Our Flaws Make Us Interesting: EMDR Makes Them Funny

From Chris Roberts-Antieu, Monsters and Misfortune Collection, http://www.antieaugallery.com/browse/

Maybe our flaws even make us lovable.

My Flaws

I have a few characteristics of which I’m not proud. Most of them fall into the category of “uptightness” . . . fear and shame and rigidity. Before EMDR, I would not have written this post for fear of public ridicule.

First, I have this judgmental tendency that
springs up when I feel threatened or disoriented. I sometimes
pathologize, trying to make sense of something that
hurts or scares me (or that resembles something that hurt
me in the past). My job is a bit of a risk factor for this.

Second, I build walls that protect me from shame and
(imagined) physical and relational danger. The walls
started appearing back around 1970, but
I’ve reinforced them for the last several decades. They’ve kept me from having any broken bones, but they’ve prevented me from enjoying things like water sports or blowing a whole day on Outlander episodes. I always need to be productive.

I’d love to lose the uptightness. Just let it go, so I can be fully present to enjoy whatever’s happening in the moment. Then I’d be more like normal people.

But what if my shame and uptightness makes
me more . . . me?

Can defects of personality be lovable? Or at least

Could something you loathe about yourself actually be the thing another person finds attractive in you?

People I’m very close to sometimes laugh at my uptightness – and they’re laughing WITH me. About how I’m reluctant to throw my shoes in a
big stinky pile with everybody else’s dusty
clodhoppers at the bowling alley. My true friends
like me even though I can sometimes be too driven
and exacting – and even though I have a hard time
winding down for fun (how I’d have to be dragged to the bowling alley in the first place). They love me even though I’m awkward.  Maybe they
love me partly because of all my awkward trauma residue. They
say, “It’s okay that you have a stick up your ass. We know why it’s there.” From these people, I learn self-acceptance.

Their Flaws

Then we laugh at THEIR flaws. And I love those
those dear flaws. They’re frickin’ hilarious. The one who interrupts – literally has to bite his lip to keep from talking over you, but then you know how exuberantly he cares for your conversation. The one with the “checkered past” who is so brave to share all her humiliating sexual moments with the rest of us, so we can feel better about ourselves. The one with no self control over food, and the one with a touch of agoraphobia, and the one who can’t touch public doorknobs or poop anywhere but at home.

I’ve spent too many years trying to appear flawless, and maybe I’ve fooled a few people. But I’m starting to think my embarrassments and scars, bad hair days
and unresolved hurts and relationship failures might actually
make me more interesting . . . At least to the right

Oh, and EMDR helps moderate all of this: it changes my physiology around fear and shame, makes me kind of laugh at myself.

Contact Deborah


“I’m unattractive & I Don’t Deserve Love”: Change Negative Beliefs with EMDR

By Scot Campbell from Charlotte, NC, USA [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I have a few Negative Beliefs . . .

I did some dumb things in my teens. I backed the family car out of the driveway, into our neighbor’s car (which had exited his driveway a second ahead of mine). I waited tables at a church banquet and spilled iced tea down the back of a well-dressed Sunday school teacher. I sat at the piano in complete paralysis, unable to remember an entire section of my Chopin Polonaise as the audience waited . . .

When I think of this chain of horrors, I want to hide and disintegrate into the soil, never to be seen again. I feel like . . . I’m a failure; I’m a disappointment.

Those two beliefs, until pretty recently, dominated my life. I never fully relaxed for fear I might bomb another important event, thus reinforcing my status as a disappointer.

Negative Beliefs sound like . . .

I’m not (good) enough.

I’m unworthy.

It’s my fault.

I’m a bad person.

I’m unsafe.

I can’t trust.

I’m insignificant.

These beliefs come from adverse experiences, especially repeated ones that happened when we were very young. The traumatized brain grabs these explanations – unless someone helps us understand and talk about what happened. So maybe your logical, adult self knows that these are false . . . but the emotional or child part of you FEELS they are true anyway.

Maybe you have old Negative Beliefs that could be interfering with your life now.

