For a long time, books/movies affected me deeply. Films where cheating or violence occurred disturbed me more deeply than they did most people, I found. There were times when I would start crying during sexually violent scenes, throw down the book or shut off the movie, and refuse to watch/read anymore. Now, I generally pride myself on being open-minded, but I couldn’t do it. Each time, it was like having an instant reaction, an instinctual freak-out, where I physically and mentally could NOT handle watching/reading that scene for another second.
I always wondered why I would do this, when others seemed so calm comparatively. Granted, I am aware that violence/cheating/abuse in various media can and does often affect people, but I seemed to react particularly strongly. I realize now that these art forms were stirring up the buried emotions towards my own past and various traumas.
That is one of the biggest changes I have noticed during my healing process. Through talk therapy, writing, movement, art, etc., I have learned that, as simple as it may seem, that if something is happening to someone else/in a movie, it does NOT mean that it is happening or is GOING TO HAPPEN to me. Before, I internalized everything bad that happened to anyone else, and took it to mean that I was doomed as well. I took it personally, deeply, and I hurt intensely.
I’m not saying we should be numb, or give up on empathy, I think empathy is a very important aspect of what makes us all human. However, what I had to learn was, just because bad things happen, doesn’t mean that bad things will ALWAYS happen. Or that they will always happen to ME. Since I feel more healed, reading and watching media that deals with these subjects hasn’t affected me as much.
Whenever I feel those panic emotions start to rise if something in the art/movie/book triggers a flashback, I set the media aside for a moment. I take a deep breath and I tell myself that everything is all right. That it is just fiction, that it is not happening to me. That I am in control of my life now. That there’s no need to plan for that type of scenario, nor to expect it as a given. This technique has helped me immensely, and can be a very interesting exercise in aiding the healing process.
For me, I tested myself with the book “Choke” by Chuck Palahniuk. In the story, the protagonist is a sex addict, and the literary scenes can be pretty graphic at times. It was an interesting exercise for me to read this book and use it as a tool to retrain my brain/instincts. Every time a graphic sex scene would occur, I would simply take a deep breath and tell myself that everything was okay. That this was just a particularly dramatic scene. That I would never have to do anything like that simply because I would never want to. I reminded myself that no one is ever allowed to make me feel like I have to anymore. It was an exercise in overcoming violent, physical reactions, and in deciding on/defining my personal boundaries. I could go through this book, and say to myself, No, I am NOT comfortable doing that, and if the opportunity ever arose, I would tell whoever that I am not, and will not do that activity.
The point is, this exercise has helped me retrain my brain; and retrain my overreactions to fiction to a normal, healthy reaction. Yes, it’s okay to react to something strongly, but now I no longer have to throw a book away and cry because of some sentences I cannot change. I now know that just because something graphic/upsetting happens in fiction, it doesn’t mean it will automatically happen to me as well.