How to Know when it’s Time to Say Goodbye

The necessary edges between things.

Every creation requires sacrifice.

I have trouble letting go. Mostly when it comes to saying goodbye to unbalanced relationships. You know, the kind where you feel you should be helpful but no amount of help seems to make a difference? So here are some thoughts about change and letting go of what no longer serves us.

Change is constant. We learn and gain insight – so we’re not the same people we were last year. We have more skill, experience, and sense of our true selves. We see our goals more clearly. We crave new experiences and the company of people who have knowledge we need. This is normal and good.

But: One, how do we know when it’s the right thing to push ahead and say goodbye? And: Two, what does it mean to walk away from people or institutions that no longer help us grow? First, here are some signs it’s time to go.

  1. You feel resentful. The colleague or partner you’ve been with is a decent enough person. But you no longer feel positive feelings about the collaboration or relationship. You feel exploited or dragged down by it.
  2. You dread contact. The group or institution that once fed your spirit now makes you want to stay away.
  3. You feel guilty, sad, stuck….and more resentful. There’s a sense of obligation you have toward your partner/friend. It’s like feeling sorry for someone but also tied to them like a conjoined twin you can’t shake off. When you think of stepping away, you see yourself as a terrible, selfish, mean-spirited person. This is the Pity/Anger Paradox.
  4. You feel drained. Thinking about the person or group distracts you from creative work – it drains your productivity and energy. You get sick more often than normal. You have trouble exercising. You want to crawl into bed and stay there for a week or two. Your projects languish….

If any of these is familiar, consider talking or writing about your situation. Get your worst fears onto the page or spoken aloud to a trusted confidante. EMDR therapy can also help us let go of tired, old requirements that no longer serve us.

Does this make us selfish? Good question. Maybe it does. But I’m learning that if I don’t behave somewhat selfishly at times, I drown in other people’s needs. Just like some organism dies every time I eat (and I’m a vegetarian!). To survive and breathe, I have to say:

NO, THANK YOU.

I AM UNAVAILABLE FOR THAT.

PLEASE GO NOW.

I NEED SPACE.

I WILL NO LONGER BE GIVING TIME TO THAT.

This kind of “selfish” work frees us to rest, create, and move forward with grace. I often use EMDR to help clients envision their true goals and desires, so they can achieve them. Sometimes this entails saying goodbye.

But Goodbye brings Hello. For all parties. Every time.

Contact me if you’d like to talk more about letting go of what you no longer need. The result will be good for everyone involved.

 

I Must be a Bad Person: Recovering from Religious Abuse

Something tells me I’m a very bad person.

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Under the bridge…..beneath, “It’s my fault,” lives a more troubling idea…It hides in us like a troll under a bridge. Anyone who’s survived religious abuse knows the old thought-training dies hard.

Jim teaches art to high-schoolers. He lives with his wife of thirty years – the wife who mothered their four children. He never admits being gay, but he says he once had a “sexual problem involving other men.”

Jim was raised Church of Christ. When he tells me this, I feel a rush of heat and emotion because I, too, was raised Church of Christ. I know what this means. Religious abuse trains our own thoughts to condemn us for growing up. Religious abuse teaches us to fear our own bodies, thoughts, feelings, and needs.

We meet because of Jim’s panic attacks, which have resurfaced after 20 years of dormancy. He has them at the oddest times: once, on the highway in his Toyota, another dozen times at home, doing nothing in particular.

Jim tells me his father hit him with a belt for, “saying my thoughts out loud.” Sex was completely ignored in his fundamentalist family and his parents led a Bible study group on the evils of homosexuality.

I call this spiritual/religious abuse. I call this sadistic parenting. I call this major childhood trauma. I suggest Jim has PTSD. We start EMDR therapy. I ask Jim about his worst memories. He says, “My father barging in on me in the bathroom and beating me in the shower with his belt.”

I say, “Let’s go with that.”

Through the EMDR process, Jim shares a series of negative beliefs that come with the memory.

  • It’s my fault.
  • I’m a bad person.
  • My body is shameful/bad.

EMDR allows Jim to integrate the old guilt and reflexive, automatic, child-brain thoughts with newer, adult-brain information.

  • I am basically good.
  • I do the best I can.
  • My body is normal/okay.
  • My kids love me.
  • I’m a good teacher.

Jim releases a flood of boyhood tears. His body relaxes. This takes about four sessions. I see his face change. I see his posture change. He gets taller. He tells me he’s painting again. After another four weeks, he is clear of panic symptoms.