So, when you think of your worst problem  . . . the thing that causes you the most grief and heartache and anxiety:

  1. What does it look like?
  2. How does it feel when you think of it?
  3. Where do you notice that emotion in your body?
  4. What does it mean about you? . . .

There it is.

EMDR targets those old ways of viewing and experiencing our selves. It causes us to reprocess, or metabolize, old information that once got stuck in traumatic form in our bodies and it lets new information replace it.

I do the best I can.

I did the best I could.

I’m okay now.

I’m good enough.

I’m enough as I am.

I’m a good person.

I’m beautiful and I deserve love.


Contact Deborah


EMDR, Worry, & Letting Go

Holding On & Letting Go

You know, that feeling where you remind yourself to worry? Lately, I catch myself holding certain issues with a death grip; things I can’t control.

  • My loved-one’s health habits.
  • The world’s poverty and greed.
  • Our mass addictions to technology.
  • Someone else’s parenting failures.
  • My child’s future direction.

I catch myself thinking about these things and literally not breathing.

  • What people think when I don’t call them right back or answer texts on Saturday.

Yet, I realize that clutching worries as if they were mine to command only keeps me cramped. The death grip is a self-punishing illusion. I can only take care of me.

  • What really happens to all those used plastic Keurig cups?

EMDR, Bilateral Stimulation, and Letting Go

By Olivier2000 at French Wikipedia (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

In the olden days, therapists had to convince you it would save your life to relax. Now, with EMDR, your own nervous system pushes through all the information standing between you and peace. You get there . . . sometimes with lightning speed.

Even so, between EMDR sessions, I need tools. My higher self knows it’s okay to let go, get calm, and expect good things. These steps make that happen.

  1. Take a few deep breaths. Read about why this helps.
  2. Notice the beginning signs that these issues are floating away: a feeling of warmth, a slowing of my heart-rate, a change in my breathing.
  3. Repeat the phrase, “All is in divine order,” or “Everything is already okay.” (That second one comes from a principal of a Dallas high school where I worked in the 90s . . . he said it every morning over the PA system, followed with one minute of Mozart as students settled into first period classes.)
  4. Give myself some bilateral stimulation: Tap the sides of my knees or head (at the temples), alternately, while saying something like this:

“Even though I’m worried my anxiety is rubbing off on my child, I know I’m still a good person and I know we can deal with it.”

“Even though I feel uptight when I notice racism being stirred in our country – I know it’s okay for me to relax. I know that love prevails.”

  1. Focus on something beautiful for 30 seconds while tapping.

Everything really is already okay.

Contact Deborah


Be More Self-Centered and Save the World

image copyright Moyan Brenn

What does it mean to be self centered?

Your Self is your wise spiritual center. But outside this center, we live under a weighted blanket of stress and uncertainty, threatened by darkness and greed from all angles. We feel disconnected from neighbors and afraid of people on the other side of the philosophical aisle. 18% of the population suffers from a full-blown anxiety disorder and depression continues its 80-year rise in the general population. Lots of us medicate this pain with alcohol and other drugs. We separate from self.

When I glimpse the big-ness of our broken world, I often think: DO SOMETHING!!!! Reach out to more people! Give more money to charities! Convince people to stop hitting children and get themselves into EMDR therapy!!!

. . . And then I remember My Self. My limits. My small-ness and human-ness: my need for sleep and meditation and stillness.

All I can do is heal My Self, become calm and conscious, untangle from ego. Which means understanding who I am. Some spiritual teachers recommend constantly holding onto the thought, Who am I? The question takes us deeper into our spiritual center. This is what it means to be self-centered.

Who Am I?

How to use this question? Start with these lists and see what you learn.

  1. Make a list of things you know, for sure, about yourself (e.g., I work hard; I want to make more money; I like being by the ocean; I get upset when people don’t do their jobs . . .). Concentrate on the list and ask yourself, What does this mean about me?
  2. Make a list of your accomplishments (e.g., I finished college; I became a teacher; I had a family; I organized a new community board . . .). Study this list and ask, What does this say about me?
  3. Make a list of your failures (e.g., I didn’t pursue acting; I dropped out of college; I left my one true love; I can’t get rid of my depression . . .). Then ask, What does all of this mean about me?

