regulate ourselves emotionally.

Being good at self-regulation is based on certain brain connections.

Ideally, these brain connections develop as we grow up, and we “practice” during the years before adulthood. And developing the brain connections (the circuitry) and the behaviors does indeed take practice….

So if we have the potential to develop the circuitry and the skills as we grow up, why don’t we? When don’t we?

One reason: No Chance to Practice

One reason we may not develop the skills is that we just did not get the chance.

— Often the case in households where feelings had to be ignored, or hidden, so there was little opportunity to notice, name, and manage what we were feeling. Little opportunity to develop the circuitry and “practice” the skills in that setting.

Another Reason: Old Unprocessed Emotion

Another reason we may not handle emotions easily is that the reaction we’re having is actually closely tied to a very similar old emotion that never got processed.

Unprocessed emotion is emotional experience that never got completed, and closed, in the emotional brain.

For the emotional brain, an event and the associated feelings can still be present, no matter how long ago the event itself actually happened. For the emotional brain, that file is still open, even though the logical brain knows perfectly well that the event is past.

When an old file is open like this, the emotional brain links the old content to anything that gives us similar feelings now. Emotion in the present day is drowned by the old stuff. Old content bleeds into new experience because it is all too similar for the emotional brain to distinguish —so it reacts the same way. The brain is more or less responding to old and new at the same time, the past piles into the present. No wonder this becomes overwhelming.

How Does Unprocessed Emotion Happen In the First Place?

Two Reasons the Files are Still Open

One way we end up with unprocessed content and open files is if we were in an environment where we did not learn to register and manage the emotions in the first place (self-regulation).

When we don’t process and complete an emotional experience, the emotions linger, deep in the brain, and become old sticky stuff that clutters “new emotion.” As above.

Another way we end up with unprocessed stuff is when the environment included events disturbing and “traumatic” enough that the emotion was impossible for us to process at the time. So that stuff, too, ends up in an open file at the back of the brain.

Any raw and unprocessed stuff - any open files - will interfere with emotional clarity and interfere with developing good self-regulation skills….Hence the troubles with integrating the new skills.

Getting to the layer of the unprocessed content and closing the open files is the healing step.

VoiceGuided VisionWork for Management and for Healing

VoiceGuided VisionWork addresses both the management and the healing steps. We can start with either one.

Strengthening Self-Regulation Circuitry

Sometimes the first step is just teaching the brain about self-regulation, allowing it time to develop the circuitry, and giving it time to practice.

When the circuitry is up and running, we begin to notice, recognize, and allow whatever feeling or emotion is there. We begin to respond more and more smoothly to different emotional states. We self-regulate more and more easily.

The VoiceGuided VisionWork sessions that focus on strengthening self-regulation are like guided meditations with an indvidualized healing focus. The sessions give the space and the time, in a safe place, to practice managing whatever is happening inside, strengthening our power to handle whatever we experience.

Deeper Work: Closing Open Files

Other times, we may feel ready for work in a deeper dimension: getting to the old unprocessed content in the back of the brain — the stuff that keeps interfering with with our present-day lives, and interfering with our self-regulation.

For some, it can be easiest to start with this deep healing step, instead of trying to “manage” on top of the open files, like a bandaid over unhealed content.

This is the work that completes and clears disturbing experiences of any kind that we did not have the time or the skills to handle when the event occurred.

Through guided imagery brain exercises, we bring those events to an end, so that the emotional brain recognizes that the events are over, and finally closes the file.

From then on, those events actually stored in a different way in the brain, and the material no longer interferes with the present. After clearing the emotional brain, it is even easier to self-regulate.

So the starting point is up to each individual.

Each direction brings you into deeper strength and greater balance.

Welcome to VoiceGuided VisionWork.

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