One way to heal from PTSD is to change our beliefs. We who have been traumatized early on can get caught in ruts of thinking that agitate. Case in point: Each day on my way to work upon seeing the same old parked car with its front smashed in, I feel badly. At first, my feelings are simply about the driver and his or her misfortune. Day after day though I still feel sad seeing the car, so I begin to wonder, why am I so attached to it? Unknowingly, I have been identifying with the car on a deep level. I, too had been smashed up as a child, i.e. operated on as a baby and left with an ugly scar. So each time I pass that poor vehicle, my feelings of ugliness and helplessness kick in. I begin to feel afraid and cautious without even realizing it. Hyper vigilance, a PTSDer’s best friend, often shows up as well.
I need a new message—one that uplifts—so I decide that each time I see the car, I’ll think about the transformational opportunity my operation affords me. The next day as I pass the wreck, I think how glad I am that I survived the surgery. Obviously, I am a strong person. I begin to think about how empathetic I am due to my early trauma. And I ponder the fact that I am passionate about my true purpose in life because of my near death experience as a baby. Associating the word “transformation” with the car invites me to realize the positive things that I have learned from surviving an early surgery without anesthesia. In doing this, I change my brain.
As I understand it, changing one’s thinking is changing one’s brain. According to Dr. Doidge, author of The Brain that Changes Itself, the brain is plastic; it grows and changes throughout our lives. He writes, “The brain is a far more open system than we ever imagined, and nature has gone very far to help us perceive and take in the world around us. It has given us a brain that survives in a changing world by changing itself” (26). I like to think that each time I pass that car and think of something positive, I change my brain into one that serves me better. Doidge mentions Mark Rosenzweig, “one of the first scientists to demonstrate neuroplasticity by showing that activity could produce changes in the structure of the brain” (35). Moreover, in the course of writing the book, “[Doidge] saw people rewire their brains with their thoughts, to cure previously incurable obsessions and traumas” (xix). In other words, our thinking can cure us. We can rewire out brains—literally. So let’s not put up with PTSD. Let’s acknowledge our symptoms and then change the way we think and, therefore, change our brains and the quality of our lives.