Self Center as the Path to Enlightenment and Calm

Now you have some reference points for the question, Who Am I? Choose a few new habits to help you continue getting to know your inner self. Take long walks and allow your mind to wander. Start a quiet yoga practice. Begin doing Morning Pages in a notebook. Add five minutes of quiet coffee time to your morning. Allow thoughts and feelings to emerge; notice as they pass.

Insights and preferences may show up as you find your spiritual center. I prefer not to marry this person. I can change my religious habits. Alcohol robs me of mindfulness. I need to make music. I can best love that friend from a distance . . .

When we center ourselves in this question, we become less fearful, less narcissistic. We start to learn our cosmic roles and see ourselves as connected to the whole universe.

What Do I Do with My Self?

The question, Who Am I? deepens us over time as we start to see our roles in universal learning. One of my cosmic roles: shining a flashlight on what bothers me: hypocrisy, disconnection, and domination. Writing autobiographical fiction lets me illuminate these – with the hope that someone in my audience will benefit. It also keeps that question front and center.

As you discover your cosmic roles, you get the desire to do something, even if just to breathe and notice. Trust this impulse. Keep asking, What does this mean about me? Where does this idea come from? You also grow calmer and realize how your life history makes sense. There are no mistakes. Everything happens to further our development as connected souls. It’s all good.

P.S. EMDR helps this process along.

Contact Deborah



Deepening our Relationships by Letting People Know Us

Relationships: Knowing and Being Known

Relationships: Knowing and Being Known

Yesterday, I had a conversation with friends about how we become known inside our relationships. Where and with whom can we be truly ourselves? How much do we share? What parts of ourselves do we keep hidden?

Loneliness and social isolation pose serious health risks. So the question of how we share with the people around us matters to our longevity and overall well-being.

 In my Tuesday morning cardio class, hilarious thoughts spring to mind. The shared misery of burpees takes me back to embarrassing 7th grade gym class moments or a random image of Will Farrell in a Little Debbie Costume or what my butt looks like as I lumber from squat to thrust. Sometimes I share, but in classic introvert style, I keep far more to myself than I ever let loose with anyone. Anyone.

While we all keep quiet volumes locked inside, in relationships, most of us yearn to fling open the doors of our souls and let someone know us completely. This is pretty much universal human need. But we hesitate, analyze, stifle. Relational-Cultural Theory describes this process in detail. We wish for deeper sharing but we keep our most interesting thoughts and feelings unspoken, protecting ourselves from potential rejection and shame.

Even old friends and long-married couples hold back from each other. We fear rejection, hurting each other’s feelings, starting an argument, or just being wrong. Sometimes I coach partners to trust the material that bubbles up inside them. As I do, I realize I need the same kind of coaching to support courageous connection. I grew up with the religious teaching that women should be quiet. Add that doctrine to an INFJ temperament and you get a girl who rarely speaks.

In fact, I still have trouble coming up with spoken words on the spot, especially if I’m standing up and balancing a plate of appetizers. If I could sit and write my part of a conversation, I’d be fine, but who wants to wag around a notepad and marker at a party? As I move through middle age, I need a strategy for sharing more of myself, aloud. It always pays off in the long run: I make a new friend or deepen an existing one; I learn something about myself; I feel less hidden.

So, I say (to both of us): Go for the Mistake: Trust it, and say it Out Loud.

Here’s my plan for letting people know me.

  1. Cartoons: I pledge to draw more cartoons of myself in awkward social situations, especially if they involve verbal faux pas. Use my creativity to turn embarrassment or aloneness into art that can be shared.
  2. Slowing Down: I pledge to take my time and find the words I need in the moment. Keep breathing. Learn to savor saying it…even if it’s wrong…even if people yawn and squirm.
  3. Journal Sharing: I pledge to read selected chunks of my Morning Pages to my partner; maybe even to my friends. Maybe this will encourage them to share their journal writing with me.
  4. Self-Acceptance: I pledge to enjoy my social bloopers and embrace that they’re part of me. Remember that time I said Save the Cork at your son’s bar mitzvah and your family thought I was talking about pig meat? I pledge to take these moments less seriously.

