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PTSD Questions & Answers
Joyce Boaz & Dr. Frank Ochberg, M.D.

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Ochberg's Color Wheel of Positive Emotion

Q: Dear Frank, Many of our support pals and correspondents discuss their anxiousness and tools to cope with anxiety. Could you tell us about The Color Wheel that you use with clients?

A: Dear Joyce, Several of my patients use "The Color Wheel" to calm themselves down.

Look at the wheel with its six different colors.
Every color represents a different positive emotion.

I like to have Yellow at the top and begin there. Yellow stands for high energy highs. That includes the feeling of exhilaration, of jumping for joy, laughing out loud, having the wind in your hair while you are smiling all over. And even if you are sick in bed, but you think of your child having a great day, and you share that feeling and your heart beats a bit faster and your are energetically happy - you are in this zone of Yellow. Yellow is joy.

Since every color is meant to represent a positive emotion, there is no gloom or guilt or fear in this wheel. Let's put the wheel to use, as we go through each hue. If just a wee bit of Yellow is in your life right now, you are at number 1 on an 8 point personal scale. Zero on that scale means you feel no joy and have no Yellow. Eight is as much as you've ever known in your life. Think about that time - the time when you had a peak experience of energetic joy. That's your top of the scale Yellow. Maybe you can imagine even more. That would be 9 or 10. Five is more joy than usual. Four is a nice amount of Yellow, but no more than usual. I'm between three and four, writing this answer, anticipating a Sunday visit from my daughter, relaxed rather than exuberant.

You can raise your Yellow either through imagery or memory or anticipation of good things in the future. It may take trial and error and practice. Being physically fit helps. Getting in shape when out of shape may be difficult. The Yellow from using a well conditioned body will come later. You can get to Yellow without anybody else. People who are alone can experience Yellow. But it usually takes energy. You invest some energy and you are rewarded with that "high energy high."

Now let's turn to Blue. If Yellow carries images of sunshine and sunflowers and outrageous bright clothing, Blue is the symbol of cool water and clear skies. It stands for serenity, for calm, for relaxation and, ultimately, for bliss. My blind friend, Karen, said, "I know Yellow and Blue although I've never seen them. I know what they are. And they do represent joy and serenity. I know the sun and the ocean." So let Blue stand for your feeling, when you have it, of relaxation. Your pulse is slower. Your breathing is less labored. Your worries are not at the front of your mind. Now Blue is the opposite of anxiety, so it may be very difficult to summon up when you are full of fear or dread. Blue is what you seek and cannot find. Getting to Blue may require elevating some of the other colors first. People who fall into that pattern that was once called, "I'm dancing as fast as I can," use Yellow to escape anxiety or depression and cannot slow down. I knew a woman who would always get depressed when her energy was down. She couldn't experience Blue because it came with unbearable agony. But she did her best to live in the realm of the other colors.

Red, of course, is Love. Love is complicated. It can be the hot hue of romance. It can be the deep color of mother-child attachment. Red is meant to signify the feelings of being loved, of loving another or of remembering a person who was beloved and who loved you. Red should not be used to represent universal love. That is Purple. Most of us have known Red, the love from or to a specific person. Love for and from a specific pet could be included, if it is a source of that special, warm feeling. There is a difference between knowing you love someone and feeling that love. My patients with PTSD tell me, "I know I love my daughter. I just wish I could feel it the way I used to." Their Red is pale. It has been numbed by the pain of PTSD.

Green is arbitrarily assigned to the feeling of self-love. This important color, the opposite of shame and guilt and self-blame, stands for feelings of pride and worth and confidence. To have more than a trace of Green--a number at the level of 4 or 5 or 6--is to be happy with yourself and to sense that form of happiness. Most of my patients have very little Green. If they can elevate their Green, and keep it high, they do not need me. Green is often the last color to raise while working with the Color Wheel.

What's left? Orange and Purple. Let's assign Orange to the realm of the senses and Purple to the realm of spirituality. Having elevated Orange means you are smelling something pleasurable or you are hearing something that pleases you. Your sense of touch, sight, smell, taste or hearing is satisfied and gratified. Through sensual gratification you may experience joy or bliss. Then Orange and Yellow or Orange and Blue would be raised. When you stop to smell the roses, you may have done just that - elevated Orange, Yellow and Blue together.

Purple is my favorite, but I need to remind myself of its existence to go there and actually experience the feeling. Purple stands for the experience of awe or reverence or love of God or being loved by God. I am not a believer in a traditional sense, so loving or being loved by God is beyond my experience. But I know it exists for others who have that sensation and that belief. Purple is the emotion that is common to the religious and the non-religious person who share a sense of the spiritual, who can raise that sensation by allowing themselves to feel part of the universe, of nature, of humanity. Red is the feeling of love from or toward a specific person. Purple is a similar sensation, but generated to and from the universe and the universal.

To use the colors you start somewhere on the wheel where some positive feeling already exists, and you concentrate on that. You use your imagination or you actually go somewhere to increase the intensity of that color -that feeling. Take your Yellow from zero to two. How? You need to experiment and practice and learn on your own. You might elevate your Blue through relaxation exercises, through deeper, slower breathing. Red may be elevated by recalling an older relative from the past who believed in you. A photo album could help.

Terry, a troubled Vietnam vet, would think about his wife and kids and that would get his Red elevated, and then he would go to Purple. He believes in a loving God. He needs to focus on that, if he is to raise his colors. Blue is hard for him, but he gets there after other colors are intensified.

If you are anxious, with a general state of fearfulness, or with episodes of panic, going around the Color Wheel once a day may help you raise your consciousness of positive feelings that do exist in your present, past and future. By elevating the positive, you protect against the negative. You change your body chemistry in the right direction. You think about nourishing things in order to generate positive emotion. It takes time and practice, but it can alter the baseline of your being.

The concept is described in a few places on the GFW web site, on Facebook, and in training DVDs:


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