After internally saying this to him, Regina sat still for a while. “What’s happening now?” the therapist asked softly.
With tears in her eyes, Regina reported, “The look on his face—he was so hurt by it.”
“How do you understand his being so hurt by it?” the therapist asked.
Regina replied, “It’s like it was a deep insult to his love for me, like I’m saying his love is lightweight and superficial, and he knows it isn’t.” Beginning to cry openly, she continued, “He knows he really loves me with all his heart, and imperfections wouldn’t change that. So it’s like I’m totally wasting his love if I think it’s only because I seem perfect.”
There it was—the contradictory living knowledge that others aren’t necessarily the same as Mom. After about 30 seconds of silence in which Regina seemed to be absorbing this new knowing, the therapist mirrored it back to her by saying empathically, “He really loves you, whether or not your imperfections show up.” With a nod, she confirmed the clear emotional truth of this recognition.
The ingredients needed for guiding the erasure sequence of memory reconsolidation were now in hand. The first step was to reactivate the target learning, so the therapist prompted Regina to picture her mother again and said, “What you know about her love is that it quickly disappears and turns into disgust and rejection when any imperfections show up, and you could easily expect that’s how it would be with anyone, yes?”
Regina’s earnest nodding indicated she was viscerally in touch with that emotional knowledge, so the therapist continued on to the second step: evoking the contradictory, mismatching knowledge. “On one side, there’s Mom, and on the other side, there’s Uncle Theo. His love is steady and reliable and unaffected by imperfections, and he just sees and feels how lovable you are and nothing changes that.” Regina listened with eyes closed, seemingly absorbed in the developing juxtaposition experience. The target learning’s synapses were unlocking.
Over the next few minutes, the therapist continued to call Regina’s attention to that juxtaposition—the repetitions that serve as new learning that rewrites the target learning: “Both kinds of love feel so real, but they’re so different. Can you feel both at once? Good. What’s that like for you, seeing so clearly that both kinds of love exist, and that you’re actually experiencing both?”
Guided in this way to apply mindful awareness to the juxtaposition experience, Regina sat silently, thinking and blinking, and then said, “I never thought of it like this before.”
“Yes, it’s very new,” the therapist said, then guided another repetition by asking, “And as you look back and forth at your Mom and Uncle Theo, what happens?”
After another silence, Regina answered, “It’s strange, but my Mom looks smaller.” This was a first marker of a transformational shift in her mental model of her mother. She added, “And it’s like what’s wrong is over there in her, not here in me,” which was another marker of change, indicating the beginning of dissolution.
Knowing that such fundamental shifts often have immediate, challenging ripple effects, the therapist now asked, “Is it entirely comfortable to know that the problem is in Mom and not in you? Or is there something uneasy about that?”
Regina replied, “It feels scary because then I can’t have any control over it. If it’s in me, I have a chance of controlling it. But if the reason she blows up at me is that she’s messed up, then I can’t possibly control it.” Then she added, “But I’m feeling relief, too, because if she’s the problem, then maybe there’s nothing seriously wrong with me after all. And maybe I won’t be rejected forever by anyone who gets to know me.”