I need to remember: when I set out bits of my inner life, it’s like feeding the neighborhood cats. I give a gift and an invitation to my friend, my partner, my acquaintance to go deeper with me, trust our connection. I take a risk. And if nothing else, I help somebody else feel better about their gaffs by making a well-intentioned ass of myself.

Writing and EMDR therapy help this process along. Contact me if you’d like to learn more about how life-writing and EMDR therapy can help you strengthen relationships, tap into your creativity, and deepen your knowledge of yourself.

(An earlier version of this article was originally posted on http://www.howtowinamansheart.com/blog/)

Contact Deborah

Find Your G-Spot: Healthy versus Coercive Guilt

Find Your G-Spot

Find Your G-Spot


My clients report LOTS of guilt. Guilt over everything . . . being a rebellious teen (thirty years ago) . . . failing to protect their children from unforeseen tragedies . . . eating desserts . . . not living up to their potential . . . breaking someone’s heart . . . flying into rages . . . majoring in business instead of art. Some of this is healthy guilt. Most of it is coercive guilt.

It’s my fault: . . . I’m not more successful.

My dad died too young.

My parents split up.

My mother stayed in bed all the time.

My brother has so much trouble.

My husband doesn’t want me.

We had to file bankruptcy.

We lost the baby.

 Sometimes I try to argue with them. So, a five-year-old kid could cause his parents to divorce? So, you’re supposed to put your young life on hold to make sure your dad doesn’t die – even though he’s trashed his body and chased away his loved ones?

 Talk therapy only gets us so far: countering this kind of guilt with words is only partially helpful. We need the power-washer of EMDR to clean out old trauma channels in the brain that hold residue from our history and hold back the forward progress of our thinking.

But sometimes guilt is good. And we need to know the difference between guilt that helps versus guilt that hurts.

Healthy Guilt

Healthy Guilt steers us in the direction of becoming kinder, more responsible, more empathic, and more helpful. Guilt is good if it makes us better.

I wish I had not insulted his masculinity.

I wish I had handled my children more gently.

I could have helped that woman down the street with her car.

I should give more to charity.

Healthy Guilt brings awareness and changes our behavior in the future. It notices and then lets go. It illuminates a path not taken and creates experiential learning. It says: I’m human, I’m imperfect, and I’m learning. I believe Healthy Guilt comes from the higher self in connection with divine love.

But if it hangs on, keeps us awake at night, or paralyzes our ability to feel joy or to take action, guilt has morphed from healthy to coercive.

Coercive Guilt

Coercion involves force or threats – direct or indirect. So Coercive Guilt comes from some experience (past or present) in which we were induced to feel bad about ourselves for disappointing someone else. Coercive Guilt steers us toward depression, rigidity, anxiety, and less enjoyment of life. Coercive Guilt gets passed down the line, creating anxiety for younger generations. Guilt is bad if it is used to coerce others or make ourselves sick. Guilt is bad if it hangs on in spite of our changes, our apologies, our restitutions. Coercive Guilt comes from an outside influence that says we’ll never be enough, no matter how hard we work or how much we deny ourselves.

Coercive Guilt activates false family-of-origin beliefs.

  1. I’m a bad person.
  2. I make people angry, sad.
  3. I don’t give enough.
  4. I’m selfish and ungrateful.
  5. People who move far away from family are selfish and cold.
  6. If I take care of myself, I can’t be good (enough) to others.
  7. If I speak my truth, I will hurt people (and that would be bad).
  8. If I do what’s in my own best interest, I will have failed someone else.
  9. I should have known better. I should have seen it before.
  10. I’m not enough.

