Self-Help Skill: Visualization & Objectifying

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Self-Help Skill: Visualization & Objectifying


When visualizing, you use your imagination to create a powerful motivating image in your mind’s eye. Imagination is an ability that everyone has, though few of us make full use of its enormous potential. Many people, instead, use their imaginations to think about all the horrible things that could happen. They catastrophize about what could go wrong and in doing so conjure all of the negative emotions that accompany the imaginary disasters.

Using visualization, you can harness the power of your imagination to guide yourself toward well-thought-out actions that keep you safe and improve the quality of your life.

Your objective is to visualize yourself engaged in positive action scenes in place of self-destructive, impulsive reactions to stressors. A well-visualized scene acts as a model for you to follow when working to modify your behavior. You can motivate yourself to match your behavior to the model created via visualization. Visualization will also help you confront your tendency toward negative thinking, which is one of the consequences of the distorted self-image conditioned by your psycho-traumatization. In fact, the main obstacle that you need to overcome in order to properly utilize visualization is your tendency towards negative thinking. Negative thinking says, “I can never learn this!” and “It won’t work anyway, it’s stupid!” Negative thinking has one purpose only: to keep you trapped in the Borderline Zone.

Practice Exercise 1: Observing Confusion

1. Go to a room where you have a TV, radio, and stereo. Put on a TV show, a station on the radio, and a tape or CD of your choice all at the same time. Set an alarm clock or a timer to go off in fifteen minutes. 

2. Sit in the middle of all this confusion. Close your eyes and describe to yourself what is going on around you and how it is making you feel. Remember, just to sit there with your eyes closed and try to describe your feelings and the situation you just created. What impulses are coming to mind? Do not act on them, just observe and describe them as if you were a TV reporter, 

3. Continue until the alarm goes off. After the exercise write your observations in a “current day” section of a journal. Repeat this exercise until you can do it for thirty minutes without acting on an impulse to the end the session before the alarm goes off.

Practice Exercise 2: Awareness without Emotion

1. Get a tape recorder and record some of your traumatic memories from your journal on a tape (if desired, you can erase the tape as soon as you have competed the exercise). Select passages that still evoke some feelings in you.

2. Play your tape through headphones with the volume on low. Put the TV on. Sit in a comfortable chair and start doing your SDB (Slow Deep Breathing) while repeating your key phrase. Ignore both the TV and the tape.

3. If you start to feel emotional stress, try to focus on the source of the emotions within your body. Is it centered in your stomach, neck, shoulder, head, brain, ect? Then, try to describe how it feels with neutral words. Remember, you are a TV reporter whose job is to describe the events being experienced. Identify the trigger for the feelings (was it something on your tape?). Become aware of any impulsive actions that come to mind. Remember, you are being objective, so you will not act on any of these impulses.

4. If the feelings or impulse are too overwhelming, STOP the exercise and get a soda or something to snack on to distract yourself. Otherwise continue the exercise until the tape is over and you feel satisfied with your performance. Your objective is to listen to the entire tape without allowing your emotions or impulses to reach an uncomfortable level. When you can do this you have successfully completed the exercise.

Basic Steps of Visualization

1. Close your eyes.

2. Begin your SDB (Slow Deep Breathing) routine while using your key phrase. Continue until your stress level drops below 4 on a scale of 1-10. 0 means totally calm and stress-free and 10 means totally stressed out.

3. Now imagine yourself executing a series of actions that produces a desirable outcome. Imagine as much detail as possible. See yourself doing the actions. See where you are. See who you are with. Hear the sounds. Smell the odors. See what you are wearing.

4. As negative thoughts enter your mind, squeeze your knees, say your key phrase, and return to your visualization.

5. Once you have imagined all of the details of you action sequence, assign it a “trigger word,” such as “Project Jump Start.” You will use this trigger word to get yourself started on executing the action sequence once the time comes.

6. Close your Visualization session with five repetitions of the positive affirmation “I want it; do it!”

Visualization will help you become a more consistent person. Do the practice exercises in the preceding and following Self-Help Skills to hone your Visualization skills. Practice makes better, but never perfect. Be aware that the exercise increases in psychological difficulty. This helps to strengthen you for the greater challenges ahead. Recovery doesn’t just happen, it is a learning process that is with you for the rest of your life.

Obtaining is the final ROVO Soothing skill. It means putting into action the plan that you visualized and getting the results you want. Obtaining means focused action that gets desired results. It requires a clear vision of what you want: a sound, thoughtful decision to act; and execution of your decision with determination.

Putting the Soothing Skills Together

1. Use Slow Deep Breathing and your key phrase to calm your emotions and impulses.

2. Use Objectifying to identify your stressors. Use it to describe the emotions and body locations of the emotions the stressors trigger. Use it to identify the action impulses the stressor trigger. Use it to describe the disruptive effects the stressors are having on your thought process. Use simple sentences and neutral words to Objectify what is happening to you. 

These recovery exercises are adapted from the book The Angry Heart written by Dr. Joseph Santoro and Dr. Ronald Cohen. Dr. Joseph Santoro is one of the founding members of Blue Sky Behavioral Health. Blue Sky offers individualized outpatient as well as residential treatment programs for mental health disorders such as borderline personality disorder. Our supportive and licensed clinical staff can make a major difference in your life. Learn how to live life well by contacting our facility today. Call (888) 822-7348 or visit us online at