A strategy for defeating negative, intrusive, and potentially triggering thought patterns. This includes personal experience with this practice, a brief explanation of Buddhist Wrathful Deities, and help brainstorming to get you started on finding something similar that works for you.
TW/CW: Descriptions of imagined graphic violence (throat cutting), and discussion of triggering thought patterns.
The article I quote in this episode:
Hi, thank you for joining me. I’m Hecate, and this is Finding OK, a healing podcast for survivors of sexual assault and abuse.
Today’s Content Warnings are descriptions of imagined graphic violence, specifically – throat cutting. There’s also discussions of triggering thought patterns. Check in with yourself, make sure you’re ok to continue.
Today’s episode is about defeating intrusive thought patterns. What I mean by intrusive thought patterns is something that’s reoccurring for you, something that disrupts your day, disrupts your thinking, thoughts that will pop in – deeply uninvited – and will often be hypotheticals, worst case scenarios, um, possibly thoughts about your attackers or you abusers.
Um, or perhaps new attackers or abusers. Thoughts that tend to spiral out of control, lead you down a rabbit hole, often end up leading to panic attacks, or having to exit situations, or being too afraid to even enter new situations, things that can end up leading to flashbacks.
Basically, they are very disruptive, “What ifs”. For me this usually manifested in imagined confrontations with abusers from the past, of meeting them again and having conflict with them. It was either usually this, or imagining my worst case scenario.
Of imagining what could happen to me that would be even worse than what’s happened to me already. And, imagining something happening to me that would completely, and totally break me.
These were reoccurring and very intrusive. At one point in my life they would happen almost constantly throughout my day. So, they would be interrupting me every step I tried to take just living a normal life.
It became almost impossible to function because I was constantly having panic attacks and I was afraid to leave the house, to enter into new situations. I was afraid to leave and be outside where something even worse might happen to me.
It would be like having my abuser, invisible to everyone else, whispering into my ear. This was at its worst quite a few years ago, and I wanted to talk about because over time, organically, I found a way to combat it within my own mind that worked extremely well for me.
And I wanted to share it in the hopes that others might be able to find something similar that works for them, that they would be able to adapt this strategy and utilize it to make their lives better.
I tried for a long time to try and make these thoughts stop once they started, to exit the thought pattern but without any real exit strategy. So, with the idea, which is always doomed to failure, which is, “Just stop thinking what I’m thinking.” And…it doesn’t work.
In order to explain what I started doing instead you have to have seen the movie Hannibal. And, it’s sort of weird because this is the second time that I’ve mentioned Hannibal Lecter and you might be wondering, “Why am I listening to this person who seems so into this serial killer?”
I…I don’t know. I just, I guess I just appreciate that…he values politeness so much. I don’t know what to tell you. All I can say is, I can assure you from the depths of my heart that I don’t condone murder or cannibalism. Unless it’s in survival situations. And then, just the cannibalism. But that’s not the point.
In any case! During the movie Hannibal there’s a scene where one of the Sardinian assassins has come to abduct him and, in a darkened room, calls out or whispers and Hannibal, having sneaked up on him, says, “Yes.” The man turns around and then, with the reflection of the knife glinting eerily on his face – that looks like a predator’s face – he says, very creepily, “Good Evening.”
And then makes a sort of cobra-like, snake strike, hissing sound and slits the man’s throat with a blade. It’s extremely fast and brutal in its decisiveness. There was something about that split second where that snake strike sound of just *hiss* and the strike of the blade. It made a very deep impression on me.
And I found myself, without thinking about it, starting to use that in these hypothetical situations where I would be imagining myself faced with this or that, potential attackers or something of that nature, or a past abuser initiating one of these thought patterns, or one of these scenarios, or starting to say abusive things, or leading me down that rabbit hole.
And, without planning it or thinking about it or investigating it, I started doing that. I started just making that hissing sound and slitting their throats with a curved blade. In the film it’s, it’s a curved blade. I started doing this and I noticed that it worked extremely well.
