My previous few blog articles have looked at the devastating effect shame after trauma can have on us.  This article describes how the use of a simple but powerful tool known as an anchor,  can help you to combat the feeling. Anchors are taken from NLP, an approach to communication, personal development, and psychotherapy created by Richard Bandler and John Grinder in California in the 1970s. If you have heard of Pavlov’s experiments with dogs, you will see the similarities with anchoring. Pavlov sounded a bell as the dog was shown food and the dogs salivated. After some parings of the bell and the food, the bell alone elicited salivation.

Anchors are stimuli that call forth states of mind – thoughts and emotions. For example, the smell of a cake baking may take you back to your childhood. A song on the radio may remind you of a certain person. These anchors work automatically and you may not be aware of the triggers. This exercise involves deliberately creating positive and powerful anchors:

Anchors: a quick guide

In a quiet room, in a comfortable chair, simply relax and focus on your breathing for a couple of minutes. Think about an incident that happened in your past that still makes you feel shameful – not one of the worst memories, but still an uncomfortable feeling. Relive the memory and feel the emotions of it, still gently being aware of your breathing as you do. As you do, touch your left thumb to one of your left fingers and hold that contact for thirty seconds. What you’re doing is creating an anchor—a physical action that will trigger the memory and its associated emotions. Then, pull yourself out of the memory by thinking about something neutral and non-threatening and simply breathe gently.

Now ask yourself: what resource or skill do I have now that, if I’d had it then, would have enabled me to handle things differently? If it was something that happened in childhood one key difference is that you are now a fully grown adult with physical strength. But also you’re more articulate now, more assertive, more confident, perhaps. Think of a memory when you really showed one of those positive traits such as being strong and confident and remember the positive feelings associated with it. Focus on as many sensory details as you can – how you looked, sounded, felt, what was going on around you – you want the memory to be vivid and specific so as to harness the emotional power of the real event. Create an anchor by holding your right thumb to a finger on your right hand. This anchor will help you call your resource the next time you relive your shaming memory. Again, pull out by thinking of something neutral.

Now go back in time and redo the first shaming experience but this time, give yourself access to the positive resource or skill you’ve just practiced. You do this by sinking into the memory as you touch the anchors on both hands. The goal is to change what you feel while reliving the memory. Tell the shaming person in your memory how angry you are. Tell him that you know he’s trying to pass his shame to you, and you won’t take it, something like “I’m just a small child. How dare you take out your frustrations on me – I did absolutely nothing to deserve it.” Say whatever you feel, and feel free to say it out loud.

Need some advice and support?

If you are struggling with any of the issues raised in this article, or indeed any other emotional issues or life challenges and would like to talk things over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.


Book a counselling session today!


See also: Trauma and ShameCoping with Overwhelming Emotions after Trauma