As I attempt to describe EMDR, I find myself fumbling and being unclear. Today I’m boiling it down to something short and easy to grasp. While this is still a work in progress, I offer my simple explanation.
When our children experienced traumatic events in their early lives, the memories were stored in their brains. They were not cognitively processed or healed.
Now when challenges come, those early memories affect the way our children respond. EMDR stimulates the brain to reprocess the memories and replace them with positive and true beliefs.
EMDR Stimulates the Brain to Reprocess Memories
This reprocessing is done through bilateral stimulation using either eye movement from side-to-side, taps on one side then the other, or even “buzzies” – small objects the child holds in their hands that vibrate, alternating right-left-right-left.
During this stimulation, the therapist guides the child to briefly focus on the traumatic memory and then helps her to create new associations and positive beliefs. Where she may have believed, “I am in danger/unloveable/worthless,” she embraces a new truth, “I am safe/loveable/precious.”
Let me illustrate.
I know this sounds odd, but hang on.
Yesterday Kalkidan came home from school and wanted to make a snack. She loves to cook and when she discovered leftover potatoes and chicken in the refrigerator, she wanted to saute them in olive oil and spices. Since she was cooking a large quantity of food, I mentioned her siblings would enjoy some as well.
This kicked-off an hour long “discussion” about the fact that there was not enough food for all of them. She was too hungry and needed to eat all of it. They didn’t need food and she did, and on it went.
She was certain she was “starving,” and in a very real way, she believed it to be true.
It doesn’t take a stroke of brilliance to recognize these thoughts and accompanying feelings are rooted in the extreme deprivation of her early life. But try as we might – for over five years – we have not been able to conquer the deep fear that there will never be enough and she will always be close to starvation.
New neural pathways are formed.
EMDR stimulates the brain to process these painful memories and create new neural pathways within the memory network. We hope that through EMDR, Kalkidan’s deep and literal fear of hunger and starvation will be replaced with the knowledge that there is enough food. She is not competing with her siblings for survival.
This desperate battle is deeply rooted in our children’s brains and it is about far more than food. Abuse and neglect have a pervasive effect.
Despite our best efforts to demonstrate our children’s safety and security, the sense of being in danger and needing to protect oneself is as instinctive as breathing in and out.
Our hope is that this therapy will heal Kalkidan’s deepest wounds and we will move together toward wholeness. We pray Kalkidan’s core beliefs will be replaced with the truth that she is precious to God and deeply loved by Him, and she is precious and deeply loved by us.