I wonder how the world would change if we all began to shed our coercive guilt. I wonder what would happen if we wrote about where it all started, how it’s limited our life adventures, and what we’d love to do if we weren’t so guilty.

Contact me if you’d like to target your Coercive Guilt with EMDR therapy or talk about re-writing your life story without all the apologies.

Contact Deborah



How Exercise, Story, and EMDR Heal Trauma

Story Lives in the Body

Story Lives in the Body

You have a story to tell (and it lives in your body.)

As you know, I recommend writing as a way of healing. When we write story, we turn pain into beauty, even if we’re spinning complete fiction. Writing forces us to transform bits of disconnected ideas, pictures, sensations, and memories into episodic memory.

When a scene becomes worded completely, fleshed out with vivid details and thoughts, it becomes whole. We use both sides of our brains to create story: the emotions and colors live mostly on the right, while the words and logic live mostly on the left. We constantly move back and forth within the nervous system to pull pieces together like a patchwork quilt. This is information processing, the primary component of EMDR therapy.

Story and Information Processing with EMDR

Trauma memory tends to be stored in these separate, left and right, containers, which is why bits of it get activated without our realizing it. We become panicked all of a sudden when we drive through a particular part of town. We lose focus during a meeting and go numb in response to someone’s voice. We smell a particular perfume and get a guilt-attack…as if out of nowhere.

EMDR brings right and left together. Memory bits become clusters which become whole stories, complete with the necessary logic to neutralize their poison.

“I was four years old. Of course I wet my pants in the car! That’s what four-year-olds do!”

Through bilateral stimulation (BLS), EMDR triggers the integration of the panic, guilt, shame, pictures, sensations, temperatures, muscle tensions, and beliefs with newer knowledge about ourselves and the world. “I’m defective…” becomes “I’m normal…I did the best I could.”

When our story becomes whole, we can tell it thoroughly and artfully. We can even rewrite it to tell a bigger story or turn it into the story we wish we’d experienced in real life. We can turn trouble into art. This is why I wrote Wife Material, my semi-autobiographical novel of growing up in religious abuse.

Information Processing with Exercise

Last week, I wrote about how exercise transforms our mental state. I think this happens through bilateral stimulation. In EMDR, we use side-to-side eye-movements, pulses, auditory tones, or taps for this. But running, walking, punching, crawling, and climbing can do something similar. This is probably why a good power-walk blows out tension and cobwebs and shines light on all kinds of things you haven’t seen in a while. It moves you beyond your day’s troubles and stuck thoughts and pushes you into an altered brain – a brain that sees and interprets differently…a brain alive with story.

Kettle Bells at The BodySmith

Kettle Bells at The BodySmith

This spring, I’m opening a therapy office at The BodySmith, where I’ll join a team of skilled and caring fitness professionals. We’ll collaborate to find more ways to help you keep things moving: to transport old trauma out of its disconnected storage bins and into creative, working memory.

For now, try this exercise and let me know how it works for you.

  1. Make a list of issues you’re worried about. Place a star beside the one bothering you most.
  2. Notice any emotion or body sensation you get with that issue.
  3. While you’re still aware of the issue, take a long walk, 30 minutes or more. Allow your mind to wander while you walk.
  4. Afterwards, get your notebook and write about the issue again. Notice any changes in perspective or feeling.

Call me if you’d like to talk about how to tell your story and use EMDR and exercise to heal.

Contact Deborah

Investment in Healing: Why Pay for Therapy?

Why it makes sense to pay for good therapy.

Invest in your emotional development: Become more of who you were meant to be.

Hello, I think I need some therapy…..

How much does it cost? When can I expect to feel better?…….

Will I need therapy for a year? Three years?…….

Why won’t you take my insurance?…………

Investment in my health????? 

We call in distress, needing help now. Yet, we worry about the time and expense of therapy and feel discouraged at the vision of being on the therapist’s couch for the rest of our natural lives.

I can’t afford this.

I’m tired of being lonely and depressed, but I can’t leave work for a therapy appointment.

