I find neuroscience fascinating, especially when you consider the implications neural plasticity has when directed towards mental health. Neural Plasticity is the brains ability to change. No matter what age you are your brain has the capability to create new neural networks and prune old ones you no longer want around. This is what is often referred to as "Shadow work" in the metaphysical world.
I highly recommend using multiple sources of support throughout this process. Family, friends, a social worker, a therapist, etc.
What Is Neural Plasticity?
To simplify we’ll use a metaphor. Consider your brain as a city. Each building stores various schemes, or categories of information. The roads that connect each of those buildings (stores of information) are the neural pathways/networks.
As an example let’s say you want to take a drink of coffee. In one building (scheme) you hold all the information on how to take that drink. You have to reach out your hand, close your hand around the cup, identify where your mouth is and lift it up to your lips. Make sure your lips are in proper position and you tilt the cup every so slightly as to not spill it all over yourself.
In a separate building lies the information that holds what to do if it’s a hot drink. You have gathered this information due to past experiences of scalding your mouth, which is an unpleasant experience you want to avoid.
In order to tie these two schemes together you have to use the roads (neural pathways).
When it comes to healing trauma, consider your triggers. I’ll use my personal healing journey as an example.
Due to my traumatic childhood/adolescence I developed an avoidant attachment style. This meant that I learnt from a young age that I couldn’t rely on anyone but myself. If I did rely on someone, it most often ended up in disappointment and abandonment. As an adult I grew into a hyper-independent individual. I was self-reliant, I
never asked for help, in fact, I viewed help as a form of weakness.
this attachment style presented itself by closing myself up to others. I had walls built up around my gooey insides to protect my vulnerable bits. When I got hurt I intentionally froze people out because they didn’t deserve to see me in my most vulnerable state. I was too scared of getting hurt. I became a martyr with my emotions. I was so lonely, but I did it to myself and constantly complained about it.
Eventually, through self-therapy, journaling, and trauma tarot work, I recognized this pattern and its negative effect on my life. I decided to change it.
A book I recommend you read if you are interested in the science behind habit forming is "Rewire Your Brain: Think Your Way to a Better Life" by John B. Arden
Changing Your Brain
Here’s the thing about the brain, it can’t differentiate between memory and reality. We all have moments where we relive a fight in our minds. We come up with better arguments, we find loopholes we couldn’t see at the time, we discover new variables that we hadn’t considered before. When we are re-living those moments in our imaginations our brain believes it is really happening. Therefor it produces the same chemicals and the same results as when it did happen.
The more you relive this experience in your mind the easier it becomes to access the same chemical results. Eventually your brain develops automaticity towards this neurological event and it happens without any thought, it’s automatic. What I refer to as neural highways are neural networks that have been so well travelled that it becomes a way of living, an automatic reaction that your body and mind depends on.
Whenever my avoidant attachment style was triggered I would go down this neural pathway that lead me into reliving arguments in my head. My cortisol (stress hormone) spiked, my adrenaline would race and my heart rate would speed up. Mentally I was angry. I was furious. I was entitled. I was dangerous.
One thing the book did not prepare me for was how long of a process changing your neural network is. It took me years, and even to this day I still have to work to avoid going back into that avoidant attachment style. But I promise it is worth it!!!
The change happens slowly and in layers. For me the first layer was becoming aware of this unhealthy process/reaction. I just noticed it while it was happening or after it had happened and acknowledged it for what it was.
Once I was able to recognize the pattern and identify when it was happening I could make a decision to let it happen or to stop it in its tracks. Over time I got better and better at this. I learnt tricks to stop it from happening. Walking away and giving myself 15 minutes to regulate my nervous system was incredibly helpful. Journaling about it and writing it down gave me a physical place to deescalate the situation. Going for a walk or any movement was helpful.
Once I was deescalated I was able to think rationally. First I acknowledged my tiny accomplishment and told myself how proud I am of myself. Secondly I reaffirmed the new habit I wanted to build. I would tell myself that I am open to a secure attachment style, I am open to being vulnerable with others I trust. Only I am capable of healing myself, that is my responsibility.
