“I have these awful images of the affair, and I can’t seem to make them stop. They just keep playing over and over again like a horror film. I see him with her doing . unnamable things . It feels like I am slowly going crazy .”
I hear my clients say things like this all the time. They are haunted by images of their spouses cheating with the paramour-even when they have no idea what the paramour looks like or what the two of them might have done together.
Despite their best efforts to stop this barrage of painful images they can’t seem to shut off their mental movies.
It’s one of the awful, though not at all uncommon, outcomes of being injured by an affair.
In many cases, the injured person will imagine aspects of the affair and then play the images over and over again until they harden into a rigid pattern.
If this has happened to you, it may feel like you have lost control of the movies that play in your mind. They seem to take on a life of their own and play on and on no matter how hard you try to turn them off.
You might even begin to feel like you are “losing your mind.”
Rest assured. You are not going crazy. Actually, the mental movies you play of the affair are a relatively normal response to the trauma you have been through.
As humans, we often run slide shows or movies in our minds. We do this for all kinds of reasons-to remember past events, to anticipate what may happen in the future, and to make sense of the reality we are dealing with in the present moment.
However, being normal doesn’t necessarily make it healthy.
The problem with the mental “horror” movies after the discovery of an affair is that you respond to them emotionally as if they were real. Every time these images flash through your mind, it’s like you are reliving the pain and trauma you experienced when you found out about the affair.
This makes it more difficult to heal from the pain and rebuild your marriage.
So how do you get rid of these images that haunt you?
Well, you have to begin by recognizing the obvious-things you already know when you think about it:
1. The images aren’t real. Even if you caught them in the act or even if they have some other basis in reality (for example if you know the paramour and your spouse has revealed the details of the affair), what is happening in your head is still in your head. It is not occurring in the real world.
2. Your mind is your territory-no one else can put images or thoughts there; only you can do that.
3. You’re in charge of your mind if and when you take charge of your mind (a corollary to #2.).
As I said, you know all this already. You know the images aren’t real. You know your mind is your own. And you know you are in charge of what happens in your brain even though sometimes it doesn’t seem like it. That’s one of the reasons you are so frustrated-you’ve tried and tried, but you still can’t manage to press the stop button on this awful horror film.
In the rest of this article I am going to help you solve that problem by giving you a visualization exercise which can help you put an end to the images that haunt you.
To start that process I want to ask you a question:
Are you sure you are ready to give up these painful fantasies?
I know the answer may seem absurdly self-evident on the surface. But one of the reasons you might not have already given up these fantasies is because they justify your pain in some way.
Perhaps you hold on to them because they show you that you have the right to feel the way you do. Or, you might have some other reason for holding on to these hurtful images. Work this out first, then you can continue to the exercise below.
When you are ready, the following technique will help you free yourself from the images that have haunted you and from the pain they have caused.
Changing Your Vision: A Visualization for Overcoming Images that Haunt You
You will need about half an hour to complete the following exercise. Secure a quiet spot where you will be uninterrupted during that time, then follow these steps:
Step 1: Calm Your Mind
Close your eyes and take a few slow, deep breaths. Allow your mind to unwind and relax. Feel the tension pouring out of your body with each exhalation. Feel your body begin to completely unwind. If you have my book How to Survive an Affair, you can use the breathing exercises in Chapter 2 to help you do this.
Step 2: Bring the Image to Mind
When you are ready, bring the fantasy you have been struggling with to mind. Imagine it in as much detail as you can. Take some time to see the vision completely. It may be painful to do this, but facing this pain is your first step to freeing yourself from it.
Step 3: Change Your Vision
Once you have the image strongly in your mind, try and manipulate it in the following ways:
. First, see if you can play the image in reverse. Imagine the mental movie you are playing is a DVD and you can walk up to the machine and hit the rewind button.
How is this for you? Does it change the emotional impact of the image? If it makes some difference, even a tiny bit, try bringing the image to mind and rewinding it five more times making the movie go in reverse progressively faster until it becomes a blur.
Pause between each rewinding, take a breath, look around you, and check inside yourself what emotional impact, if any, there might be.
. Next try manipulating the size and shape of the images. Tune in to the various objects in your visualization. You might see your spouse or her paramour for example. Or you may be focusing on specific parts of the body. Or you might see a bed, a room, or other objects in the room. Take each of these objects and consciously alter its size and shape.
For example, you might see a lamp on a bedside table. Imagine the lamp was twenty feet tall instead of a normal sized lamp on a normal sized table. Give it cartoonish properties in your mind. To experiment further, you can also change the color of the object you are visualizing.
Go from object to object manipulating each one’s characteristics. Which changes help you feel better? Those are the changes you will want to keep.
. Now change the auditory elements of your mental movie. If your mental movie comes complete with a soundtrack, make it silent, or change the sounds or the volume. If you hear people speaking, imagine they are speaking in the voice of a cartoon character, not in their normal voice.
As you make changes, keep checking for which ones help you feel better.
. Finally, find other ways to manipulate your images. Once you have gone through the steps above, it may occur to you that there are other ways you could manipulate these images as well. For example, if you are watching the scene play out in your mind’s eye as you would on a movie screen, you may change the “camera position” from which you perceive the “shot.”
There are virtually endless ways you can manipulate the images in your mind, so feel free to experiment with them as much as you wish.
Once you are satisfied that you have changed your movie to something that helps you feel better, take a few more slow, deep breaths, open your eyes, look around the room, and gently bring yourself out of the exercise.
This visualization exercise is designed to help you in a number of ways.
First, it gives you a tangible way to realize that these images are happening in your brain.
Second, it helps break the rigid pattern mental movies like these tend to take.
Finally, the exercise diminishes the emotional impact of the images. By changing the image, you develop new ways of thinking that are potentially less painful than what you have been experiencing, and might even provide you with a new resource for handling the situation.
In fact, if you do the exercise regularly you can get the images to stop playing in your mind entirely and be free from the pain and horror you have been suffering with so long.
This will allow you to turn your mental energy to more meaningful pursuits-like saving your relationship.
Let me know how it goes with you. I’d love to hear about your marriage.
What kind of images are you haunted by?
Have you tried the exercise in this article to get rid of them?
What effect did it have for you?
Are you free of the mental movies you have been suffering with? If so, what has this changed for you and your marriage?
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