When you go to a megaplex movie theater, you can walk in and see a variety of kinds of movies. Each brings out different emotions in its audience. A love story might make you feel happy or nostalgic. A thriller could make you feel tense and scared. A science fiction or fantasy movie might bring you into a new world you had never imagined. It might make you feel hopeful or hopeless depending on how the story goes. As soon as someone enters the theater, they start to feel the appropriate feelings. But whether anyone attends the show or not, it costs the theater in energy to run the movie and keep the room comfortable.
When a traumatic event happens to a child,(or even a part older than a child), that child stores the memory of the events, the emotions and body sensations that are felt during that event and, the most damaging of all, the negative beliefs the child has about himself because of the event. Example – A child is beaten. He might feel afraid in his lungs, angry in his fists and sad in his heart. He might believe he is a bad person, he deserved it and he will never amount to anything. All of this becomes a movie the child self from that moment , that age, plays over and over, whether his older self is watching it or not. In fact, the child tries to keep it from his older self, so that the older part can continue to grow up and move on. There are many such ‘movies’ playing for each time the child faces a traumatic event. The more movies, the more energy is needed to keep them all playing but, hidden from the older self. Then one day one of these movies get triggered, now grown, perhaps he finds himself hitting his own child, and the ‘movie’ the child self has been guarding becomes present for the older self complete with the event, emotions, body sensations, and negative beliefs. It feels as if it just happened in living color. This is called a flashback.
When good psychotherapy is done, these trauma ‘movies’ are processed and shut down one by one, freeing up energy to be used in the present moment. This work also frees the child self to finish growing up and join the older self. The adult self may find he stops acting out in childish ways when he gets upset. This work can be very empowering for the client and help him feel like a confident grownup.