It was 2008 and I was going to school to get my degree in Clinical Counseling. The program I was in highly encouraged us to seek out our own therapy so we could experience it firsthand. I had insurance at the time so I did what most people do and got the names of three people covered by my plan. I honestly picked at random, choosing a woman named Janet Wright——joking that it just felt “right” (yes I’m that big of a nerd). We did traditional talk therapy around a variety of things I was struggling with and she gave me some good ideas, perspectives, and skills. The problem was that these went out the window once I became really upset by something. Try as I might I just couldn’t get myself to stop what was happening and use my skills. After a while I began to think something might be wrong with me.
As time passed I kept having this reaction with my boyfriend (now husband) where we would get in a minor argument about dishes or something silly and I would fly off the handle. I frequently would say things like “you don’t love me, you don’t want to be with me.” To put it in perspective, he is one of the nicest guys I know——so these are pretty mellow arguments. He would reply by reminding me “I’ve never said that and I don’t feel that way.” This kept happening and after numerous times I realized that this was my issue, not his.
I returned to Janet and she suggested we try EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). I was skeptical because it seemed really weird, but I remained open because I believe in trying out things in the therapy world so I can give my opinion. She said, “It sounds like you’re feeling not wanted.” I agreed but told her, “I know he wants me….we are living together and engaged.” She then asked what the earliest time I felt not wanted was and it went back to an isolated incident in my childhood——ONE TIME——that my parents said something that made me feel like they didn’t want me. I could talk about it without emotion and never really thought about it, so honestly I thought Janet was crazy.
We started EMDR and before I knew it I was bawling like a baby. I had no idea that my early experience had so much charge to it or that it was connected in anyway to my current response. What I learned is that things run on a cognitive thread or theme. There is an activating event that creates a belief about ourselves and the world and from there we often look for evidence or ways to validate that belief. That helps us “make sense” of the world and categorize things. It also is a survival mechanism to help us avoid painful or dangerous situations in the future. Unfortunately, our brain holds onto material that doesn’t actually serve us and can wire it into a sort of neural “super highway.” That’s exactly why skills weren’t helpful to me once I had jumped onto that super highway.
Research has found that when our emotional center, otherwise known as our limbic system, is activated it reduces our ability to effectively use our logical brain or frontal cortex. This is why we tend to make bad decisions or say things we don’t mean when we are overwhelmed with emotions. This is called a flooding response and we often experience the intensity every time we felt that way all at once, even if we aren’t consciously thinking about it. Our primal fight or flight system becomes activated, elevating our heart rate, blood pressure and increasing stress hormones.
After a number of sessions with Janet I no longer felt upset by my childhood experience and felt better about the present. It honestly wasn’t until months later that I realized I had stopped responding to my boyfriend like I used to. And it’s been 10 years since those sessions and I still haven’t had those reactions to him since or had to stop myself because I resolved the negative belief that was driving my behavior. I have since done EMDR around many other issues and life events that have happened and fully believe in its ability to help the brain heal. Come try it for yourself or set up a free consultation to talk about how it can work for you.