I want to talk about EMDR. What is EMDR? Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)1 is a comprehensive, integrative psychotherapy approach. It contains elements of many effective psychotherapies in structured protocols that are designed to maximize treatment effects. These include psychodynamic, cognitive behavioral, interpersonal, experiential, and body-centered therapies. (online source) When it comes to abuse in general and domestic abuse in specific, it is important to look for a therapist trained in EMDR and DBT.
I’ve done EMDR, and, in my experience, EMDR essentially dislodges biologically lodged traumas from the body and memory so that you can finally get past them and heal. It’s very effective. After all the work I’ve done on past trauma, I believe that it is virtually impossible to heal and progress without some element of EMDR in your treatment plan. One will stay physically and emotionally ill because the trauma will continue to affect the body in the long-term.
For example, what caused me to seek out EMDR a few years ago was an interaction with my mother over the phone. The moment I heard her voice, I got a migraine. A classic migraine with aura. I was well and truly ill. I had to take my prescribed medications, go to bed, and ride out the headache just as I would have done with any other migraine. I hated to admit to myself that my mother’s voice was actually causing a migraine, and I wasn’t even sure how this was happening. Alas, it was. I, therefore, sought the help of a therapist trained in trauma and EMDR. We did some basic EMDR work, and it was successful.
The most notable observation, however, was that my relationship with my husband was paralleling my relationship with my mother, and this was triggering latent PTSD symptoms. I actually met the criteria for PTSD at the time of my treatment a few years ago. The EMDR work I did helped with a few memories associated my mother, but, as I shared more about my life with my then therapist, my marital relationship became the real concern. She very bluntly stated, “This is not sustainable. Your PTSD is most likely activated by your husband.”
Not something I was able to process at the time. Not at all. Who can fight a battle on two fronts?
The EMDR work is essential, however, because it cleans up toxic neural connections and allows new ones to grow. This may be, in fact, why I can now take a fresh look at my marriage. Everything we do in therapy builds a foundation for what we do in the future. If you were hurt by a past spouse or a friend or a parent, then it’s vital that you deal with those wounds so that you stop bleeding out in order to be more present to current relationships and circumstances. The more present you are, the stronger you are. The stronger you are, the less susceptible to manipulation you are and the more likely you are to ask for help from others who can actually offer it.
If there is one thing that is absolutely essential when it comes to problem-solving while living in a marriage where there is some sort of abuse, you must not give in to victim thinking or behaving like a martyr. This is where cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and EMDR are very helpful. I have found that is tempting to believe that we have no choices. There are many seductive beliefs that come to us in moments of despair which result in feelings of desolation and helplessness. We are not helpless. Why is this important to remember? If we believe that we are helpless, then we will not take action to do what is within our power to do. If we do not take action to differentiate from our partners, then we will forever wait upon them to change in order to meet our needs rather than learning to validate ourselves and change ourselves in order to meet our own needs. I think that this is the most important thing to do in any long-term relationship wherein there is some kind of abuse.
We can’t wait for permission. We must do for ourselves because it’s right. As Rabbi Hillel once said, “If we are not for us, then who will be?”