- What are other implications if memory reconsolidation theory is true?
- Can you do this by yourself without a partner?
- What emotional commitments are necessary for this to work?
- What do you do if your partner starts thinking about the trigger when she blinks instead of just blinks?
- Do I really have to say, “I love you…” “…I’m here”?
- Will different words work?
- What if the preferred experience is triggering?
- What if you are the Anchor and it’s hard to shift into a loving state during the exercise?
- Why blinking?
- Can you do something besides blink?
- Why avoid going into the memory?
- Why do therapy at all if this technique is so helpful?
- How should I handle it if my partner seems calm but is reporting high SUDS still?
- I’m just comforting my partner, not doing a research project. Is doing the SUDS really necessary?
- Why don’t we take SUDS prior to doing this so we can have a proper before and after comparison?
What are other implications if memory reconsolidation theory is true?
If this is true, and I believe it is, then it has all kinds of implications for how many of the normal things that we already do can be transformed into healing mechanisms. For example, if you are part of a spiritual community and get a sense of awe when you worship, you could come up with a rhythmic pattern that may match the music you are listening to and blink or snap or clap your hands as a way of acknowledging a particular thing on your USB drive, while staying in the state of worship. Again, just with a different mechanism, lighting up preferred prefrontal cortex part of the brain and the Amygdala at the same time. I hypothesize that this is the biological mechanism creating emotional healing elements in Pentecostal worship.
Clients who really enjoy dancing have found a way to get themselves into a preferred state dancing then (while enjoying their dancing) blinking or snapping their fingers as a way of acknowledging their trigger on their USB drive. That also works for them (but not me since I suck at dancing so much it cannot be an internal resource for me).
It is probably the same mechanism in the brain (just with a different protocol) that causes the Emotion Freedom Technique (EFT) to work. EFT has a protocol of mixing naming the threat and naming being loved while self-soothing through tapping on the Maridian Line. They may postulate that there is a different healing mechanism. But that technique also is combining preferred and non-preferred experiences in real time.
And I think that it is the same mechanism that causes long term talk therapy to work. In long term talk therapy, client gets a preferred experience over time by experiencing love/caring from a therapist who listens well while they talk about negative things in their life. Again, mixing of preferred and non-preferred experiences simultaneously.
My only problem with long term talk therapy is that it takes so long and if in the first session, the client could learn how to get themselves into preferred states and heal their own wounds, then the therapy with the therapist might move faster.
Can you do this by yourself without a partner?
The initial technique that was modified to develop CART was an individual-focused technique developed by Phil Manfield, called the Flash Technique. To do this yourself, you simply tap your knees – left, right, left – 1.5 seconds apart, instead of having someone squeeze your hands. Everything else is pretty much the same.
When you do it yourself, make sure you don’t think of the trauma at all except for when you are naming the story that is being put on the USB drive. Don’t even think of the story then, just provide the name of the story. When fluttering, be aware of the existence of a flash drive without even saying the word flash drive. Also, when people do this by themselves, they have a tendency to speed up the taps when they flutter their eyes. So after you flutter, try to stay in the preferred experience and intentionally slow down the tapping to 1.5 seconds.
Also, if you are practicing this technique on your own, expect it to take a few more rounds. I think the CART technique works better than the Flash Technique because people are encouraged to stay in their preferred internal experiences and there is more interpersonal co-regulatory resourcing happening. And knowing how to reduce your reactiveness to thoughts or events that trigger anxiety is really helpful as well.
What emotional commitments are necessary for this to work?
For this technique to be effective, the Anchor needs to be willing to put aside their experience, objections, opportunities to clarify the facts, etc. while providing nurturance to their partner, regardless of what their partner says. They need to be able to “parking-lot” (or set aside) objections to their partner’s experience.
Also, the Loved One needs to be willing to consider that it is a good thing for themselves and others if their nervous system is soothed. Many of us have internalized a cultural narrative that it is important to stay in an “angry/hurt/victim” state for our voice to matter. This kind of belief is misguided.
Some examples of this include:
“If I’m not furious about the affair, it might mean I am OK that the affair happened.”
“I have to maintain a state of grief because we are in a pandemic and if I don’t, it means I don’t care about the pandemic.”
“I have to be in an angry, vigilant state because Trump is the president. (This implies that my emotional or nervous state needs to be activated, and if it is not, that means I am ok with Trump’s policies).
“I need to be tight and angry and tense because you bring the cell phone into our bed instead of connecting. If I don’t drop my tightness it means I’m ok with you not connecting with me.”
Sometimes we are afraid to relax or drop our state of vigilance for fear that doing so would somehow legitimize what we deem abhorrent or unacceptable (i.e., staying hyper-aroused is somehow means we care). In order for CART to work, the Loved One needs to let go of these underlying beliefs, and be willing to let their nervous systems be soothed.
What do you do if your partner starts thinking about the trigger when she blinks instead of just blinks?
Sometimes you need to remind people that you are not thinking about any content on the USB drive, not even the title of the story. In fact, you are not even picturing a USB drive. Much like you might nod your head as a way of saying “Hi,” you are engaging in a symbolic action. I’ll use a metaphor of a cowboy nodding his hat as a way of saying “Howdy partner.” When he nods his hat, he’s not thinking of the other person’s name, nor the words “howdy partner,” but on a body level, there is a quick acknowledgment of the existence of the other. By blinking, we are just acknowledging the existence of a piece of plastic that holds a computer chip called a USB drive that happens to have a folder in it with a Word 97 file in it that happens to have a story on it.
Do I really have to say, “I love you…” “…I’m here”? Will different words work?
You don’t have to say “I love you.” I have found it helpful to use different phrases sometimes, since my raw spot is to feel unloved, and to doubt whether my partner will really show up for me. If you have a different raw spot, then a different verbal affirmation may be more helpful for you. Other common validations could include: “You are precious,” “Your voice is worthy,” “You are worthy of safety,” “You are allowed to be you,” “You are worthy of space.” You guys can negotiate what can be said. If you can, try to get it into 3 syllables. So, for example, if the validation is “Your voice is worthy of being heard,” then find a way of putting it together and shortening the cadence, for example, “Your voice is worthy / and I’m here,” “Yes, your voice” / “and I’m here”, then shift it to “voice worthy / and I’m here”, “worthy voice / and I’m here”.
It may sound kind of clunky, but the softness in the tone of your voice, the gentleness in your eyes, and the generosity of spirit when whispering or gently sharing your validation makes it so the words don’t really need to have correct grammar. We are slowly communicating with the part of your partner’s brain that processes love rather than the part of your partner’s brain that edits grammar.
What if the preferred experience is triggering?
Feel free to change what preferred experience you are using if it the Loved One accidentaly starts dwelling on the content of the USB drive. For example, I had to switch an internal resource from having a hippy Jesus hugging me to a beautiful experience of nature for my partner to help me clear something in my nervous system because for some reason feeling Jesus’s love activated my USB trigger because the content on my drive had to do with not really believing my partner was really going to be there for me (love me). So, since “love” as a resource was sticky for me, we just found another resource (a beautiful scene in nature that was awe inspiring for me) and then CART was successful. After my SUDS got to a zero, “love” was no longer a trigger for me.
What if you are the Anchor and it’s hard to shift into a loving state during the exercise?
Sometimes it is hard to embody the loving feeling (for whatever reason). Perhaps you are tired? Perhaps you are wounded in a way that makes being loving scary? Perhaps you are still pissed at your partner over something stupid? Whatever the reason, you still have a lovingness within your heart that is inside of you. Your job is to access that state of lovingness so you can actually give it to your partner. For the next 15 minutes for this exercise (and hopefully forever, if you are able to do it), commit to being loving towards your partner regardless of whether she was just evil or good to you. You are owning your lovingness. If there is a Spirit, the Spirit planted it within you. If there is just Darwin, then evolution wired it into your brain. Whatever beliefs you have or metaphors you use, the love is already there. Your job is to access it so there is a felt sense of it (and not just loving words without a loving spirit behind them). Love needs to be alive in you for this to work best.
So, if it is hard for you to access the lovingness in your own body in the present, then what you need to do is tell your partner that you will do the exercise with them in a few minutes. Go into a different room and imagine somebody that is easy for you to love. You can imagine your child, a niece or nephew, a pet, Jesus or Buddha, a close friend, a drinking buddy, a friend from 10 years ago who moved away, Mr. Rogers, angels, demons (but only if they are good demons to you). In your mind’s eye, take a walk or sit next to them and let yourself love them in the way that you would, could, or did.
What you are doing is waking up the neuro-pathways in your own brain that are capable of love. Imagine how you feel. Imagine how they feel. In your mind’s eye, feel the hug. Feel the care in their heart, whether it is spoken or unspoken. Notice the tone in your voice that you would use in comforting them. Pay attention to that tone because that is the tone you are going to use with your partner. Do this for 3 minutes longer than you think necessary. So, if you think 3 seconds is enough, do this for 3 minutes and 3 seconds. If you think 10 minutes is enough, do it for 13 minutes. We want to marinate your brain in lovingness.
Only after you wake up your lovingness, return to your partner. Choose to use the self that is loving. I believe this is the deeper you that preceded whatever habituated patterns you took on that robbed you of the ability to access your lovingness. Be committed to be this You when you look into her eyes and tell her, “I love you, and I’m here.”
We do the blinking/fluttering because it is an effective mechanism at helping us activate a pre-cursor memory instead of a memory. With a memory, we feel and are impacted by what we experience. We get a thought or sensation or feeling that is activated. With a pre-cursor memory, we are subconsciously aware of the trigger without being consciously impacted. A memory takes 0.5 seconds to activate. A pre-cursory memory takes 0.2 seconds to activate. Blinks happen to take about 0.2 seconds.
We want to activate a pre-cursory memory (not an actual memory), so we use a technique of having your partner “flutter” their eyes quickly and NOT think about the fact that the USB drive exists. Blinking your eyes takes 0.2 seconds (per blink), so by getting somebody to flutter their eyes as a way of being aware that the USB drive exists, we are activating a “pre-cursor memory” a few times in a row as opposed to a “memory.”
We are not asking the Loved One to close their eyes for a couple of seconds and dwell on the trigger, because that could cause them be activated. If the Loved One does this by accident, just remind them to only blink and focus on a detail they have in their preferred experience, or encourage them to focus on your eyes. Let them know that they accidentaly thought about the trigger and that is ok, but then suggest that they try to just blink for the hell of it and not worry about connecting the blinking to anything in particular.
Is the assessment phase really necessary?
Yes and no. It is not the healing element. But since the transformation is largely unconscious, there is no cathartic relief that one might get in another type of therapy. So, sometimes it might feel like nothing really happened. And without getting real feedback that it actually makes a difference, one might think the technique is irrelevant and not use it to clear other triggers. So, no, it doesn’t make a difference in the actual healing. But yes, it is necessary to motivate each other to make a list of all the things we find triggering and do our work in clearing or significantly reducing them.
Why all the breathing?
The breathing is not essential for this technique. At first, I just had clients of mine take a few breaths as a way of acknowledging that we are going to change gears from doing the technique to doing the assessment phase. It is an additional resource because it is relaxing. And it normalizes self-soothing of the nervous system.
Are “V” breaths really necessary?
I think no. They are not necessary. However, I think they are helpful for another reason; they add a self-soothing tool to your partner’s repertoire.
I tested the “V” breaths out myself comparing my own nervous system’s response to the breathing exercises I was already doing, and found that the “V” breaths were far superior in calming my nervous system. I use the Heart Math’s device that measures heart rate variation (HRV) as a way of measuring what they call “coherence” (the nervous system being calmer).
Since then, I’ve learned that it takes it least 9 breaths for our parasympathetic nervous system to get activated (that is the part of our nervous system that allows us to chill out, relax, digest food, etc.). Our sympathetic nervous system, when it is too activated, creates anxiety. I now have my clients breath 10 times instead of three times (what I arbitrarily had them do before). I also have them do “V” breaths instead of normal exhales since I found them so much more useful myself.
I am not convinced that the “V” breaths are the healing element in making something less triggering. I believe that they are worth doing because they are an excellent way of self-soothing an overwhelmed nervous system (something we all need, right!?). So, if you are uncomfortable with the “V” breaths or have a shortage of time, you can skip them. But I highly recommend incorporating them into this exercise.
Is the left/right squeezing really necessary?
Probably not. This method is inspired from somebody who was enhancing the EMDR modality. In EMDR, there is a belief that bilateral stimulation is necessary or important because it causes different parts of the brain to wake up and listen while the person is processing their trauma. The idea being that part of their brain is typically not listening as a way of protecting the person from absolute overwhelm, and bilateral stimulation bypasses that defense and allows the trauma work to actually land. People have done this technique without tapping or squeezing (bilateral stimulation) and it still works. I think it adds another layer of love as well as another distraction technique (distracting the Loved One from accidentally thinking of the trigger).
Why five sets of flutters?
I adopted this technique from Phil Manfield’s “Flash Technique” and he has five sets. I believe that it is arbitrary. Five sets seems to be enough to make a difference in the SUDS. As far as I am concerned, it does not have to be five. It can be 4, 7, 10 sets. When I do this, I don’t stick to five sets. I might do a few more. So, the number of breaths, the number of eye blinks in a flutter, and the number of flutters might not matter so much. I might feel different when I try to validate this academically. Do however many sets you want, but 5 or more sets almost always makes a difference in the SUDS level with the clients that I’ve worked with.
