Seeker Tools: EMDR & Healing Trauma
As part of the Seeker Tools series, I want to share about a great discovery for me of late. For the past few months, I’ve been diving into a tool called EMDR — that stands for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. It’s a tool used by therapists to help people heal from trauma.
EMDR is great for when your heart feels like it hasn’t caught up with your head. While talk therapy can be great for getting clarity on what you’re struggling with, often times we feel like we can talk about our trauma or experiences until we’re blue in the face — but underneath we still don’t feel a healing. We’re still holding onto to something, and it’s still painful. Meaning, “my brain understands all this — but the deep emotional part still hurts.”
For those of you familiar with Kindred Seekers, you’ll know I talk sometimes about my own background and childhood history. In a nutshell, my parents divorced when I was ten, and although there was an attempt at joint custody, that soon faded to my dad as my primary caregiver. My mom was very absent for the next decade or so, but I still managed to experience a bit of time after the divorce living with her and her new partner, who really bullied me. There was no physical abuse, but there was definitely emotional abuse. My mom had her own set of struggles and wasn’t able to protect me or “mama bear” for me in this environment, and it proved very toxic for me. As a hyper-sensitive child (of course at ten you don’t have the language to let everyone know, “I’m a super empath, HSP, open centers Human Design girl over here, people!” 😂), I absorbed a lot from the toxic environment, feeling really worthless and unwanted. In short, I developed a classic case of attachment trauma and an attachment style throughout my adult life that probably sat somewhere between anxious-preoccupied and fearful-avoidant.
Fast-forward to my mid-thirties, where I have been on a massive journey after leaving a career that seriously burned me out, a cross-country move, and a long road of re-establishing a clearer sense of my authentic self and higher sense of self-worth.
This journey ain’t easy, friends.
Sometimes you don’t even know that what you’re dealing with is trauma. We are somewhat conditioned to think of trauma as only the result of violence, sexual abuse, or post-combat PTSD… but it can look like so many things.
The important thing, I’ve learned, is that something is trauma if we experience it as traumatic. Two people could experience the same thing but process it in very different ways. There should be no judgement of what is “real” trauma. You may be the child of an alcoholic. Or you may be the child of an absent parent or volatile environment. (Those can produce quite similar results.) You may be the child of a divorce or abandonment. You may have experienced a traumatic move or bullying. What you witnessed (but didn’t experience yourself) might have resulted in trauma.
For me, it took realizing that even through all my personal growth, healing, and spiritual work, I was still hitting something that felt like a deep block. I was still not making the progress I wanted.
Healing trauma is, unfortunately, not as easy as simply reading one book, flipping a switch, and solving all the trauma and modeling that you got in your young life.
But I have begun to amass a toolkit of resources, and EMDR has been one of them for me the past few months.
By some fortuitous grace of God and heavenly seraphim, I have found an absolute unicorn of a therapist here in Southern California, who is all kinds of wonderful and also does EMDR. I’ll attempt to give an explanation of the treatment here as best I can, but keep in mind that I write from my experience, not as a professional therapist.
What an EMDR session(s) looks like:
You identify the trauma you want to work through. Some may have a specific trauma or event they want to work through. Some might work with their therapist to create a trauma timeline. Some start with a current trigger in their life, and then with a therapist’s help, trace back to an event where they picked that negative belief up.
Your therapist will utilize a list of questions to help you get really in touch with the trauma, including identifying an image that represents the worst part, what the negative belief is, and rating the trauma on a scale as well.
This is the actual processing part. My therapist uses a light bar with pulsars that sit in each hand. This is essentially a bi-lateral processing that allows the brain to digest the trauma. You get in touch with the image, belief, and feelings, and then you follow the light bar with your eyes for about a minute. You stop, and your therapist will ask you to notice what you’re feeling or what’s coming up. You keep leaning into the feelings that arise. You unpack little by little, continuing with the light bar until the brain digests the entire situation and you register a zero on the rating system.
Lastly, there is the installation — this is the soothing part, pairing a positive belief with the incident. Finally, you do a body scan to make sure you’re not still holding anything in your body.
My experience has been that, during a session, you really do lean into some very deep and painful emotions still living somewhere, deep down. The process can be heavy (I often would need to clear my deck for the rest of the day because the work is tiring and I didn’t really have the mental or physical wherewithal to tackle a lot of tasks or dealing with people afterwards). But while it took a lot out of me, I left an EMDR session feeling lighter, like something released. My body - my heart space, especially - felt changed.
I worked through a number of negative beliefs stemming from childhood experiences, over the course of a number of sessions. I paired the EMDR with other tools too, sometimes needing to journal things out, meditation (of course, this is daily for me), solitary walks in nature, evening baths, flower remedies, and guided meditations and exercises from To Be Magnetic.
This is all a delayering process, and we have so many layers, many of them subconscious. Bringing the subconscious forward isn’t easy — we can often spend years living under its consequences without really, truly understanding or healing what’s going on.
I fully believe that the only way out in through, in the case of trauma. You can’t pretend it’s not there. You can ignore it, but it will rule you in ways you don’t realize until you begin to acknowledge it, look it in the eye, and roll up your sleeves to begin the work.
I will say, though, that I feel strongly about not identifying as a “trauma survivor” — wonderful (and necessary) to acknowledge the pain, but adopting that label to me feels like wearing a twenty-ton nameplate. Acknowledging and doing the work feels different than marrying your identity to it. You are not your trauma.
Healing trauma is like a spiral — you deal with a chunk of it, and then you move on, thinking it’s done. But then you circle around to another layer, and there’s more work to do. So on and so forth, until finally, it’s more or less gone, digested and released, and it just doesn’t really bother you any more. You almost forget what it was originally.
It’s not easy work. It requires bravery to keep showing up to do the heavy lifting.
But I will say this — the whole, magical, entirely worthy you on the other side — she is worth all that work. And you are not alone. There are a lot of people out there on this journey too, and I think it’s important that we share openly and vulnerably about the process. It’s messy. It’s non-linear. But it’s easier to be gentle with ourselves when we know others are navigating the same thing. For anyone healing from any kind of trauma: I see you. Keep going. I would love to hear about your journey, experiences, and tools here.
Change of Air (a resource for children of alcoholics… however, I LOVE her content even though I am not an ACoA, good stuff here about the process of healing from trauma)
To Be Magnetic’s Reparent workshop (phenomenal process for identifying subconscious limiting beliefs from early life)
Alexis Smart flower remedies (if you’re into natural remedies, have a look at these. I paired Whole Hearted with my EMDR work to aid the deep heart-level healing)
Image unknown (could be @taylaob.art?)