Sometimes it is not going to be possible for you to expose yourself directly to your trigger. For example, one of your obsessions may be ‘What if I want to push my friend into oncoming traffic?’ In order to expose yourself to the trigger in-vivo, since you cannot actually push your friend into oncoming traffic, you can use imaginal exposures. You can expose yourself to the thought of being in the situation. You can do so more fully when you are imagining it. This can prove to be very effective. You could think of the outcome of such an event and how it will affect your life. Paint the worst scenario possible and expose yourself to it repeatedly to get habituated to it.
Sometimes, some fears may be possible for you to get exposed to in-vivo, but you may not be ready for them yet. Even for those, you can use imaginal exposures first and desensitize yourself to the thought before you take action on them. For example, you may be triggered at the thought of using a drill machine in front of your family because of the fear that you may use the drill machine to harm your family. In such a case, you may use imaginal exposures and create scenarios in your mind about the same. How you end up harming your family with the drill machine, how that affects you, how your life changes totally because of that – the worst it can get in your mind.
The simplest yet a very powerful way to do imaginal exposures, is through scripts. A script is a small write up on the worst possible outcome of your trigger, starting with a deassurance or your ‘what-if’ statements coming true. So, if you fear that you may push your friend into oncoming traffic, your script could start with the statement ‘I have pushed my friend into oncoming traffic’.
This is followed by what happens to you. Statements like ‘I am apprehended by the public and beaten up’ or ‘I am arrested and my friend’s family is looking at me with eyes full of hatred and contempt’ should be a part of the script.
As you may have noted, the statements are in the present tense and not in the future tense. Say ‘this is happening to me’, rather than ‘this will happen to me’. Second, also note that there cannot be an escape hatch. Nothing that eases the situation is allowed to be in the script. For example, in the first statement, an escape hatch would be ‘I am apprehended by the public but they listen to my side of the story and sympathize with me’. In the second statement, the escape hatch would be ‘I am arrested and my friend’s family seems to be compassionate towards me despite my act’. Escape hatches dilute the script and render them ineffective.
Third, scripts are like every other form of writing much better if they show and not tell. Thus, painting a picture with words about where you are how everything looks around you, , real names and situations would make the script more effective.
Sometimes when you write a script and read it back to yourself you may arrive at the core fear more easily. For example, when you write in the script that the friend’s family is looking at you with contempt and hatred, when you re-read it, you may realize that it is their disapproval rather than hurting your friend that causes you more distress. This is helpful as more exposures can be customized around this. You can edit the script and make this part more vivid and anxiety inducing.
Once the script is made, and you have edited out the escape hatches and expanded on what affects you the most, read and reread the script. Absorb the essence rather than just read the words. Make sure that the script is causing you anxiety. If you want, record the script in your own voice and listen to it on loop. After reading the script it or listening to the recording enough number of times, you will begin to feel desensitized to that particular trigger.
Worksheet 4.13 will help you distinguish between an appropriate statement for a script and a statement with an escape hatch. Also, Additional Resource 4.13 has two examples of how an imaginal script may be written.