I found that by utilizing this visualization that I was able to head off the entire vicious cycle. Because these intrusive thoughts were so constant in my life, I found myself in the position where I was slitting throats in my mind multiple times a day.
I could be having a conversation with someone and the same way that the abuser would try to lean in and, you know, start to tell me things in my mind or, you know, start up this negative thought patterns and I could be talking to a friend, having a normal conversation and instead of allowing that to continue, without batting an eye or pausing in my conversation I would quickly slit their throat in my head and just keep talking. And it was in a similar fashion, very quick and decisive.
I’m actually Buddhist, and so it was disturbing to me at a certain point to recognize how many times a day I was committing vicious acts of violence in my mind. I ignored it for a little while and continued simply because, it was working. It was working extremely well; it was working better than anything I had tried in the past.
I tried not to worry about it but at a certain point I just became really concerned and could no longer just continue without fully investigating it and questioning it. And when I did, what I realized was that I wasn’t exactly imagining violence. These weren’t exactly violent thoughts. And that statement needs explaining.
What helped me to realize that what I was doing was not exactly imagining or enacting violence in my mind was realizing that I wasn’t actually imagining slitting these people’s throats. And by that I mean, when I, in my mind took the knife and slit their throat…*humorous tone* There was no arterial spray. There were no gurgles of death. I wasn’t dancing in their blood, cackling.
It wasn’t about killing them or harming them, and it wasn’t even about them. What I was really doing was defeating the thought. That was the decisive nature of that act. When I cut a throat I was killing that thought. I was denying that thought its continued power.
It was not about causing pain, or causing death, or desire to do that in anger or in violence. It was a very simple, decisive, “No. This thought ends here. You do not get to have continued power in my psyche.” And I imagined not the death of a person but the death of a thought. It was like cutting smoke in two, and it would evaporate or curl away into non-existence.
And when I made that distinction, what I realized was that I was not imagining violent acts. What I was doing was defending myself with ferocious compassion. And what I connected this to was actually something that will makes more sense if you have knowledge of Buddhism and Buddhist deities.
I’m going to proceed assuming that you do not. Within Buddhism, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, peaceful beings exist, and they have wrathful counterparts. The existence of wrathful deities led to a lot of misunderstanding when Westerners first made contact with Tibetan Buddhists. They looked at the paintings and assumed that these Buddhists were actually worshiping demons.
If you do a quick Google Image Search for “Buddhist Wrathful Deity” if you are a Westerner, you will assume that you are looking at a demon because their attributes are such that they look fucking scary. They’re supposed to look fucking scary.
The idea, the concept is that they have to take on these terrifying attributes in order to be able to defeat, fully, the negative forces in the universe and within ourselves. If you’re interested in learning more about that there’s an excellent article on the subject and it’s found on Buddha Weekly, it’s a webpage, and the title of the article is, “Tantric Wrathful Deities: The Psychology and Extraordinary Power of Enlightened Beings in Their Fearsome Form.”
An excerpt from this article reads, ‘Why would anyone wish to conjure up such apparently horrible images of Enlightenment? Vessantara explains: “On a deeper level, dharmapalas throw back into the shadows the forces of nightmare and madness which always threaten to tear loose and subjugate the human psyche.” Interestingly, many psychologists, Preece among them, have analyzed wrathful practice and found it psychologically sound. In the same way, a psychiatrist might ask a patient to face his past traumas—often deeply buried in the subconscious—the Tantra practitioner faces the obstacles to Enlightenment.
The highly advanced practices of Tantra actually “transform” the negatives, instead of suppressing them. Stated another way, the purpose of wrathful deity practice is none other than converting our negative karmas and emotions into a force for Enlightenment, helping us understand Emptiness. Or, more traditionally stated, removing the obstacles in our practice, whether external or internal.’