“I’m freer now. I can simply be angry and sad about my past.” Jim no longer has to throw a tarp over his true feelings just because they are unsightly to his family.

He still has some emotional work ahead of him. Jim has to grapple with the fact that he has never been free to be truly himself – that he’s pretended to be hetero to protect himself from his father, their church, the elders, the larger culture that surrounded it all. Jim and his wife will need couples counseling to cut through the invisible fence of secrets that has stood between them and mystified them both. Who knows where this will lead….?

But at least the secrets can be unpacked and he knows they’re not his fault. Free of this blame, Jim has emotional options that didn’t exist last year. As he talks honestly with his wife, his depression lifts. Many tears are shed, but windows of possibility open to the sky. There is life after truth-telling: life after PTSD and loneliness and despair.

I ask him what he believes about himself. He says, “I’m loved.” He says, “I’m okay.” He says, “I’m growing.”

My novel, Wife Material, is also a story about religious/spiritual abuse. Call me if you’d like to talk about this kind of trauma or learn about how EMDR therapy can help you heal from it.

Contact Deborah

 

It Must be My Fault

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“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

How can I tell if my relationship is abusive…And what to do about it?

Is my relationship abusive?

We all behave badly at times. We all stumble into feelings of frantic need or despair. We all say things we totally regret later: we yell, we drop F-bombs, turn our backs, and give the silent treatment. And we usually feel terrible when the dust settles. We apologize. And next time, we remember to breathe. We remember the look of hurt on our lover’s face and we listen instead of pushing our point. We change. This is not emotional abuse. This is relationship and growth.

But some partners don’t grow with us. They loop around in the same tantrum-like behavior without seeming to learn from the experience of hurting us. Some partners go into an altered state and inflict pain, habitually. They have a hard time taking feedback. They make us feel wrong for being so hurt. They make us feel like the whole thing is our fault. This scenario plays out in my new novel, Wife Material.

There’s no clear, reflective line between “normal” and “abusive.” And even “normal” relationships can be abusive in a moment of extreme stress. But if, more often than not, you feel pushed into a corner, forced to hold back your thoughts and feelings, you probably need help or advice from the outside. Consider these signs…

  1. You feel afraid to express an opinion different from hers/his.
  2. You notice a cycle of mistreatment where there’s a buildup of frustration followed by an explosive event, followed by a period of apology, silence, reconciliation, or calm.
  3. You limit your outside friendships or activities because you don’t want your partner to feel slighted.
  4. Your partner insults your intelligence or mental health.
  5. Your partner suggests that he/she is the only person who would ever understand your or tolerate your needs.
  6. In the heat of conflict, your partner shouts, calls you names, slams things, curses, particularly if you express a different opinion or feeling from theirs.
  7. Your partner withdraws from you and refuses to talk or give you eye contact if you express disagreement.
  8. Your partner makes fun of you in front of friends.
  9. You find yourself limiting your creative activities to make sure you don’t threaten or upset your partner.

If you abuse, manipulate, or mistreat a loved one, know that you can change, with help and appropriate relationship advice.

If any of these things happen to you, know that your partner’s behavior is not your fault. You can’t change your partner, no matter how agreeable, compliant, or supportive you become.

But…you can get help for the relationship if you remain calm and awake. EMDR treatment and/or couples therapy can help both of you resolve the old trauma that fosters abusive relationships. Start by getting help for yourself.

If you’re in immediate physical danger, call 9-1-1 immediately.

Contact me to find out about how to stay awake and aware while protecting yourself in an abusive relationship.

Contact Deborah

How to Find Inner Peace after Relationship Trauma: EMDR and Spiritual Development

When I was a psychologist-in-training, I saw lots of people who had panic attacks – and I had no idea how to help them. My supervisor, Dr. Maryanne Watson, always asked me, “Who is she most angry with?” Then I ran back to my client and asked the question. Without fail, my client had an immediate answer: a perpetrator from the past, a cheating spouse, an abusive parent, a workplace bully, or sometimes, themselves.

Think about it for a moment. At whom do you feel most angry? Who do you despise? Who’s done you wrong? Who’s cheated you? With whom are you most disappointed or afraid or unsettled? We all have this person in our lives, so let yourself to go there even if it seems immature.

I’d like to talk about healing: positive, therapeutic resolution that allows you the freedom to move on from this hurt.

During the last several years, my answer to the above question was a former co-worker. Until recently, I loathed this person, who did significant damage to my career, my health, and my reputation. I first thought of this bully in 2011, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer: I felt the physical impact of this person’s behavior in my body.

A few months ago, I got some EMDR therapy for myself, to help me process the loss of my father. But because everything is connected, I circled my way around to this bully. EMDR reconnects scattered dots. It triggers rapid information processing, which can take the form of images, thoughts, feelings, body sensations, or all of those things. My father, who hurt me in so many ways, became an infant at the end of his life. He depended upon me and my siblings to make sure he was taken care of. And in this way, I more clearly saw the baby he had always been. The part of him that had never grown up – trapped there in early infancy with so much suffering and longing. Parents who could not give him what he needed.

During this EMDR session, I cried for my father, the baby boy – and then I saw my adult bully, this person who made life miserable for a while.

I suddenly felt a softening in my heart, a sense that I could have deep compassion for this person – a sense that this person had once been a tiny baby whose needs were not met.

Since that EMDR session, I notice being calmer in general, even when I’m out in public places where I might see this person who harmed me. Fear seems supplanted by something harder to define – a gentle awareness, a hope. I hope for this person’s healing…just as I hope for mine…and I can befriend this person at a soul level.

You may or may not need EMDR to get you to a calmer place, a less angry place, a less fearful place. Here is an exercise to help you find out.

  1. When you think of the individual who has hurt you, see if you can picture her/him as an infant.
  2. Really let yourself sink into this image. Take some deep breaths. What do you notice?
  3. Practice this a few times. See the person as a tiny baby. Breathe deeply.
  4. See that baby surrounded by light and love. Take several more deep breaths and allow the image to sharpen in your mind.

What do you notice now? Do you get a sense of yourself as more calm and compassionate? As you do this, you befriend your perpetrator in a sacred way. When you focus on this person as new and young, in the healing light of love, you become that love…And as you become that love, you heal.

If you’d like to know more about how EMDR can help you resolve old trauma and move towards a greater capacity for love, give me a call.

Contact Deborah

What is EMDR Therapy and how can it change your life?

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing can change your life. It’s not as complicated as it sounds, but it is a leading methodology for individuals to overcome past trauma and better connect with their present lives.

If you were ever mistreated as a child;

neglected, ignored, hit or slapped or shaken, insulted, shamed, teased, bullied, used for sex, starved, taunted, called names, or exploited in any other way;

EMDR helps you break the cycle.

If you ever experienced religious abuse;

taught to fear Hell or judgment – taught to fear God, told you must be better to receive love or approval from God or your parents, told your gender was inferior or limited to certain roles, taught that Heaven was off limits to people who did not “believe,” or taught that your sexuality was sinful or something of which to be ashamed;

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing can help you get free.

If you grew up lonely and sad, but have trouble pinpointing why;

lost in your own thoughts, vaguely aware your parents were disappointed in you, having a sense of “It’s-My-Fault,” unable to follow instructions or do what other children could do, or having the feeling you were not wanted or celebrated as a newborn baby;

This therapy helps you resolve the old feelings – replacing them with new ones.

If your work makes you sick;

emotionally depleted, traumatized as a first responder or witness to suffering, ostracized or outcast, burned-out, bored, chronically overstressed, disrespected, blamed, micro-managed, underpaid, overworked, or prevented from being with your loved ones;

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing can help you find your way to something better.

If you experience symptoms that confuse your doctors;

chronic fatigue, mysterious pain, nausea in the absence of another illness, depression that refuses to lift, or chronic headaches;

EMDR can help you target the underlying sources of distress, resolve them, and help you take back your life.

It’s not a magic-bullet. It’s not a magic-wand. It’s not voo-doo. But this therapy boosts your body’s natural mechanisms for information processing and speeds the metabolism of old memories and experiences. It reconnects parts of your brain and nervous system that had lost their communication. It allows you to absorb new information that is positive and helpful. It helps people think more clearly, focus more specifically, and work more creatively. It calms and soothes and brings back a natural confidence that may have been lost before you can even remember.

This therapeutic process is a tool for you. If you have ever wondered what eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy is, please call me to discuss how this treatment can help you get your life back on track.

Read more in my blogs about EMDR and how it can help you:

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A short story about how EMDR feels during marriage counseling

Passion, Distraction, and Relationship Repair: A Short Story

A couple sits in my office during a marriage therapy session, both partners furious with each other, helpless, unable to budge, contemplating separation. The issue: Do you love me enough to _____? One says, “I need to know you’ll stand up for me.” The other says, “I need you to trust that I love you.”

“But how do I know you love me if you allow your friends to trash talk me?”

“I have no control over my friends. But I love you.”

“But it doesn’t feel like love when you won’t defend my honor.”

