I have been using Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy for two years. I use it in addition to cognitive behavioral therapy, goal setting, journaling, coping techniques, and disciplined and intentional self-care practices.
As a survivor of long-term childhood sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect – I have many layers of traumatic experiences and negative perceptions of self and the world, to work through. Simply talking about it doesn’t help, all that does for me is stir the proverbial pot of uncontrollable emotions.
I have had to learn how to feel big and uncomfortable emotions, I have had to learn how to recognize and then separate the past from the present, and in order to that, I have realized I need to process these memories properly through my brain. EMDR is a technique that has helped me tremendously with all of this when used as part of my treatment.
I wrote about The Basics of EMDR in part one of this series. In that piece, I talked about what EMDR is, why it is used, what tools are used, and the process. In part two, I went into detail about What to Expect as a trauma survivor in treatment. I talked about things that don’t often come up when looking for information on what EMDR is actually like in real time for someone struggling with PTSD.
Now I am going to tell you about the benefits that I have realized over the last two years as I continue to use EMDR as part of my trauma recovery treatment plan.
Reconnecting to my Body
One of the questions repeated often in therapy sessions with survivors of sexual, or physical abuse is, “Where do you feel it?” anytime you are talking about emotional disturbances or traumatic memories. The reason for this is because the natural response of the majority of abuse survivors is complete sensory shut down. It is how we protected ourselves during assaults. Many of us have shut down emotional connection too. Not to say we don’t feel things – it’s just a shallow, disconnected “feeling”.
During eye movement sessions, you will be asked each time what you see, what you feel, and where do you feel it.
Through this continued and persistent practice, over the course of the last two years, I am developing a connection to my body that I haven’t had before. I am realizing physical sensations in response to emotional reactions. As I begin to feel my body’s response, not just hear the mental screams, I am able to begin seeing patterns in my somatic symptoms and responses to everyday life. This for me has been an integral step in identifying my physical triggers, in order to address them properly.
Psychological Connection & Awareness
The mind does not recognize the linear existence the body demands. Most trauma survivors pack away all the bad memories into a mental vault, then for purposes of survival dissociate from them. The experiences, the terror – it all becomes part of someone else’s life, someone we knew but who no longer exists.
Unfortunately, that just isn’t so – that person still exists, we are still that person. We still feel all those things, think all those things, believe all those things –
I spent decades dissociated, even though I had mentioned my childhood trauma during that time even recognizing it has had adverse effects on me. Unfortunately, it was all words, never a true awareness. Never any real association of the magnitude of my childhood and how it has directly affected my behavior, my thought processes, even the way hormones are pumped through my body. I had created a new narrative for my life, and it had nothing to do with where I came from.
EMDR therapy has helped me make that phycological connection. From that connection, I have developed an amazing awareness of my inner child and her pain, her strength, and her resilience. I have connected to her and in doing so have recognized her pain, her strength, and her resilience – is also mine. Making these connections, feeling these new awarenesses have been difficult but amazing.
This is what it means to feel!
Learning and Integrating “Then vs. Now”
Most survivors are probably tired, perhaps even pissed off at constantly hearing “But that was then”, or “That’s in the past, let it go”.
Survivors can’t let it go because it won’t let go of us. Trauma doesn’t go away, we learn to live with it as part of who we are. We learn to turn it into the catalyst for our strength; it becomes a place where we tap into deeper levels of understanding, empathy, love, and resilience. It is a part of who we are, living with it is a part of being whole, we must learn to coexist.
As I use EMDR to address specific traumatic moments and emotions, I am becoming more aware of the ‘then vs now’ and how that manifests in my everyday interactions. I am learning to recognize when a situation in the present day evokes traumatic feelings connected to past experiences, due to my new levels of awareness and understanding.
This helps me manage triggers that spur incorrect and heighten responses from me. Through the reprocessing technique, I have been able to identify actions by others and by myself, that cause me to feel negative cognitions about myself. It helps me focus my treatment, practice self-care, and I have been able to develop and execute better boundaries with co-workers, friends, and family.
I am Learning to Trust Myself & the Process
Raise your hand if you constantly question yourself; the decisions you make, the feelings you have, your memories, your brain as a whole …
Yeah, me too. Not as much now though, not like when I first presented to therapy.
Being abused and terrified by the people you love the most as a child does a lot of damage when it comes to trust. Most people might think that the trust issues only pertain to trust of other people, but that lack of trust is brutal when turned inward. Spending most of your life believing horrible things about yourself, blaming yourself for the torment, loathing your inability to defend yourself – it all manifests into adulthood.
EMDR is helping me to put my childhood into perspective, to identify the feelings that I had, why I felt them, and then to reconcile them into my life as it is now. As my awareness deepens, so does my understanding of the emotions I felt as a child, and then suppressed. I am learning to trust the process, even when it is exhausting and thus validate and honor all of the emotions that are surfacing.
In doing so, I am able to self-correct negative thoughts, be patient with myself when the past shows up, learn how to feel, and manage my responses and emotions better. With every successful interaction or situation, I am learning who I really am, and in doing so I am learning to trust myself.
The Release of Emotional Stress
What is that, right? Can you even imagine? One thing I always share in conversation with people about my EMDR therapy is how I can physically feel when strong emotions loosen their grips on me during an eye movement session. There have been a few instances where I have felt so strongly the release of overwhelming emotions that I have talked about it directly after with my counselor.
For every memory I have faced head-on using EMDR over the last two years, my levels of emotional stress surrounding them continue to stay low (in some instances non-existent) and easily manageable.
I am so grateful for EMDR therapy, it is a huge part of my recovery process and it works amazingly well for me as I work on layer upon layer of my struggle with complex post-traumatic stress disorder.
If you have any stories to share – drop them in the comments. Questions – leave those too!
If you want more information on EMDR you can visit their website The EMDR Institute, Inc.
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