The author of the article is Lee Kane and I can’t suggest it enough. Especially if you’re not familiar with Buddhism or wrathful deities, or this practice. It’s very accessible, Western metaphors are used, including a very effective one involving Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator.
There are bikers. It’s a good read. Give it a try. To be clear, and this is clarified within the article, this Tantric practice that is referred to, the use of the wrathful deities directly in this manner is not recommended without guidance.
What I started to do was done without realizing it. It happened organically, I stumbled into it. I took what was familiar to me and I adapted it into a semblance of this practice. And I think that’s probably something that’s safer to do.
Especially if you aren’t familiar with Buddhism or familiar with the wrathful deities, that’s something that I would suggest. I found it very interesting too, when I started looking back at this, uh, because this happened many years ago, I remembered this technique that I had started to use and how well it worked. And, when I was putting together this episode, I started thinking more about it, doing some more research.
What I found, actually, and fully realized now that I actually am more familiar with the wrathful deities and with Buddhist iconography I realized that the curved blade which Hannibal Lecter had used in the movie, but which I had kept for my visualizations. I had kept a curved blade. And the curved blade within Buddhist iconography is significant.
It’s a flaying knife and it is held aloft by wrathful deities and known as the blade of the Dakinis. It is used to sever conceptualizations. It is used as an instrument of wisdom, of fierce wisdom. It is used to symbolize that sometimes wisdom needs a sharp edge. And that is true of wisdom, and of compassion, and that feeds directly into this practice.
Sometimes wisdom needs a sharp edge, and sometimes compassion needs a fierce face. The curved blade is also actually an athame which is used by witches, so…levels!
But, coming back around, how does this apply to you? And here’s where it’s kind of fun because it’s gonna to look completely different for every single person that does this. You get to try this out. You get to create your own visualization. You get to explore this and…tinker.
Find what’s right for you. In this day and age, in terms of visualizations, so many of us watch movies and TV shows. It’s entirely possible that it’s going to be something that will come from something like that. It could also come from a book that you love. A book that has been a big part of your life.
Maybe there’s a scene in it with a really decisive moment and action that you always visualized really strongly, that you’re capable of visualizing really strongly. Maybe you love Harry Potter. Cast the spell that makes you feel powerful and fierce, something fast and decisive. Maybe you love Marvel, maybe you’re really into superheroes.
What was your favorite movie? Who’s your favorite superhero? What are their powers? What’s that one moment that like, rings out to you as, “ultimate badass”. What makes you feel like the ultimate badass, and is fast decisive, clean, and just completely annihilates that thought?
And remember that it’s not about decimating that figure or that person because it’s not about the person. They’re not there! It’s just a thought! It’s you against you. It’s you against abstract. It’s you against fear, against powerlessness, against loss of control.
Personally, I think part of what made the visualization I used so effective was, that it was so fast. That it wasn’t long and involved. I was able to do that in a matter of seconds because I didn’t make a whole transformative thing about, you know, becoming something. And the blade was just in my hands, and I didn’t conjure it, I didn’t pull it from hammer space.
It just happened instantaneously and I was able to do that without thought, without effort. And it made these intrusive thoughts so much less disruptive because I was able to take care of it in an instant, without effort. I have to say, I kind of really want to know what you come up with.
So, if you do this and you come up with your visualization, something that works for you, something that you’re using…Tell me about it! Write to me! I totally want to hear about it and would love to share some of them as well.
The email to reach out is firstname.lastname@example.org. And write to me! Tell me about it. Write to me and ask me questions, uh, have episode requests. I wanna hear from you. So, yep! That’s where I can be found.
And I think that’s it for now and this ended up being the longest episode so far but there was kind of a lot to it. So, certainly they’ll get longer especially when I start interviewing people which I’m really excited about.
And uh, yeah. I’m really glad that you joined me. I hope this is helpful. Please try it out. And please let me know. So, I hope everyone takes care. Thank you so much for joining me. I’m Hecate and this was Finding OK.