Fig 3. Neurons that fire together (use your senses) wire together
Using Magic to Change Your Brain
Doing spells to change your mindset and improve your mental health is an excellent way to build new neural pathways and strengthen them. When creating new knowledge in your brain, the best way to make it stick is to engage multiple senses. I don’t know about you, but the lessons I remember best are ones that I can physically learn through my hands and eyes.
When you are creating a spell you are making choices to choose correspondences, you are setting an intention and you are putting all your energy and will into that intention.
With the intention to change your brain whatever oils or herbs you choose will strengthen the neural network. The scents will build a layer of pathways that are linked to your intention. Whatever incense you have burning, whatever scents are around you, those can all be linked to your intention. Scent is one of the strongest senses attached to memory.
Every action you do to build that spell strengthens those neural network layers. Holding the candle, carving a symbol or your intention into it, crushing up stone to roll your candle in, writing your intention on a piece of paper and burning it. Through your sense of touch you are adding layers into your neural network.
Use your sense of hearing by being mindful of what music you have playing in the background. Make your intention rhyme so that it’s fun to say and pleasant on the ears.
Engage your sense of site by choosing colours that hold meaning to you.
Once your spell is completed continue to use your magic to build those neural pathways. When you are tempted to go back down those old, unhealthy neural pathways, instead stabilize your nervous system and repeat your intention out loud.
Fig 5. Create a talisman as a physical reminder
Create a spell to charge a talisman that will be a visual reminder of your intention. Wear it or place it somewhere where you notice it often. Create a sigil for your intention and anoint yourself with that sigil using the oils you used to create your spell.
Every single action you take to re-wire your brain will increase the ease in which your brain flows towards that new belief/habit/reaction.
Building Mindfulness Tools
Throughout this process you are adding new tools in your mental health tool box.
Self-awareness is one of the foundational tools for a healthy mindset. Each time you can identify when you are becoming elevated and/or your body chemistry is beginning to change, you are building self-awareness. With enough practice you will build your knowledge of your mental capacity. You will know when you need to exit a situation and take a break.
You can not learn, you can not retain Information, and you can not problem solve when you are escalated. When you are in fight or flight mode all you can do is survive.
This means that in order to communicate and get through an argument or a situation you have to approach it with a regulated nervous system.
Building calming techniques is another tool to add to your mental health tool box. This is a place where you can have fun and play. Find out what works for you. A few that work wonders for me are:
- Write it out with journaling. Write about the situation or write down all the fucks you don’t want to give or who can go fuck what.
- Square breathing. When you have control of your breath you have control of your life.
- Go for a walk. Physically remove yourself from the location and ground yourself. Walk barefoot on the grass.
- Dance it out. Nothing makes me feel better like good music and physical exercise. Get your sweat on for 15 minutes.
- Use your senses to ground yourself and calm your nervous system. The 5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Technique
Every time you become aware of your elevated state you are building a relationship with your body. Being able to scan your body and Identify how the situation is affecting you physically, mentally and spiritually, you are building your self-assessment tools. With enough practice you’ll be able to predict what your reaction will be to situations and have the opportunity to avoid them all together.
Reclaim your power by choosing how to act/react. The only thing we have control over in this life is our response to it. Do so with intention. Do so with knowledge. Do so with choice.
No. Is the most powerful spell you can use. And I beg you to USE IT! Say it verbally, write it through texts. It is acceptable and valid for you to choose where you put your energy. At first it’s difficult to stand up for yourself, especially if no one has advocated for you before. Over time and with practice it becomes easier.
Shamelessly create those boundaries. If those around you do not like it then they are using you for their personal gain, not for your benefit. Keep yourself and others accountable to those boundaries! Communicate when they have been violated. If a situation makes you feel bad in a certain way it is a clear indicator that one of your boundaries/beliefs has been misused.
I like to joke around about how witchcraft is simply spicey psychology, but it’s true! I’ve used witchcraft to completely change my life. I promise you it is a challenge that is worth it. It’s not all uphill either. You are aloud to stumble, you are aloud to fall, just remember to get back up, brush off your clothes and try again. Don’t give up, that is the key.