EMDR Rant

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.

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22 thoughts on “EMDR Rant

  1. had my second EMDR session least Wednesday and I feel the exact same that you do. We’ve started with the memory of this strange man (birth father, which my parents did tell me who he was to me at that point) who would come on occasion to visit at our house and who paid special attention to only me and not my siblings. He always brought silver dollars with him. He was drunk (I think he controlled his behavior enough that my mom didn’t notice that he was or she wouldn’t have let me go) and I didn’t realize it till we were on the tollway going to a county fair. It was raining very hard and it was hard d to see out of the window. And he kept missing the exit and got lost repeatedly and I had to keep giving him my silver dollars to pay the toll. My curfew was 8:00pm and we didn’t get there till 8:00pm and the fair was closed. So, I was scared that I would get into trouble with my mom for not getting home on time. When I got back home I was crying b/c I was scared and my mother yelled at me for crying b/c I embarrassed her.

    It was a memory that really didn’t bother me. And I couldn’t remember the steps of it so I was getting frustrated. I haven’t felt any different or noticed anything different. I am unsure if it will help and it’s an extra session a week that I pay out of pocket. I originally wanted to do prolonged exposure b/c that’s what I did before my old therapist left. In my case it was extremely difficult to do b/c the constant embarrasses me and the therapist as well. But, it’s a faster process and you listen to the session recordings at night. And, by doing that you get desensitized faster. EMDR seems like hocus pocus and my T made the mistake that it would fix me 100%. If I don’t “feel” 100%, I’m going to get resentful, angry and take it out on my regular T.

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    • It’s really hard to work with the memories when there is such an emotional detachment 😦 I’m trying to have faith in the process, a close friend who sees the same therapist as me is finding EMDR really valuable and rewarding. Se even though I haven’t actually done it again (things keep getting in the way), I am desperate for it to work. Nevertheless I think your T telling you it will 100% “fix” you is a bit presumptuous (despite good intentions I’m sure). I hope in time we can both reap some of the positive effects I/ we have heard others get from EMDR! I’ve heard a lot about prolonged exposure and have friends who have done it but for my own reasons it’s not something I “agree with” or would choose to have. I think we all have to do what works for us but it is immensely frustrating and hopeless when nothing seems to be working despite trying so effing hard! Sorry if this is all over the place I’m half asleep as it’s late here. Thanks for commenting and wish you all the best in the next part of your journey whatever that may be. I also have a lot of compassion for the confused and scared child you describe, regardless of how you feel about that memory in hindsight xx

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  2. i feel bit like you am willing myself for this to work so had first emdr yesterday and felt fine the fog in head had lifted and was at peace so went to bed only to wake up to find the usual evil thoughts were back the main think noticed am very shattered !

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    • I’m hoping that it’ll take time and that the fact it isn’t a “quick fix” isn’t a reason to give up hope…. apparently it is very normal to be exhausted after! And to have all sorts of memories, thoughts etc come up – maybe make a note of them to share with your T as they are likely to be communicating something to you about your process! Good luck; hope it works out 🙂

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  3. Hi, I hope u are finding the EMDR helpful now. I have been through a set of sessions for childhood abuse. At the start I felt convinced that this was hocus pocus and would have no effect whatsoever. I found very early on that I could recall the memories and emotions and although it was tough and physically/emotionally draining I knew somewhere inside that it was working. I could feel changes within me.
    I should probably say that I have only recently been diagnosed with bpd among other things. Unfortunately I moved local authority and in doing so I’m having to start from scratch as far as my treatment goes. So now is very hard for me, I have resorted to self harm, and am in the process of destroying all the good relationships I have in my life.
    I am able to cope with the childhood abuse and feel that this issue is resolved within me and I now realise I am blameless. The perpetrator is dead. I have disassociated my feelings/thoughts with his actions and can put that particular issue in the dealt with column. I can move on to the next.
    I am in the UK so our treatment and healthcare systems are completely different to yours. We have very long waiting lists and it is difficult to see a therapist, no choice with who that is so if you don’t gel it’s back to the end of the very long queue.
    I do identify 100% with your own description of bpd and symptoms and am finding your blog so helpful. It’s helpful to explain to my partner why I am the way I am and why I react the way I do to what, to him, seem insignificant issues. I am glad to have found your blog and I am thankful for ur honesty and openness. You are strong and getting stronger daily. I am sure the blog helps you as you write also. Thank you immensely. With love x

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    • Hi there. I’m in the U.K. too and have dealt with the NHS over the years so I understand. Luckily I’m with a long term therapist now through other means who specialises in DBT, EMDR and others.
      Thanks so much for sharing your experiences. My biggest struggle in EMDR so far is that I find it extremely hard to connect with the feelings associated with the memories – sort of the opposite to you? Like no emotions come up and it’s really frustrating, and leaves us with less to work with. Instead what comes up for me is body sensations, a lot of shaking and panic. But my brain and body and emotions are all pretty disconnected from one another.
      I’m so glad it has worked for you, re coming to terms with the abuse you endured, and I’m so sorry that you have been through all you have. You sound really strong and inspiring. I’m saddened to hear about the other bpd symptoms worsening e.g. Self harm and relationship issues, and really hope you get to the front of that waiting list asap. You need loving, both from self and others. I’m sending you warmth and love, take care lovely x

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  4. Thank you for sharing! Keep doing it! In my experience it really works! The first time I did EMRD was through grief counseling for my mothers death and traumatic events during childhood with her. It worked! Now again yeas later back to therapy for PTSD symptoms as a result of childhood incest. I am actually excited! I know it works…..I had a new memory last week. I m looking forward to the healing surrounding it!
    Good luck and let go and don’t beat yourself up…Im working on being kinder to myself as well!

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    • Wow this is really hopeful thanks so much. I’ve been really struggling with it and have a lot of judgments – can I ask, how do I *know* if it is “working” or not? Thanks so much and good luck going back to therapy, I’m very happy you benefited from it 🙂

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      • I’m glad I could help! Here is an example of how it worked for me: As an adult I could not sit in a car alone at night without having panic attacks. The result of my mom leaving me alone in the car as child while she went into bars. My therapist had me recall the memory and then go back and comfort the little girl as an adult! It worked. The memories are still there but they do not have the physical charge they once had. No more panic attacks.This also helped with other traumatic events ….Mom getting thrown down the stairs. Memory there but no visceral charge.It works. I have faith it will work for you to. Let’s not beat ourselves up for not being all perfect! Perfect is so overrated!

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      • That’s amazing. I really hope it works out. So much of my past is really ingrained in how I perceive the world and in how I relate to others, so I don’t know how I would notice changes as they wouldn’t be visceral (unless maybe reduced anxiety/ less reactivity or something with people). I definitely see how it could work for the tangible traumas that result in panic responses like what you said. At the moment it’s making me feel more triggered as opposed to less but maybe because we are only part way through and haven’t “completed” processing those specific memories! Thanks so much.. 🙂 all the best

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