Erika grew up with a sexually abusive father. When she was just fifteen years old, he began leering at her. Often his leering would lead to unwanted sexual contact. While Erika grew up and moved on with her life, her father’s leering continued to affect her well into her adulthood.
On a recent trip to a conservative part of Asia, Erika began to suffer anxiety attacks when older men stared at her. She feared that she would be sexually assaulted by these men and it became difficult for her to travel outside her hotel without an escort. When she returned home, Erika spoke to her therapist who suggested Lifespan Integration as a way to deal with her anxiety.
Lifespan Integration, or LI, is a form of therapy that targets and integrates parts of the self that have become stuck in a past event. The traumatic event is accessed by using an affect bridge that acts as a way for a patient to create a connection between a past self and a current problem.
For adults like Erika who have lived through childhood abuse and neglect, this past self is usually more childlike and not as mature as the current self; it cannot handle situations with the wisdom and maturity of an adult. This younger self often causes reactions that are not based on current knowledge or experience. LI helps this younger self-integrate and resolve the trauma that caused it to be stuck in the past.
In order for LI to be effective, the therapist and patient must identify a memory that acts as the affective bridge. Erika chose the first time her father leered at her. This leering was followed by an episode of molestation.
When the patient and therapist identify a memory that would work for LI, the therapist then guides the patient into the past event using the patient’s imagination. The therapist has the patient imagine the scene of the memory, the patient’s emotions, the people involved, and the younger self that is stuck. The therapist then guides the patient to support the younger self and protect it if need be.
When the memory is resolved, the younger self and patient are directed to a safe imaginary space and the younger self is shown specific memories that prove that time has moved on and the patient has grown up. In this way, the younger self begins to understand that it no longer needs to attempt to protect the adult patient through inappropriate reactions; it can then integrate and the patient can heal.
This process of revisiting the traumatic memory can occur up to eight times. Erika had to repeat her LI process six times until she felt that her fear of being stared at and her belief that she might be molested as a result was resolved.
When Erika recently traveled again, she noticed that LI had helped her; her reaction to being stared at had changed. While she didn’t like being stared at, her feelings about it were not associated with her past; her reaction was relevant with what was going on in the present moment. Erika’s response is a direct result of how her brain rewired some of its neural connections because of LI. She now is at choice with how she responds to situations that would’ve previously triggered her.
When Peggy Pace created LI in 2003, she did so to help her clients heal more quickly from childhood abuse and neglect in a way that cognitive behavioral methods couldn’t. According to Pace’s website Lifespanintegration.com, ‘After several sessions of LI, clients have reported that they feel better about life, are more self-accepting, and are better able to enjoy their intimate relationships.’