Last year I participated as a client in EMDR therapy for a period of months. I decided to do this because I knew that I had grown up having experienced a childhood that has had a negative impact on the ways I think and act as an adult, and I wanted to fully address these unresolved traumas so that my life is not continually impacted by them.
In case you’re not familiar with it, EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, and is a therapy model that has been proven to be effective in working with trauma. In basic terms, EMDR helps clients to identify past life events or memories that they have been unable to process. Associated with these memories is usually a negative belief that the person holds about themselves. The problem comes when people are unable to let go of, or even to recognize, this negative belief, and the belief permeates into the rest of their lives. Some people can easily pinpoint a traumatic event that happened to them, but often many people can’t, and only know that they are suffering, be it through anxiety, depression, anger, PTSD, relational problems, addictions, behavioral issues, or many other symptoms.
Through EMDR therapy, I’ve learned that my negative belief is that I’m not good enough. This came from my interpretation of several ongoing events that occurred throughout my childhood. I grew up with a father who probably suffered from an undiagnosed mental illness, and his responses to me and life situations was erratic and unpredictable. Sometimes he was the best dad, but many times he wasn’t. As most young children do, I internalized his behaviors as being directly influenced by me, and because his behaviors continued despite whatever effort I made, I believed I was doing something wrong and could not ever seem to be good enough for him. As a child, I was also very overweight and wore bifocals (and an eyepatch!). In my very early years, the thought never even occurred to me that I was different from any other kids. But eventually, the other kids started making fun of me, not wanting to sit next to me, and always picking me last for sports teams. This told me that I was different, and different was bad, and I therefore was not good enough. I did not understand that none of this was my fault, and so I grew up with these negative beliefs about myself. When you see the world through a specific lens, that lens determines how you interact with the world. Through EMDR and my own self-reflection practice, I have realized that I have irrationally applied this belief of “I’m not good enough” to most situations of my life since I was a child. For years, I developed self-destructive coping skills in a misguided attempt to gain some control over my life, for years I have tolerated unhealthy relationships or situations because I did not think I could do, or deserved, any better. For years, I have often kept a wall up between myself and others, and for years, people have misinterpreted my actions as me being stuck up, cold, or just not caring. I have learned that my actions and the way I have interacted with the world have all been defense mechanisms – the only way I knew how to try to protect myself from an “unsafe world” and “threatening people”, and a world where I would never be good enough. The problem is, in reality, most of the time my world has been safe and people have been nice.
So this brings me to last October and my 20 year high school reunion. Given everything I just explained, it’s pretty miraculous that I even wanted to attend this reunion. But I was intrigued, and I went. The majority of people who were there were people who I wasn’t really friends with, or even ever spoke to, in high school. Yet, to my surprise, they all knew my name, wanted to talk to me, were very friendly, and seemed genuinely interested to find out how the last 20 years have been. I was shocked. In high school, I had come up with stories and judgments about many people as reasons why I shouldn’t give them the time of day. DUMB reasons like the way they dressed, or the “fact” that they didn’t like me. I realized that these stories were not actually based in fact, and were instead my attempt at trying to protect myself from people or situations that I feared would hurt me. I’m realizing that I have lived SO MUCH of my life like this, and that I have no desire to continue living through the lens of fear. And with the help of EMDR therapy, I have learned how NOT to do this. I have been able to process the traumatizing events of my life, to be able to recognize them for what they were, to be able to “clean out” the irrational negative beliefs, and to be able to learn a new way of moving forward in my life without those beliefs tying me down.