The suitcase: a visualisation to help contain intrusive thoughts and images
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Jo Baker
23rd October, 20170 Comments
We’ve all had times when we have felt ourselves thinking about something that we don’t want to think about; it might be 2am and we are worrying about a conversation that we had earlier, or we keep remembering something unpleasant or distressing that we don’t want to think about at this moment.
You can use this exercise to help you put away whatever it is that is troubling you, to take out at another time when you are more equipped or have some time to deal with it, or you have some support.
1. In your mind’s eye, imagine a suitcase. Really think about what kind of suitcase it is, is it one of those old-fashioned ones that clasp at the side, or is it a big Harry Potter style trunk. It needs to be pretty robust. Really allow yourself to see the details of the fastenings, the colour, the texture, the feel of the fabric on the inside (if it has any).
2. Next, mentally put it somewhere, preferably in the place that you will deal with it, but if not, even just out of the room may help. For example, if it is an old trauma or something distressing, you might want to put it in your therapist’s office to deal with next time you’re in (if you have one), or you can imagine it being held by your Higher Power (if you have one), or just even just outside the door (although not in the street, you don’t want to feel like someone might walk off with it!). If you are thinking about work, maybe put the suitcase by your workstation. You get the idea; the point is to put it somewhere that it will stay safe until it’s appropriate for you to deal with it.
3. Once you feel that you have really imagined your suitcase, put your problem, thoughts or situation inside, and really imagine yourself closing the suitcase, step by step. The problem may even bulge at the seams; you can use additional straps and buckles to make sure it’s closed really tight. Promise yourself that you will deal with the problem another time. Specify a time or a place, even write it down in your diary if that helps.
4. When your thoughts recur, remember that your problem is safely tucked away in your suitcase, to be dealt with another time. Your thoughts will recur, this is normal and human; the trick is partly in the repetition.
5. Keep your promise, and open your suitcase at the allotted time. Deal with it as best you can, if you can, and if you can’t, allocate another time to deal with it. You can write this down in your diary too.
Tips and notes
- This can work very well with trauma flashbacks, memories and intrusive thoughts. However, if intrusive thoughts are really bothering you and you’re not already in therapy, it might be worth thinking about seeing a therapist. There are plenty of free and low-cost services out there that will be able to help you if you can’t afford to see someone privately.
- It may be that you’re worrying about something that you can’t immediately change, like a job that you’re unhappy in or an ongoing worrying financial situation. You can still set aside some time to think about it another time if it’s interrupting your thoughts when you’re trying to do something else, like spend time with yourself, your family and friends, work, or sleep.
- It is really important that you do come back to whatever it is that you’ve put in your suitcase: doing this builds your trust in yourself and will allow you to relax a bit more the next time, as you will know that you really will deal with it when the time comes.
- And finally, if you find yourself putting an awful lot of things in your suitcase and then consistently avoiding them, it might be worth thinking about what is going on for you. It may be that you are just overwhelmed at that moment in your life and struggling to keep on top of things, but if it continues, it may well be worth having a few sessions with a therapist to get some support.
About the author
An experienced UPCA accredited psychotherapeutic counsellor, Jo specialises in individual therapy for women. She works partly from her private practice in Lewes, East Sussex and partly with survivors of domestic and sexual violence for a charity in London.
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