My husband doesn’t want me to spend the money…………

Sometimes, the idea of shelling out over a hundred dollars to talk seems ridiculous. I know – I’ve been there too. Even if you feel worthless and alone in the world, it’s hard to imagine that investment in your emotional health could lead to a different way of life. But let’s look at that money in the context of going to see your family doctor, which you’d probably do if you had a headache that wouldn’t go away.

  1. A typical doctor’s office visit costs anywhere between forty and three-hundred dollars. For this money, you get perhaps 20 minutes of your physician’s time. You might get to ask your list of questions and you might get a diagnosis or prescription. But you will probably not get an hour of face-to-face exploration of who you are with a person who is trained to listen for clues to your emotional and relational life. (The exception to this might be my own doctor, who does listen and ask good questions for 30 to 45 minutes.)
  2. You take off work to go see your doctor. You probably leave the appointment with an answer (yes or no) to the question, Am I dying? But you will probably not begin to feel better just yet – nor will you have a deeper sense that you are SANE, WORTHY, and connected to the universe. Your behavior will most likely remain unchanged (except, perhaps, for taking your medicine).
  3. For an investment of $170, the average in that range, you can have a top of the line running shoe, which will last between six and ten months. That shoe will cost you more than most therapy sessions. And if you go ahead and buy a good EMDR therapy session, you will most likely net permanent change to your neural networks that promotes more effective thinking and a calmer body.
  4. With the investment of under $300, for a few good EMDR therapy sessions, you should have the following.
    • A working partnership with someone who’s focused on really getting you.
    • Some new resources for calming your nervous system and thinking with more clarity and less stress, less negative self-perception and noise.
    • And…..a beginning understanding of what’s been blocking your path to achievement or satisfying relationships.

I start almost every EMDR therapy relationship with resourcing – building new thoughts, feelings, and images that literally change your brain. I start this process in our very first meeting, so even if you only see me once, we begin tapping in those supports that bolster your forward movement.

EMDR therapy usually takes more than two sessions for the typical adult with anxiety or depression. I work with your schedule as much as possible. According to our local data, most people feel significantly better within six sessions. And no, I don’t take much insurance anymore. For about a dozen reasons. We make more progress when we pay for the service.

Check it out. Do some reading. And contact me if you’d like to learn more.

Contact Deborah


EMDR can help you Achieve: Be a better athlete, singer, or cowgirl.

Be better at what you do.

EMDR can help you do whatever you do better.

We all want to achieve something. When I was eight, I wanted to be a cowgirl. This never happened, but if it had, I imagine EMDR would help me achieve my team roping goals and stay fit for the arena.

EMDR therapy helps people recover from trauma, relationship stress, and all kinds of anxiety. But EMDR also improves performance in practically every area. Although everyone’s results are unique, something positive always emerges from the process. EMDR promotes better outcomes in areas where you want to achieve: artistic, athletic, professional, and personal.

Here’s a story about EMDR Performance Enhancement Therapy.

Jeff swam competitively, an Olympic hopeful who wanted to improve his time in the 200 Meter Fly. He came in for EMDR and we talked about how he felt when he was swimming – and when he was about to swim.

“How do you feel in the water?”

“I love it when I’m in it. But before I get there, I have to force myself into focus or I’m pulled away by thoughts.”

“What kinds of thoughts?”

“Remembering the last time and being disappointed with myself.”

“So, before you hit the water, you have to fight to keep those thoughts of disappointment away?”

“Yes, and knowing my dad and coach are thinking the same thing and worrying.”

“What does it feel like now as you think about that?”

“It feels tight, in my arms and shoulders – and heavy.”

“And when you notice that, what does it mean to you?”

“That I’m going to disappoint them again.”

If you listen between the lines, Jeff already feels like a disappointment even before he dives into the pool. His body takes on the feeling of a disappointing event and he’s distracted about what his dad and coach are (presumably) feeling. This sets Jeff up for failure.