“What good would it do?”

“It would set the record straight!”

“But Honey, there’s no record. I love you. They’re jerks. It doesn’t matter.”

“It does to me.”

They sit facing each other, one with arms folded across chest – the other leaning forward, in tears. Then, suddenly, laughter, out of nowhere.

“What?”

“You’re making that face – sorry.”

“What face?”

“The one you make when you know I’m right but you don’t want to admit it.”

More laughter.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“That one – there! It’s really cute.”

“I’m not making a face” (suppressing a smile).

“Okay, but the issue is…….” (lost thread, stumbling to regain position).

“The issue is you think I think you’re right and I won’t admit it” (suppressing laughter).

“Yes” (more laughter).

“Well, you’re wearing two different socks.”

“I am not!”

“Okay, I must be colorblind.”

Both partners lean over and examine the socks.

“OMG!” Both partners laugh, their eyes watering. One reaches out an index finger to the other and the other responds with their index finger and the two sit like that, touching fingertips, for several seconds.

At this moment, the problem shrinks to the background. Humor supplants it.

The next week, I meet with one of the partners who says, “We haven’t solved anything! I still don’t feel respected or protected!” My client squirms – breathing hard and shallow breaths.

We do some EMDR to target the awful feeling and the belief, “I’m not worth it.” My client’s breath slows and evens.

I say, “How’s your gardening?”

“It’s good. But I haven’t been out there much this week.”

“What needs doing out there?”

“I’m dying to plant sunflowers. I have three kinds of seeds.”

“I LOVE sunflowers! Wish I could grow them.”

“Oh, you can! It’s not that hard, you just have to know the secrets.”

“Ooooohhh, like what?”

“Like the right kind of fertilizer. Composted manure and a granular, slow-release fertilizer. Something organic.”

“I must write this down!” I grab a notebook.

“Yeah, and you have to thin the seedlings.”

I write furiously. “So, I know you want something different with Tom.” I get out my iPad and pull up images of sunflowers.

“Yeah. But I know he’s trying.”

I share the yellow giants on my iPad.

“Look at these…..So, you know he wants to be closer.”

“Yeah. He has a good heart.”

I say, “Go with that,” and we do some EMDR to tap in the loveliness of sunflowers and a lover’s good heart.

Some kind of alchemy takes over the whole situation. My client breathes deeply, scrolls through the fields of green and gold, goes home to the garden, looks at things differently, has great sex after a long hiatus. Things grow out back. The air smells like late spring. A paradigm shifts. And we all live happily ever-after.

For more about how EMDR and marriage counseling can improve communication, check out these posts:

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Marriage Therapy: How Stomping the Eggshells Will Help You Connect

Marital Misbehavior #276: Stomp the Eggshells

Why do we walk on them anyway?

  1. We don’t want to hurt each other.
  2. We fear we’ll make a mess if we say it straight.
  3. We fear our partner’s anger.
  4. Someone taught us: if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.
  5. We’ve been told we can be difficult.

Lauren (37) needs a change. She stays at home with her two young children. Her husband Jake (39) works long weeks in a job that has him traveling around the state. Lauren remembers, once upon a time, they both felt this was the best plan

But now, she feels anxious and bored, although she works constantly and has no time to herself. She tries to keep the house neat. But having two pre-schoolers makes this impossible. Lauren adores her kids, but she needs a break from them once in a while. The thought makes her cringe in shame. She hardly sees Jake until the weekend – when they’re both exhausted from the week. They avoid emotional topics.

Lauren feels deeply torn. What’s wrong with me? Isn’t this what I wanted? I should be so thankful. Poor Jake! He works so hard!

Lauren needs words. She needs a way to air her frustration, tell the truth.

  1. I need something more…
  2. I feel frustrated and bored – and like a bad mother for feeling this way.
  3. I appreciate that I get to stay home with our kids, but I’m starting to think it’s not good for me.
  4. I need change.
  5. I’m afraid you’ll be angry with me. 

Jake gets quiet. He looks worried. Lauren starts to back away. Then something new happens. She scoots closer. She looks him in the eyes. And STOMP! 

Talk to me, please! I need to know how you feel!  

This takes courage. It ignites a spark. They argue. She cries. He gets defensive. She sees the cage door. He tells her it’s not a cage. He cries. They hug. They argue some more.

This is new territory. This is where the good stuff happens. This is where it’s all on the table, instead of under it. This is where people grow.

Is she hurting him? No. Does he need this stomping as much as she does? Yes.

