Yesterday was my first official EMDR session. My T forgot the buzzers so we had to try it with tapping instead (her tapping my hands which were placed palms-down on my lap). It was uncomfortable being so close to each other and having physical contact whilst I was feeling pretty anxious, but I was able to just about manage it at that point.
She wanted to start working with the core belief “I am bad”. The memory we had agreed to start with was an incident that happened when I was about 6 years old with my mother. She had gotten incredibly angry with me in public off the back of a menial mistake I had made completely by accident. She reacted with such disgust and lividity and I have never forgotten the shame I felt because of how she responded.
So working with the core belief “I am bad“, the phrase we were going to replace it with was “I made an innocent mistake, and Mum was unable to manage her own emotions in that moment” or something of the like. I had to visualise the memory whilst she did the tapping for about 10-15 seconds at a time.
For a while, nothing came to mind and I was convinced it ‘wasn’t working’. After a few rounds however, I started getting very very hot and flushed with a lot of physical anxiety – verging perhaps on panic. I still hain’t had any tangible thoughts or memories come to mind, but my body was responding of its own accord. Apparently I store a lot of memories in my body. My T reminded me to breath in between sets, as apparently I was holding my breath without realising it – as I tend to do.
After a couple more tapping sequences with the same memory, I suddenly had a visualisation of a water sprinkler in the garden of my Dad’s old house. I had also become less anxious and less heated, but didn’t think the memory meant anything as it seemed so insignificant. I told my T about the water sprinkler when she asked what was going on for me, and she asked what I thought it represented. I told her I didn’t know, that we used to play in the sprinkler as kids, but I wasn’t picturing a specific time or incident. When she asked how I felt within that memory, I told her I assumed I would have been happy. She explained that my brain was probably trying to block the distressing memory I had previously been panicking over by instead lingering on a happier and easier subject matter.
She then suggested that we think instead of a recent time that I have felt the “I am bad” core belief, as the earlier memory seemed to be too blocked off. I told her about a situation this weekend. I had been feeling paranoid with a friend, convinced they were angry with me or that I had done something wrong – essentially that “I am bad“. I visualised this recent memory and the ‘felt sense’ accompanying it, and she recommenced the tapping.
The next memories that flowed were all times related to when I was bullied in primary school. I remembered being called names, being run away from and being left out of my ‘friendship group’ for various petty reasons. I fed these back to her and we continued. The next memory was of the first time I ever self-harmed aged 11. I was in the shower at my swimming club when one girl asked what happened. I had wanted people to see my injury but without them knowing I had done it to myself, but felt shame for this thought process. I was terrified to be vulnerable but also desperate to be seen at the same time.
My T encouraged me to focus on this, but then my brain skipped to thoughts about how “I am so dramatic, I don’t have any ‘proper’ trauma, it doesn’t make sense I am this messed up, I shouldn’t be like this, it’s my fault” and similar things to this. She asked me to try and focus on the feelings, and less so on the thoughts. The feelings were shame and fear. The shame was the strongest. She continued another round of tapping.
As I was focusing on the shame, my body started getting unbearably hot and I was becoming increasingly flushed and anxious with it. I had a memory of one of the times I was sexually assaulted, and tried to block it out. I was unable to and must have squirmed or flinched a little as my T asked me what was going on. I muttered “I don’t know” because I couldn’t say the related words, as usual. She encouraged me to help her out by communicating what was going on. I tried my best and said “A memory I can’t say“. I’m sure she could have guessed the theme I was referring to though.
She told me to keep going with it. So I did. I let myself focus on the memory a bit harder but soon my whole body was having a horrible reaction and I couldn’t contain it any longer. A wave of panic took over me, my heart felt like it was pulsating through my chest, and my breathing was becoming very rapid and irregular. This was all very fast and she was actually still in the middle of tapping when the surge of panic peaked. I had a reflex reaction to shrink away from her and ended up automatically pushing her hands off of my lap, perhaps more violently that I had intended to. I curled over towards one side of the chair and crossed one leg over the other to try and gain control over my body and block all the internal sensations out.
I was panicking and dissociated at the same time, as often happens when things overwhelm me in therapy or elsewhere. My T asked me to get up and do star jumps, then label things around the room and sip some water, before going to quickly “ice dive” in the bathroom. That was the end of the EMDR part of the session, because I had gone outside of my window of tolerance and she suggested we call it a day and spend the remainder of the time talking instead. Next week we are going to try again but using the buzzers instead of tapping. Hopefully that will help me be more able to stick with the processing for longer.