As we look for details about this setup, Jeff admits he feels like a failure. His father had missed his own chance at the Olympic team, back in the 70s, by a few tenths of a second, so Jeff was his hope for redemption. Jeff’s dad most likely saw himself as a failure

The feeling of, “I’m a failure,” gets transmitted from parent to child, even if a parent tries to hide it.

So we EMDR the whole thing: the disappointing events where Jeff’s time didn’t improve, the thoughts about his dad and coach……and a curious insight popped out.

“My Dad probably feels empathy for me – like he wouldn’t want me to stress over this like I’ve been doing. He just wants me to get what I want, so it’s about how much he loves me.”

“Go with that,” I say, and we do some slow, calming eye-movements. Jeff relaxes – I see his shoulders drop.

“I’m still his son, even if I don’t make the team.”

“Go with that.”

“It’s all gonna be okay.” Jeff yawns, a sign that his parasympathetic nervous system is engaged and working to calm him down.

One week later, Jeff shaves six tenths of a second from his time in the 200 Fly.

We do more EMDR. He calms down even more. We do some reparative EMDR with Jeff and his dad.

“I’m a whole person,” he says.

“Go with that.”

“I have many layers to me – not just one. I’ll do my best and that’s enough.” Jeff yawns.

In two more weeks, he drops another second from his 200 Fly.

It’s not a magic bullet, but EMDR pushes people toward their goals. Whether it’s public speaking, barrel racing, exercise and weight management, or breaking through writer’s block, EMDR therapy can get things moving, so you achieve more. Contact me if you’d like to talk about getting better at what you do.

It Must be My Fault

IMG_0004 (2)

“It Must be My Fault”

Beth gets the guilt like a reflex if anything goes wrong…..Especially if it involves her partner or her kids.

“If Stuart’s in a bad mood, I assume it has something to do with me.”

She feels responsible for her divorce.

“If I had been calmer and less upset, we might have made it.”

Beth blames herself for her ex-husband’s affair, which ultimately led to their divorce. When she talks about this, huge tears form in her eyes. If only I had been less kid-focused, more marriage-focused, he wouldn’t have strayed.

“I’m a failure at love.”

As we explore her history, we find more events for which she believes she is responsible.

  • Her parents’ constant fighting.
  • Her younger sister’s illness and eventual death.
  • Her parents’ divorce when she was thirteen.
  • Her mother’s drinking problem.
  • Her father’s absence, remarriage, new family, and complete emotional cutoff from adolescent Beth.

As adults, we know she could never have caused her sister’s cancer, but she feels as though she did. Part of Beth’s brain, the part that recorded all the childhood traumas, got stuck in a loop of images, emotions, and body sensations many years ago. In fact, the neuro-cognitive self-blame loop formed before she could even talk……way back when Beth’s young parents were struggling to survive early job loss and financial devastation.

Children blame themselves for their parents’ suffering. Children absorb their parents’ emotions into their own nervous systems. Yes, children absorb guilt that belongs to someone else.

The guilt-and-self-blame loop triggers Beth to drink too much, eat too much, and feel like a failure. Beth needs help rewiring her brain circuitry. EMDR (eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing) therapy does this, literally, by jump-starting conversation between the two hemispheres of the brain. The talk between brain hemispheres actually produces new information.

Imagine the lids from two cans of paint – one red, one white. Now picture someone taking a brush and drawing it across both lids – back and forth, until you see lines of white in the red and lines of red in the white….and soon pink paint!

EMDR works like this…..the new information, like the pink paint created in this illustration, triggers neurons (brain cells) to communicate with each other in a different way. New working groups of neurons form. These new neuron groups change the very route through which both old and new information travels, allowing it to produce new meaning and emotion as it picks up new data along its new route through the nervous system.

That new information leads to an emotional change – the ability to feel the truth in what our adult brains know to be true:

  • It’s not my fault.
  • I did the best I could.
  • I was a child.
  • I deserve love.

When I see this process unfolding in my clients, I watch them calm down. I watch them acquire new, imaginative ideas, parent more effectively, and become more spiritually centered.

Call me to find out more about EMDR therapy, calming down, and letting go of guilt.

Contact Deborah