When we talk about corrective emotional experiences, we’re referring to how your therapist would take you back to certain trauma-inducing experiences or situations which you could not handle back then, and bring about a fresher perspective with the help of a more supportive and conducive environment.
Looking back at these experiences from a different perspective not only helps you in understanding why you reacted the way you did but also how you might be able to control triggering a similar response in the future.
First coined in 1946 by psychoanalysts Franz Alexander and Thomas Morton, corrective emotional experiences look at past experiences and events in an attempt to understand how they have shaped your current behavior or reaction. They called it “re-experiencing the old, unsettled conflict but with a new ending”
As children, we learn that certain emotions are negative because we were punished for them when we expressed them, or our primary caregiver (parents/guardians) was not able to handle these emotions. This often led to anxiety because of a perceived threat to the relationship between you and your primary caregiver, and to ward off this anxiety and these negative emotions, you adopt defense mechanisms.
These defenses which helped you preserve the bond with your primary caregiver develop into pervasive behaviours because of how effective they are at eliminating the anxiety or negative emotion.
CEE looks at getting through your defenses to understand your core emotion, help your process that emotion in a suitable environment, and then reshape the maladaptive defense mechanisms picked up, thus correcting the emotional experience.
Corrective emotional experiences work on the basis of memory reconsolidation. At base of it, CEE believes that how you react to situations now might be connected to something in your past. With memory reconsolidation, an emotion that is tied to an old experience is revisited and corrected, thus replacing it with a new emotion – and this creates a neurological chain in your brain.
Let’s consider this example – your partner did something that bothered you and you bring that up, but they responded in a defensive manner. Because of how they responded, you start getting angry and your heart starts racing. You feel they invalidate your feelings and you start doubting your feelings and whether or not what you’re feeling is even real.
Your reaction could be because of something that happened in your childhood. Maybe whenever you cried or had a problem, your parent might have told you you were being too dramatic or sensitive. Now, when your partner refuses to believe your perspective, you go right back to that 10-year-old child.
Because of how you experienced that as a child, and because you never healed from that experience, any similar experiences today might trigger that negative reaction.
With CEE, you will understand and explore what happened during your childhood and why you react the way you do. Once you are able to identify this, you can begin to change you you react to similar experiences.
There are many ways in which a therapist might help you explore unhealed wounds and correct those emotional experiences for you. Some of these ways are –
- Narrational therapy
- Exposure therapy
- Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR)