Trauma is hard. It’s raw. It’s deep. It’s painful and more often than not, it hides in places we didn’t even realize existed until we begin digging for it. When we experience trauma, our brains and bodies react in a number of ways. It’s different for everyone and it depends on the trauma.
Trauma can be anything from a first breakup as a teenager, to a terrible car crash, to witnessing a murder, to being the victim of abuse. It can be getting sucked down by the undertow your first time in the ocean. It can be losing a loved one unexpectedly. Trauma can be going to war at the age of 18 and having to see and do things others would never imagine. Trauma doesn’t discriminate.
Significant Life Events
Another way of thinking of trauma is as a “significant life event”. Oftentimes, people think of trauma and assume it is something they’ve healed from already or that it does not really affect them. We all have significant life events that have had an impact on our lives in one way or another. In response, our brains store these core memories to help us navigate and control the feelings associated with those events, to help prevent experiencing those feelings or engaging in a similar situation again. The scary part is, over 50% of what we came to believe was not true. One of the most powerful things anyone can do is embark on healing, because the cycles and protective mechanisms do not go away. They are hardwired into our neuropathy system and actively firing, being triggered in ways we may not realize.
While some destructive behaviors may result from the symptoms of trauma, or significant life events, it’s important to note that there is no right or wrong way to respond to trauma. The distinction between the behaviors and the symptoms is key. Some destructive behaviors may manifest themselves like drug use, self-harm, or codependency. These behaviors are symptoms of underlying issues like fear, anxiety, guilt, or hopelessness.
There is hope for healing.
The good news is that several different therapy modalities have been proven effective for healing past traumas.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy
EMDR Therapy consists of 8 phases.
The first two phases are mostly talking. Your therapist will work to identify the trauma that you would like to heal and ensure that you are prepared for the work going forward.
Spoiler alert – It gets worse before it gets better. But it really does get better!
EMDR Therapy is a highly effective, evidence-based therapy, endorsed by mental health organizations around the world, including the American Psychiatric Association and World Health Organization. Because of the intense memories that your therapist will bring up, the first two phases are just as important as the following six. It’s crucial that your therapist builds your toolbox of coping mechanisms throughout your therapy. Because all eight phases don’t happen overnight, anxiety, dreams, or other emotions could pop up between sessions. The first two phases will prepare you for how to handle these.
EMDR Therapy Phases 3 – 6
Once phases 3 through 6 begin, there isn’t as much talking as you would think. Tons of details aren’t necessary. Your therapist will encourage you to focus on what you’re feeling in the moment and present body sensations. These phases of EMDR Therapy sessions consist of alternating eye movements, sounds, or taps to help dislodge stuck memories, encouraging the brain to resume its natural healing process. The therapist uses a device that moves side to side and that activates both brain hemispheres and then works to pinpoint areas of the memory that were significant – scary, disappointing, or otherwise stressful. As part of our natural fight or flight stress response system, the brain can work to protect us from stressors and potentially block out events and feelings.
Go with that.
Your therapist will be your guide, encouraging you to “go with that” feeling or thought as you move through your past trauma, into the negative beliefs you feel/felt around that trauma, and then finally into the new, positive beliefs.
When we experience trauma, as we grow and develop as humans, our brains automatically color and fill in the spots that were left empty or the details that we have trouble remembering. Sometimes, we forget the details because the trauma happened when we were too young to fully process, or we distort the memory because it was too traumatic. EMDR therapy helps to re-color and fill in those spots with positive, true thoughts and ideas.
An example, Carol recalls a day as a child when she was yelled at and sent to her room. She remembers sitting alone in her room feeling ashamed as her parents continued to scream. Thoughts like, “I’m not good enough.”, “I’m a bad daughter.” and “My parents don’t really love me.” swirled in her head. She was only four or five years old when this happened. But it stuck with her. She didn’t realize it at the time because she was too young, but her parents were having the biggest fight of their marriage. Eventually, all was well, and they made up. But that fight stuck with Carol. The trauma of her seemingly perfect parents yelling and her sitting alone in her room crying left her feeling scared, ashamed, and feeling abandoned.
Fast forward 30 years later to Carol’s own marriage. She didn’t understand why, no matter how many times her loving husband told her he loved her and how many ways he tried to prove it, she was still not convinced. She couldn’t believe that she was a good enough wife. She burned herself out trying to be the perfect wife, perfect daughter, perfect friend, perfect employee…perfect everything. She just wanted to make everyone happy. Thankfully, her husband suggested she talk to a therapist.
Her therapist was able to help identify the significant life event that led Carol to the negative belief of not being good enough. After EMDR Therapy, these negative beliefs were able to be re-colored or refreshed with new, positive beliefs about herself. Carol now realizes that the way she remembered that fight wasn’t completely accurate. The feelings she felt were colored by the trauma she processed as a child. After therapy, she now believes, “I am good.”, “I am loved.”, and “I am worthy of being loved.”
EMDR Therapy Phases 7 – 8
The final two phases are the wrap-up phases. Your brain is like any other part of your body. When a wound heals itself, it needs follow-up care. That’s what has just happened. Your brain has just healed itself of a trauma. So, your therapist will ask you follow-up questions to make sure that everything is going well and that you are still on your journey to recovery.
EMDR Therapy Results
The results of people connecting the dots through EMDR are unlike anything I’ve ever seen with other treatment methods. It’s such a privilege to watch clients be liberated from those negative, dysfunctional charges that had taken hold of their minds.
EMDR Therapy has proven effective for single trauma events (something like – you’re afraid to get in the ocean because you were stung by a jellyfish), as well as multiple trauma events (you have PTSD because you spent a year deployed overseas).
It goes beyond this though. We can also help almost anyone find healing from things like perfectionism, people pleasing, shame, and the list goes on. If you feel you’re stuck in any of those negative core beliefs that lead to anxiety, depression and maladaptive behaviors like substance abuse, low self-esteem, and self-sabotaging relationships can – the Claibourne Counseling team is here to help. We’re a safe space and a 100% judgement-free, healing zone. Please reach out today if you need help.
Sending you light and love,
Claire & The Claibourne Team
~ You are worthy. You are capable. You are enough! ~