Last time, we went over my second EMDR session – the first one to deal with a painful memory. I left off where I had just started to have epiphanies – where I made connections between what happened all those years ago and how they affected me then, and continue to affect me now. This time, I’ll share more of that part of the experience – post-session reprocessing.
It took a few hours, but the connections finally started to happen. And once they started, it felt like there was no stopping them! As they hit me, I wrote them down in (where else?) my journal. It started with:
I’ve never felt like I can rely on others. Even when I know intellectually that I can. So I constantly prepare myself for going it alone so I won’t feel rejection or betrayal. Which then leads to either isolation and/or a false sense of rejection.
Ouch! That’s not a pleasant thing to realize about myself. I’d always prided myself on my independence – that I was self-reliant and didn’t need anything or anyone. I thought that was a position of strength, that if I don’t need anyone, it’s because I was strong, and I was doing well. Now I realized that I’d had this backwards – that I was setting myself up to not need anyone or anything because I didn’t want to depend on anyone in case they rejected me. It ended up hurting me because I took away other people’s ability to help me, and by doing so, preventing them from getting close to me.
I was hurt by rejection while growing up and made a subconscious decision to not allow myself to be hurt that way again.
Ok, now it makes sense; now I know what drove me to be this way.
I try to be as perfect as possible as to not get rejected. It’s impossible to be perfect, so I always fall short and feel like I’ve failed, and I prepare for rejection.
Another ouch! Here’s another place where I’d viewed something as a strength and didn’t see how it might hurt me. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and to me, that meant that whatever I did, I did it well – there’s nothing wrong with that, right? Except I’d let it go to the point where I set up unrealistic expectations for myself, and found myself coming up short. Even when I did something well enough, that wasn’t enough for me; I wanted to do it perfectly. So even when I was successful by everyone else’s standards, I couldn’t let myself feel like I’d done a good job. I was looking for how I could have done it better and getting upset with myself for not having figured it out and done it better in the first place. And since I hadn’t done it right, I felt unworthy of any rewards I might have reaped. I felt like I would be (and should be) rejected for inferiority (there’s that word again). So the next epiphany is no surprise:
I tell myself that I can only do what I can do, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling like a failure when I don’t spectacularly succeed. So I nearly always feel like a failure.
The hits just keep on coming, right?! These epiphanies culminated in perhaps the most painful realization of the day:
I feel like a fake and failure and I keep waiting for everyone else to figure it out.
That wraps it up with a tidy little bow, doesn’t it? I’ve been suffering from inferiority complex! Except I didn’t come into it by the usual causes – at least not by conventional standards. I hadn’t sustained any major or repetitive failures, I always did well in school, I wasn’t overly criticized growing up; none of the usual sources were there. But wait a moment, there was one: I had failed to stand up for myself in that nursery room. And I had failed to stand up for myself pretty much every chance I got since! Aha! Repetitive failure identified!
All of these pretty much came within a 2 hour window that late afternoon/early evening. The rest of the day was spent wondering what the heck I had done to myself. What could I expect going forward?
I had fewer epiphanies on day two. I was returning to normal, and was having fewer “zombie” moments. I tried to get back to typical activities, but even then, the processing of the session and day one epiphanies continued. My first epiphany:
I take on other people’s stress. If people around me are unhappy, I can’t be happy. If they’re angry, I either have to be angry along with them or figure out how to calm them.
With the realization that I fear rejection, this makes sense; if I either take up their side or work to defuse the situation, I’m working to make things better for them. This endears me more to that person, which reduces my likelihood of rejection. My problem is that I let this go to the extreme, where not only do I have to either be sympathetically angry or doing something to calm them, I begin to take on their stress. That’s not good – I have enough stress in my own life, I don’t need to have other people’s stress weighing on me as well.
I feel guilty for taking time/space/resources for myself. This is especially true if I perceive others working around me. I can’t relax unless everyone around me is relaxed. Perhaps this is why I (used to) get so much of the things I want to do done at night when everyone is asleep. Unless I’m sick, very fatigued, or coming off some big accomplishment, I can’t even take a nap if I perceive activity in the house.
There’s a lot in this one. I feel guilty for needing and taking resources for myself. But I still need them. Sometimes I need to have some quiet alone time. But if I know there’s work to be done elsewhere in the house, I feel like it’s selfish of me to take alone time instead of working on the project. If other people are in the house working, this becomes even greater, because I feel guilty for “goofing off” while others are working, regardless of whether I’d just performed a day’s worth of work, and they just got started.
I’m a night owl; I always have been. I hate getting up early in the mornings. My spouse is a morning person, and the kids have school most days, so also have to get up early. So late evening/night is the only time I’m likely to have completely to myself. I would put off my own personal projects until late at night, so that I didn’t feel like I was stealing time from other things during the day.
Growing up, I used to be able to sleep long hours, any time of the day. I miss that! Now, during the daytime, if I think that someone is up and doing something, I can’t take a nap – I have to be busy too, or risk feeling guilty about taking the nap.
Today, I really only had one epiphany. And it didn’t have to do with the memory, but with the EMDR process. During the sessions I’ve had so far, my therapist had repeated a phrase a few times: “The container is a contract.” At the time, I didn’t really follow what she meant, but figured I knew that I needed to put my thoughts into the journal (maybe that’s the contract – to write in my journal?). A contract is an agreement between two parties – were the parties me and the therapist (I agreed to write because she needed me to)? But day, three I had a few frustrating things happen, and my emotions were high to begin with. I reached a point where I couldn’t continue what I was working on because I was so agitated and emotional. I realized that I needed to go write in my journal, and I did. I wrote about the situation and how I felt, and questions that I had because of all of that. The more I wrote, the more I was relieved of the stress and agitation of the situation.
I wondered at that phenomenon, and it dawned on me that *this* is the contract. The therapist had told me at the very beginning, that the container is a place where you ask your feelings and memories to go to, and they are willing to do so and to stay there until you call them back out. “Until you call them back out!” That’s the key. I have a contract with my feelings and memories that, if they go willingly into my container (get written down), they will stop dominating my thoughts; they will stay there until I called them back out. The agreement, the contract, is that if they go there and stay patiently, I won’t forget them, and I will call them back out and address them. This requires some work on my part. I regularly review past entries in my journal to remind myself of the remaining feelings I need to deal with. I haven’t forgotten, and I won’t. Many of these I have called back out and dealt with in the weeks since then.
The next thing was another session – we would continue to work on this memory to see where it led. But we’ll get into that next time.
Until then, take care of yourself,
P.S. Please submit any questions. comments, or topics you’d like to see me write about. I think I have maybe two more posts about EMDR and I’ll take a break from that topic for a while. But I don’t have any good topics lined to write about in the meantime. Even if your suggestion seems small, I do have a few ideas for a post where I address multiple smaller topics in one post, so maybe that could be included.