Controlling Imagery

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The following set of techniques has been devised to help exercise more control over you imagery, both in the positive sense of doing more with it, and in the negative sense of knowing how to stop it or defuse it.

Developing Your Skill in Changing Your Imagery, approach this by making the change in stages:

  • Example 1: presume that you can’t imagine yourself floating up to the ceiling. Begin by imagining a floating balloon, then a floating cup, a briefcase, a chair, and eventually yourself.
  • Example 2: presume you have a problem changing a blue hat into a red one. Begin by adding one red button to the hat, then two, etc., until the hat is red.

Tackling a Frightening Image in Stages

  1. Devise a progressive series of images: write down a description of the image, and develop a progressive sequence from images that are easy to imagine, through to the trickier ones and finally the most upsetting image itself. It may help to have a partner to talk you through steps 2 – 4.
  2. Relax/imagine cycle: Relax. Imagine the simplest image on your list. If you feel anxious, put the image out of your thoughts and relax once more. Now try again.
  3. Repeat as required at a given level: repeat the cycle of imagine-then-relax until you are able to view the first image easily. You could try an indirect method – e.g. imagine watching a film about the image, or a film about someone making a film about it.
  4. Progress in stages: Once you feel comfortable with the ‘easy’ image, go onto the next, repeating the process until you can view this image without anxiety. Continue through the sequence of images. Taking several sessions if necessary. Never force the pace.

Ways of Stopping Compulsive Trains of Unwanted Images

  • Switch attention: open your eyes, switch your attention to thinking about something very mundane like what you had for lunch, and discontinue the fantasy.
  • Stop! Method: Try putting the images into words, then snapping your fingers and ordering them to ‘Stop!’ or getting someone to shout ‘Stop!’ for you, or even just saying it to yourself, though that is not so effective. Take a deep breath then let it out slowly, relaxing your face, neck, shoulders and arms as you do so. Take a second deep breath let it out slowly, relaxing your front and back and legs right down to the ground as you do so. Then take two normal breaths, shorter and shallower.
  • Flooding method: Attempt creation of more images of a similar kind – flooding yourself with them, to reduce the demand. E.g., move closer and further from the imagery, examining it in detail and from every angle, until the mind is exhausted. If going close feels uncomfortable, imagine a telescope, so that you can see the detail from a safe distance.
  • Reversal method: To eliminate a passive worry, imagine its pleasurable opposite. If you are distressed about a deadline, fantasise about the enjoyable experience of meeting it!

Ways of Dissipating Fearful Images

  • Close examination: If you feel up to it, look at the image closely and describe it in detail.
  • Dialogue: If there is one figure, which is threatening, real or unreal, engage the figure in dialogue and ask what it wants. Talk to it.
  • Empathising: Imagine you are the threatening object. How does the figure feel? If it is some sort of creature, look in its eyes. Find out what it likes to eat. Feed it.
  • Light: It you and the figure are surrounded by dark, visualise yourself taking the threatening creature into the sunlight. See if it alters in any way. Imagine the figure or the whole scene bathed in white light.
  • Helper: If you would like a companion, bring someone into your fantasy to help you or to be with you, or find a competent guide in your imagination whom you trust and who can go with you
  • Talisman/wand: Remember that in fantasy anything is possible. Give yourself of a magic wand or magic power. Call on religious or supernatural power or help (e.g. God).
  • Transform but do not destroy: Because the imagery is all part of you, it can often be transformed successfully, but ‘killing’ it doesn’t usually work and the ‘killed’ feelings are likely to return in another form.

Warning: As with all imagery based methods, you should be conscious of the possibility that you may experience imagery relating to unexpected matters – maybe to undesirable past memories. Should this be a concern, don’t use imagery-based methods, or use them with appropriate level of support.