Why the blinking?
People might sometimes think it is weird. “I’m just supposed to blink? I’m not supposed to think of anything?” The reason that this works in activating a pre-cursor memory is because we’ve already planted the idea that the USB drive is connected with their “trigger story,” so even if they are not consciously thinking of it, another part of their brain is, in real time, aware of the “trigger story.” It is almost like subliminal messaging.
Can you do something besides blink?
Other mechanisms could likely work, as well. What comes to mind is things like tapping or putting a finger back and forth through a candle, or opening and shutting a book, or any other physical activity that takes 0.2 seconds to accomplish. The important thing is to access a pre-cursor memory and not a memory (to make this painless, so anyone can do it).
Why avoid going into the memory?
You can go into the memory if you like, but people are more capable of learning biologically when they are under less stress. Working with the pre-cursor memory is not painful, so the brain has more resources available for learning. If you want to go into a trauma memory, be sure to do it with someone with trauma therapy training, such as an EMDR or Somatic Experiencing therapist. Talking about trauma in typical talk-therapy can exacerbate the trauma rather than help.
There are many modalities that go into the trauma experience. They believe it is useful to activate the dysregulated experience and provide a corrective emotional experience. This corrective emotional experience while the traumatized/triggered part of the brain is lit up allows for rewiring of brain circuitry. There is nothing a matter with those techniques. I often use them myself, as a therapist. You just need more training to ensure no harm is added. We are just at the beginning stages of coming out of the Dark Age when it comes to our understanding of the brain. We now know that we do not need to activate a full memory but are able to activate a pre-cursor memory and if we have a corrective or preferred experience when that pre-cursor memory is activated, the brain rewires itself in a preferred way. With the CART technique, since it insists on not reliving the trauma, it is safe for more people to use at home.
Why do therapy at all if this technique is so helpful?
CART heals wounds on the level of the nervous system. It is excellent for rewiring which part of your brain processes a non-preferred experience. By getting the prefrontal cortex to process the trauma instead of the amygdala, we can be aware of a negative experience and observe it and have normal thoughts and feelings about it. If the amygdala is processing the same material, we get our fight/flight/freeze part of our brain dealing with the dilemma and we have high anxiety.
What CART does not do is heal wounds on the level of self. We all develop narratives as a result of challenging life circumstances, and some (many) of those work against us later in life. Other forms of therapy can be very effective in addressing the beliefs or strategies that are no longer helping us.
CART will not help with underlying thought patterns, such as:
- “I’m bad.”
- “It’s my fault.”
- “I’m not worthy of love.”
- “I need to please others and not consider my own voice.”
- “I consider my preferences and don’t consider others’ preferences.”
- “I’m only worthy of love if I perform well (am smart, a good lover, rich, etc.).”
I recommend Re-Creation of the Self therapy, Hakomi, and talk therapy to address these types of wounds.
How should I handle it if my partner seems calm but is reporting high SUDS still?
This sometimes takes repeating because people often will say they have a level 1-3 when they actually are not disturbed at all. So, if that happens, remind her of the difference between her own nervous system and the story on the USB drive.
You might give an example like, “Trump getting elected is awful but my nervous system right this minute is calm.” Or “I am aware that the Holocaust was terrible, and right this minute while I am aware of the horror of it, I feel relaxed.”
Sometimes having those extreme examples are helpful because people often have internalized (and unhelpful) ideas that presume they can only really care about something if their nervous system is jacked.
Ask them what their SUDS would have been an hour ago if they were aware of the USB drive content. How is it different now?
I’m just comforting my partner, not doing a research project. Is doing the SUDS really necessary?
This sounds like it is an unnecessary step, but it is essential to self-assess with SUDS to relieve other triggers. Since the material is not consciously processed, the Loved One does not necessarily have a felt sense of cathartic relief. What we want is for the Loved One to be able to say to you, “An hour ago, when I thought about this, I would have been at a level 7 or 8, and right now, I’m not disturbed at all.” If they are still disturbed, then do another round of 5 flutters and reassess.
Why don’t we take SUDS prior to doing this so we can have a proper before and after comparison?
We don’t take a pre-exercise SUDS because we want to avoid the possibility of accidentally triggering your partner. This exercise should be painless and pleasurable.