The Stomp starts things. Now we can fight. Now we feel the presence of each other. Now we hear, see, smell the emotion. Now we can connect. Sometimes couples like Lauren and Jake seek marriage therapy to guide them through these emotions and teaches couples how to communicate. 

For more blog topics, check out these posts:

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Stages of Spiritual Development: Overcoming Anxious Perfectionism

Stages_of_Spiritual_Develpment_and_Anxious_Perfectionism

Anxious perfectionism sounds like this:

  1. I’m not a good writer, so I never write.
  2. I can’t leave this job because…
  3. I dress to hide my thighs.
  4. My mom expects me to be there, so…
  5. If I said what I really think, I would go to hell.
  6. God expects me to…
  7. I can’t believe I still…
  8. If I worked harder, I could be…
  9. I’ve picked the wrong partners.

I get an occasional bout myself. It strikes like a virus and causes me to think and do irrational things. I change clothes six or seven times before I can leave the house. I fret over unfinished projects. I feel like a failure, like I missed some important turn in my youth and wound up in the wrong place, having missed the opportunities that would have made me rich and kept my body young.

But I know better. There are no mistakes.

A dear Buddhist friend has been telling me that every part of life belongs there, a part of my curriculum. Every flaw: there to teach me something. Every “wrong” turn: intended, necessary, part of my path. Every disappointment: perfectly calibrated to do something for me. Every regret: vital to the entire mosaic of my soul’s evolution.

In his book, “Proof of Heaven,” neurosurgeon Eben Alexander writes about his near-death experience, and what he learned through a profoundly life-changing contact with the spirit world. I won’t even try to summarize his amazing book. It’s a must-read for anyone who thinks about their worth or their death or their relationship to The Divine.

Dr. Alexander brought back a few fundamental truths from his week in coma, namely, that a powerful spirit loved him deeply – and that he could make no mistakes. The overwhelming message he received in this vast and splendid world was his inherent goodness and indissoluble lovable-ness.

Just sit with that a moment…

Those things feel right to me, though they can’t be proven scientifically. They bring me peace. My higher self knows they are true.

One key to navigating the stages of spiritual development is embracing how perfectionism gets in the way of creativity. It comes from false notions about what is good and what is sub-par. It happens when we overexpose ourselves to the popular media, where the images of successful lives are completely contrived. It gets handed down in families. It generates anxiety. It stops us from appreciating what we are and who we are. It makes us think we should have done something differently, somewhere, somehow, instead of what we did. It separates us from Divine Love.

Let’s remake some of the thoughts above. Try them on for size. Let me know how these work for you…

My thoughts and feelings deserve space. They exist for a reason.
I trust myself to take creative risks.
I have good and interesting ideas.
I have the right to write. I have the right to create.
I am loved deeply and completely.

For more blog posts about stages of spiritual development, visit these links:

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How Can EMDR Therapy Heal Disconnection?

Zereshk at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

Read this if you feel isolated or anxious.

You are not alone.

It’s still true . . .

Disconnection feels like I’m drowning. But when I give myself plenty of care (EMDR therapy, exercise, sleep, meditation, music), extraordinary allies pop into my life from out of nowhere. These allies teach me. I trust their hearts.

I keep meeting new people who teach me . . .

  1. That I am not alone. I never know who I will meet next.
  2. That I am surrounded by love and beauty. Good, healing people are everywhere.
  3. That new learning and adventures await me, just over the horizon.

We are not alone.

In today’s political atmosphere, you may not trust people. You may feel surrounded by disconnection and hostility.

I’ve been through dark passages of disconnection. Drivers were rude. Restaurant staff seemed unfriendly. Parents treated their children like pests. Friends felt like former friends. No one, not family, not helping professionals, not neighbors, not childhood acquaintances felt safe or helpful or even civil.

In Relational Cultural Theory, this is Condemned Isolation.

Condemned Isolation feels like you have no friends, no allies, no one to whom you can turn. Condemned Isolation feels like you are flawed or unlovable – that no one can understand you.

If you feel any of this, help is a click away. Try on these ideas and call me if you’d like to discuss them.

  1. First, know that you’re not alone. Whether or not you subscribe to a faith tradition, you belong to something larger than yourself . . . something good.
  2. Recovery heals the part of you that receives and registers love. Good trauma therapy helps you draw safer, healthier, wiser people into your life.
  3. EMDR opens a spiritual awareness that reconnects you to all things beautiful and true.
  4. We heal . . . in spite of ourselves. You don’t need to try very hard. Just think about love and let your beautiful, complex brain/body do the rest.

For more posts about the benefits of EMDR therapy, visit these posts:

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