How EMDR Helped My Early Trauma

Guest Blog by Amelia
[Amelia is the pen name of an EMDR therapy client of Dr. Sandra Paulsen, pioneer of new EMDR protocols for developmental trauma/early trauma (ET). [FN] Amelia is now with Paulsen colleague D. Michael Coy, MA, LCSW.  She graciously provided this blog to inspire others to seek healing. –kb]

Sandra Paulsen BookIn 2013 I began working with Sandra Paulsen, PhD. I am very grateful for the early childhood trauma (ET) work we did.   It was a stunning process that gave me understanding and resolution of significant traumas.  I learned to understand “ego states” and gained a view of the numerous parts of me that acted as protectors throughout my life.   The use of “the conference room” was difficult and surprising at first, but with Dr. Paulsen’s encouragement and compassion for “the little one” inside me, it quickly became easier for me to imagine a conference room in which I could see “parts of my self” sitting around a table.

We worked intensively in long sessions often using EMDR therapy.   The tappers were scary sometimes, but became easier for me to tolerate; they create a mild, alternating bilateral vibration and can be held.  [EMDR therapy for ET may tap on alternate feet or other areas away from the face, rather than moving a finger before the eyes as in Francine Shapiro’s original EMDR therapy. -kb]

Initially, I learned to ground myself in the present where I felt safe.   Within a short time, I was able recognize parts of self in the conference room, an imaginal place in my mind’s eye where different aspects, or parts, of myself could come to help us understand and access trauma memories.   The process revealed difficult memories that enabled me to understand “the why” of my lifelong struggle with confusing fear, along with the “why” I felt a need to isolate myself from family and friends.

At the end of each session. the content of our work was consciously set aside in an imaginal “vault” in the conference room until next time.  I envisioned my memories and feelings floating down a stream into a large container that held them tightly (the vault).  After most sessions, despite my recall of terrifying memories, anger, and tears, I felt relief.  Thinking of those sessions now, I’m amazed by the sense of safety I felt with Dr. Paulsen.

Developing Confidence, Deep Body Memories

Paulsen Sandra PhotoI developed confidence in the process and believed that one day my “whole self” would be healed.  I realized too that I was becoming valuable to myself for the first time. [Sandra Paulsen, right]

I remembered more than I could have imagined.  Often my body felt memories first.  These somatic memories led me through a long trail of abuse and abandonment by family members.  Remembering specific parts of the abuse was a surprise at times.  I attribute the lack of memory to my amnesia barrier and am grateful that my brain was able to develop the barrier.  I sometimes recall those surprising memories and marvel at the function of our brains.

I’m also grateful that Dr. Paulsen took time to help me build boundaries that I could use then and later to further process my memories.  My new boundaries were a great help in painful relationships, which could have destroyed my fragile but growing sense of self.

When visualizing my childhood “parts of self” with Dr. Paulsen, I began to appreciate each part and welcomed the knowledge we recovered together.  My parts worked together to accept the reality I could not manage to be aware of in childhood.  I love knowing that my unconscious mind protected the conscious me and built a complex support system.  My understanding and knowledge of my parts is pivotal to release, resolution and healing of my fragmented self.

I am learning to accept all of me rather than just “the parts” my family wanted.  The good and bad parts held me together in the midst of chaos.  I’ve decided the difference between some of the “good and bad” parts of self were those behaviors or beliefs that were acceptable or not.

My experience taught me that I was never safe in my family because attitudes could change in a moment.  I lived in fear of the unexpected changes and surprise attacks.  Sometimes it’s difficult to like certain parts because I viewed them as causing the pain of disapproval and abandonment.  In reality, my unacceptable parts were protecting me.

After working with Dr. Paulsen, I understand the functions each had in helping me stay alive.  For instance, I have a split sense of God.  I’ve hated the bad God part (judgment) and love the good God part (compassion).  I understand now that  “bad God” part protected me from my family because “bad God” taught me to act the “right” way.  To understand it now is valuable, but the judgment led to self-loathing.  It’s amazing that hating myself made me safer within my family.  All I could expect was abandonment and a family that used me rather than caring for me.

My feelings about my family are still confusing, but I’m learning to view them from a distance.  My mother and father are not bad.  There were reasons for their behavior.  I am aware that I see them as the bad parts who inflicted pain.  I expect that resolution can be reached in time.

I developed the ability to talk with my parts.  We have safe spaces to talk, reflect and empathize with ourselves.  I’ve found this essential.  The spaces are in nature…a forest, the beach or a quiet space for meditation.   Walking in a peaceful place is important to clearly see our existence together and care about our efforts toward wellness.

Anger, Move to Chicago

D. Michael CoyOn the opposite side of the peaceful place is the angry place.  It’s very difficult for me to acknowledge anger at others because it is dangerous to do so.  Working with Dr. Paulsen, I could acknowledge the anger.  My acknowledgment of angry feelings was hard because I was not able to express it in childhood or even in adulthood.  For me anger is the most dangerous feeling.  Others could be angry with me, but I could not express anger toward them.  Our work helped release some of my angry feelings, but it’s still difficult to feel safe enough to express angry feelings appropriately.  I recognize the angry parts of self.  I think we’re still waiting to feel safe and valuable enough to own those feelings.  I continue to work in my messy angry part of self.

In April 2014, I met D. Michael Coy, MA, LCSW [above], to whom I was referred by Dr. Paulsen before I returned to live in the Chicago area.   As it was with Dr. Paulsen, our work together has focused on my dissociated “parts of self,” but now using EMDR and other therapies to focus on the later memories of traumatic experience that I continue to struggle to get past.

Looking back over my time since I began working with Dr. Paulsen, then with Michael Coy, I’ve watched myself grow. I care for the many dissociated “parts of self.”  Visualizing my “parts of self,” I understand how each developed and the job each part did to prevent damage throughout my life.   I love knowing that my unconscious mind always protected me.  My understanding and knowledge of my parts is pivotal to release of trauma on every level.  I expect to function in the months ahead as the “whole person” I am.

In summary… there is so much more to know and say about living with (and healing from) complex trauma.  It’s a relief to know that my symptoms are real and not made up.  I cannot express my relief in light of my work in the therapeutic process called the EMDR early trauma approach, which Dr. Paulsen has so skillfully developed further to work with people like me, who struggle with complex traumatic experience.  I can honestly say that I’ve never been more hopeful in my life.

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Kathy’s blogs expand on her book “DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME: The Silent Epidemic of Attachment Disorder—How I accidentally regressed myself back to infancy and healed it all.” Watch for the continuing series each Friday, as she explores her journey of recovery by learning the hard way about Attachment Disorder in adults, adult Attachment Theory, and the Adult Attachment Interview.

Footnotes

FN1, “Neurobiology and Treatment of Traumatic Dissociation: Toward an Embodied Self,” by Lanius, Paulsen, and Corrigan, 2014, http://www.amazon.com/Neurobiology-Treatment-Traumatic-Dissociation-Embodied/dp/0826106315
See also especially Dr. Paulsen’s website: http://www.bainbridgepsychology.com/EarlyTraumaOShea.html

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2 responses to “How EMDR Helped My Early Trauma

  1. Thank you Dr. Paulsen for your compassionate, skilled work with me and for referring me to Michael Coy. I will always remember you as a gift in my life.

  2. I am so very gratified at your progress down your healing road. It was my privilege to walk with you awhile on your journey, and I’m glad you also found Michael so beneficial, too.

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