I am a full believer that my mind has been playing tricks on me for the last couple decades, with the past 5-6 years containing an over-abundance of trickery. It has wired it self for these tricks. It’s taken traumatic events from my past and connected them to things that are slightly related but not the same. Those connections (“tricks”) have distorted my perception of reality and logic. I’ve acted on these tricks, formed judgments, said irrational things based on irrational thoughts, accumulated anxiety and at times been a straight up asshole. That is what I learned in my fifth EMDR session.
I’ve written a little bit about how EMDR works to create new neural pathways in the brain. As a recap, a thought travels through you brain and into the trauma neural pathway. It hooks on something from that trauma, then out of your mouth comes something crazy or you have an uncontrollable physical reaction. The EMDR process creates new neural pathways so that crazy mumbling or a racing heart becomes something sensible or ceases all together.
I’ve also written about how my sessions involve what Janet (therapist) calls tappers, small oval devices I place in each of my hands that vibrate during a session. Janet takes me inside a traumatic memory, asks me pointed questions mostly about my feelings at that specific moment in the memory, and the tappers do their thing. Sometimes one hand buzzes, then the other or both at once.
Being inside the memory is a detached pain. I feel the emotions, hurt and sadness. But I’m watching it like a movie so I only absorb just enough to experience surface-level feelings. I’m unsure if it is the same for everyone, but I can link my current behavior to my past pain while inside a memory. I see patterns and make connections from the past to the present somewhat easily. The after-effects of a session can last days, with connections continuing to develop and expand over weeks.
True behavioral change from EMDR takes effort, like any other change. But changing behaviors with EMDR is different because it answers the question of why, why am I reacting/behaving/feeling a certain way. For me, talk therapy put too much effort into fixing something I didn’t fully understand. I had a cognitive behavioral therapist tell me once that the why doesn’t matter and might never be answered. Nah, my brain doesn’t work that way. And I believe a lot of other brains don’t work that way. We crave knowing more about our feelings and reactions. We are natural learners which makes the need to know why ingrained inside us. We learn thousands of whys as we age. It gives us purpose and drives us to learn more. That doesn’t stop just because our feelings are abnormal or irrational.
From that natural, perpetual desire for answers, I believe real change has 2 major keys. The WHY is the first key to changing. Without it you’re just spinning around in the dark without a clear path, hoping one in a million things you try sticks for the long term. That’s the recipe for exhaustion.
Because EMDR has made the “why” connection for me, it has been the primary key to my changes, in addition to behavior modifications. The most interesting part about EMDR is it has slowed my reactions down to the point where I can make the connection in the moment, change my normal reaction to something logical and do something different. Doing something different has created a different outcome rather than keeping me stuck in the same ol’ crazy pain chunnel reactionary pattern that always ends in disappointment, wasted emotions, self-deprecation.
This is the 2nd key to change: doing something different. Without EMDR I don’t think I would have gotten to the place where I could see the possible outcomes of a reaction and chose the least chaotic option. It has given me a level of clarity into the domino effect my reaction has in the moment, so I can make a change immediately, rather than looking back on what I could/should have done.
Can you learn the why and do something different without EMDR? Of course. But pain and trauma are subjective. There are so many levels of physical and emotional abuse, and some people have endured more than others. So when a reaction stems from pain or trauma, it doesn’t matter if someone’s trauma is worse or better. It’s creating havoc in daily activities, relationships, careers regardless of the degree. I didn’t understand that until my doctor suggested EMDR. Hell, I didn’t even think I was abused; I thought I just had extreme or incurable mental health issues. I would have never gotten to the conclusion I had a broken gut unable to make enough serotonin and PTSD from childhood trauma on my own. EMDR has been the missing link for me to make the trauma into something useful for creating a better me. A dozen self-help books, medications, journaling and talk therapy didn’t and couldn’t have gotten me to that place.
For anyone doing the same thing because of the same shitty thoughts, I cannot recommend EMDR enough. It is in itself doing something different—so a different outcome is bound to happen. That’s a law of physics, not just my opinion.