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.
- When you think of the individual who has hurt you, see if you can picture her/him as an infant.
- Really let yourself sink into this image. Take some deep breaths. What do you notice?
- Practice this a few times. See the person as a tiny baby. Breathe deeply.
- 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.