Perhaps you can relate to this example of a parent who totally lost her cool—screaming at her children, looking and acting like she, herself, was a child having a temper tantrum. Let’s be real: we’ve all been there.
The demands of parenting a special needs child are many and unrelenting. The same scenario that caused that mother to launch into her own temper tantrum is almost certain to occur again, followed by her inevitable feelings of remorse. But what if, next time, she is better able to respond?
In addition to affirmations, visualization is another powerful tool for parents of special needs children. Like Batman and Robin, visualization has the dynamic duo effect of both comforting AND empowering us.
Visualization goes to the heart of the matter
Visualization is defined as “a technique involving focusing on positive mental images in order to achieve a particular goal.” (Free Dictionary)
In practicality, it’s a training method. Visualization is frequently used by world-class athletes, people with serious health conditions such as cancer, and combat veterans recovering from PTSD. I contend that parents of special needs children need it and can benefit from it just as much!
Is visualization the same as guided imagery?
They are similar, and the terms are sometimes interchanged. Both have been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and fatigue.
Simply put, visualization is something we do on our own, while guided imagery is an exercise led by another person. I have found both to be effective in slightly different ways. Guided imagery works well for more general purposes, while visualization hones in on our very unique circumstances.
One example of when to use visualization vs guided imagery. The mother who falls into tantrums might use a soothing guided imagery for general issues such as anger and forgiveness, or to heal her own trauma. But for the specific, late afternoon situation which is likely to occur again, self-directed visualization might be more helpful.
We could say it’s similar to preparing for a quiz.
Visualization changes our reactions to a recurring situation
- How to start:
- Pick a time when you have a few quiet moments to yourself. Begin by calming and centering yourself. Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and scan your body for signs of tension. Relax. Breathe.
Focus on your intention to be more patient or compassionate. Imagine the situation that has challenged you. This time, in your mind, imagine yourself responding and behaving according to your highest intentions.
It might seem strange at first ~ even fake or impossible. That’s okay. Imagine the scenario once, twice, three times, or whatever it takes until the preferred outcome is seen as a possibility in your mind.
Practice over the next days or weeks with that or similar scenarios.
The new outcome to the scenario has now begun to take root in your subconscious mind. You will automatically manage the situation better the next time it occurs. Things may not go perfectly, of course, but even incremental improvement is cause for a pat on the back. Keep at it!
We can also prepare for an upcoming stressful event—say an IEP meeting or a big holiday event—with visualization. Imagine possible scenarios, and see yourself responding in an intelligent, thoughtful, and calm manner.
A wealth of kindness
Years ago, I came across a woman named Belleruth Naparstek. Belleruth makes excellent audio products that include both affirmations and guided imagery for the same situations. I personally found her techniques for healing anger, forgiveness, and trauma to be extremely helpful. Depending on my mood or time availability, sometimes I would do affirmations, sometimes guided imagery.
While writing this blog, I checked to see if Belleruth’s audios are still available. Boy, are they ever! She has even more offerings today.
And guess what?! There’s now one for Caregiver Stress! I invite you to check it out.
Be kind to yourself
We talked about why, and discussed how. Affirmations and visualization are tools we can all use to comfort, uplift, and empower ourselves. Their subtle yet positive effects improve your life and ripple out to everyone in the family. I encourage you to experiment with both and applaud you for your efforts!
This concludes a 4-part series on self-kindness. Remember, in the midst of caring for others, it’s crucial to treat yourself with just as much love and compassion!