Many people don’t realize the extent of the negative beliefs rooted in their trauma until they begin EMDR work. Often I have clients who come in who are successful, intelligent, beautiful who reveal to me that deep down they feel that they are not good enough, not smart, ugly and never have been, or are unsafe in the world or deeply damaged or unworthy of good things in life. These are often people who are intelligent, beautiful, successful and have good lives. Intellectually, they may recognize this disparity that doesn’t change how true these negative cognitions feel at their core.  

It shocks me every time and I get it every time.  

It’s not about being good enough, successful enough, smart enough, pretty enough or being safe or unscathed or worthy.  It’s about the human brain trying to make meaning out of trauma when the truth is, sometimes bad things happen to good people and we are not responsible for our trauma.   

When something traumatic happens, whether it’s a big scale trauma (what we call big “T” trauma) or a smaller developmental trauma (small “t” trauma), our brain creates meaning.  After all, we are always looking for meaning and that meaning gives us an erroneous sense of control. Our brain wants to understand why bad things happen.  

Unfortunately, the meaning we create is usually not an empowering one but something involving feeling defective, unsafe, unloved, or unworthy.  When something else traumatic happens, our brains look to further that meaning and find more proof that this meaning we have created is true. It builds and builds, thus creating the painful foundation of complex trauma.

When trauma (big “T” or small “t” trauma) happens in childhood, we internalize the meaning deeply. Children are normally developmentally ego-centric meaning everything good is about them and everything bad is about them too. The negative cognitions wrapped up in attachment trauma can be difficult to see outside of for this reason.

When we feel traumatized, the prefrontal cortex which is the rational reasoning part of the brain, goes off-line. The memory is stored in images, sensations, emotions and these negative cognitions. Sometimes, when trauma is triggered, we get it hit with a rush of sensations in the body, emotions, and negative cognitions but our prefrontal cortex is not able to provide us with the understanding of how this reaction links up to our trauma. We are often not even aware when we are having a trauma reaction and the experience may feel overwhelming and without any cause or reason. Having a disproportionate reaction to events is often a sign of a trauma reaction.  

EMDR can be a helpful tool to process some of that trauma and work through the negative cognitions or destructive negative beliefs that our brains have orchestrated.  It fascinates me when EMDR is going well and I see clients let go of their beliefs that they can’t stand up for themselves or they are not good enough.  I have seen clients stuck in abusive relationships finally stand up for themselves and free themselves up for healthy ones.  I had a client terrified to drive as a result of a trauma who enthusiastically set out to get her license after completing EMDR. Letting go of the negative cognitions attached trauma can be life-changing and freeing.  

It’s been over ten years that I began my training in EMDR. I am now certified and offer EMDR both in weekly therapy and in EMDR Intensives.  I don’t use EMDR with all of my clients.  However, when I do work with a client using EMDR and we process trauma together, I enjoy watching them let go of the destructive cognitions that have held them back for so long. 

More From Us: