I had EMDR yesterday and to cut a long story short, I struggled with it. I didn’t struggle in a painful way, as in I didn’t struggle with the content or emotions; I struggled with the process and my judgments about it.
In fact, I struggled to access any memories or emotions. Instead, my brain didn’t form any helpful associations. I felt nothing. I struggled with the lack of a struggle; the lack of the pain I was expecting to arise from the process. At points I found myself willing my brain to recall things – almost trying to forcefully draw memories to the surface – so that at least there would be something there. Anything. But this made me worried that I would interrupt the process by forcing things too much. So, that ended me up focusing too strongly on the starting memory, which meant I got stuck on it. As a result I had barely anything to say each time my therapist asked me what had “come up” after each round of bilateral stimulation. It was a lose lose situation.
Nothing was coming up. I couldn’t access any memories, images or emotions. Even when we chose a painful memory to start with, I couldn’t feel anything in that moment. I know I felt intensely at the time but none of those emotions came up when recalling it. I was trying to “make myself” feel what I “should be” feeling but I was totally cut off from it. To make it worse, the memory kept fading away and I couldn’t picture faces or play it like a video reel in my mind, which is what I was supposed to be doing. The more clarity I tried to visualise the scene in, the more patchy it became.
A very small number of changes happened but they all made me more frustrated. At one point, the image turned into a cartoon and the main character resembled a monster from a childhood book I used to read. At another point, I had an image of a rocket launching on a TV screen. Great. Lastly, I visualised a black screen with white words going across it saying one of the core beliefs my therapist told me to focus on. But no image, no memories, just bloody writing on a bloody screen.
Apparently these were just more clever ways that my brain has learnt to dissociate from my experiences. I told her she was reading too much into it. She pulled this funny face that she does.
I was getting frustrated with myself and convinced I was “doing EMDR wrong”. My therapist said that no one fails at EMDR, and there is no such thing as doing it wrong. But I wasn’t reassured. All I could think was “My childhood clearly isn’t traumatic enough for this to work. My brain isn’t processing because there is nothing to process. I am a fraud.”
My therapist said all the right things but the judgments came thick and fast and I was digging myself into a rut. I know that if I had memories to back up the things she is claiming and all the theory I know so well, it would make it a lot easier for me to accept the nature of my childhood “trauma”. But there is nothing. In fact, I have barely any memories with the person who hurt me the most before the age of 10 or so. I can think of 2.
My therapist says the memories are so few because I learnt to cut off at a young age. But cut off from what? I remember themes and phrases and what certain people were like generally but I don’t have the specific memories to match them. And so I convince myself that it must be because nothing happened; my childhood was fine; we are digging around in the dark for something that isn’t there.
After the session, I felt so self-hating and irritable that I wanted to hurt myself. (I didn’t). I had a ton of self-directed anger and self-disgust, for being such a failure, attention-seeker, fraud and all the other terrible things I am. Beating myself up because my life “should have been worse”. The voice in my head telling me “it’s your fault you’re like this”.
I spoke to my therapist on the phone later on because I was struggling with the above big time. Again, she said all the right things, but for every point she had, my brain had a counter-argument. We decided that in order to try and move forwards with this, I’m going to have to put my own judgments about myself to one side, and try internalise her perception of me as my own. Even if I don’t believe her (which I don’t), even if I don’t believe it (which I don’t), faking it to make it by talking to myself in the way she talks to me.
I hope EMDR is better next week. She said it’s common to feel this way at the start and that it can take a while to get used to. I’m obviously not convinced. But I hope she can prove me wrong.