Originally posted January 23, 2018.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a well researched therapy used to treat trauma and strong emotional states. There are several components to EMDR.
Identify Positive Emotional Resources
The first part of the therapy is help the client identify positive emotional resources. We then work together to gradually internalize and use these internalized positive resources to bolster ego strength and emotional strength.
This all sounds complicated, but it really isn’t. It’s actually a strengthening practice you can do for yourself, at home. You can actually practice strengthening your internal emotional resources every for yourself.
I want to share an EMDR protocol you can use for yourself to help strengthen your inner resources and to feel less alone. This is a protocol that I was taught by Laurell Parnell, Ph.D., in her EMDR training classes. This work also draws on the Interactive Guided Imagery® protocol, taught by Martin Rossman, MD, with whom I studied as well. Daniel J. Seigel, MD, the brain researcher, has more recently identified how the underlying neural nets in the brain are changed via EMDR’s reprocessing and reconditioning effects.
People who have been abused as children, and/or moved around to multiple foster families often have little opportunity to form positive emotional attachments a steady caregiver. That attachment process is a biologically initiated need in mammals that is satisfied by the presence of a good enough, caring attachment figure.
Having a steady attachment figure as an infant and while growing up influences human development in a positive way, actually creating the physical brain structures needed for positive emotional connection with the self and others throughout a lifetime.
The lack of a positive attachment figure can create developmental deficits that a person tries to make up for throughout her lifetime. In other words, she can feel empty and bad about herself and have trouble connecting. Depending on the circumstances of the neglectful or abusive situation and on individual factors, the feelings of lack and anger come out in different ways throughout a lifetime. There is a broad spectrum of behaviors that can manifest, from feeling bad and isolating oneself to abusive and criminal behaviors towards others.
So, the initial stage of EMDR is to help heal the feelings of emptiness and being alone in the world by identifying or creating imaginal resources to build a rich inner emotional life of support. This type of work is used throughout the your work with an EMDR therapist in addition to the “real” work of identifying and reprocessing your past memories.
But, you say, having imaginal resources won’t really change the circumstances of my life.
And, no, the imaginal resources cannot change what happened to you, but the imaginal resources can bolster your healing by helping you feel differently about yourself and about what happened to you. Creating and using your imaginal resources can help move you heal.
From a brain growth perspective, the creation of imaginal resources paired with the physical component of EMDR, creates new neural networks for repair of developmental deficits (Parnell, 2017). Your brain already has a set of memories held in tightly woven neural nets that loop over and over again that says you are alone, you are deficient, you are bad. We want to co-create new neural nets that say you are ok, you have resources, you have good emotional resources, you have good ego strength.
Begin by developing your internal team of helpers or advisors. Martin Rossman, MD, also uses this concept and calls the manifestation of inner wisdom as a figure, your the inner advisor. Think about creating a team of about five figures you can call on when you are in need.
Create Your Healing Team of Nurturing, Protective and Wise Figures
Step 1 : Trust
Trust that your heart and mind will produce places and figures who are good enough for you to rely on.
Step 2: Prepare
Gather together some art materials if this helps you.
You can use expressive art to draw a feeling picture of what you imagine your healing team to be like. Or you can create a collage from magazine pictures to create your healing team.
Step 3: Ask your healing team to come to you
Sit quietly and ask that your healing figures come to you and let your heart and mind open to whatever appears for you. See what comes up and you can always refine this.
Begin by imagining a sacred place where you can take refuge and honor your healing intention.
This should be a conflict free, have positive memories and feel good.
Laurell Parnell (2017) suggests imaging your heart space as sacred refuge. A beautiful place to go, your beautiful heart space.
People often use places in nature, such as a beach or the woods. Or some people have used a room in their current home, or their current, safe comfy bed.
Nurturing, Protective and Wise Figures
The only rules are just et your heart and mind be open to
Nurturing figures can be figures having loving characteristics. Such figures can be human, such as a Grandparent, or aunt, a teacher. Spiritual figures such as Jesus, Mother Mary, Kwan Yin the goddess of Mercy and Compassion, Brigid the Celtic goddess. Pop figures such as Glinda the Good Witch or Mama Walton. Or animal figures such as a soft, fluffy dog or cat or favorite bird. Or a beautiful mama giraffe loving her baby giraffe.
A more complex Nurturing figure is imaginally creating the Ideal Mother. This can be an ongoing effort, fleshing out feelings and behaviors of caring and love that you wish your ideal mother to have. This effort may bring up feelings of betrayal of the real mother and/or sadness of what you didn’t have. SO maybe you don’t want to go there at first. No problem, try to keep things simple, at least at first. Use figures that don’t bring up conflicted feelings. Then, as you strengthen your inner self, you can go on from there.
Protector figures can be such figures as a grizzly bear who is dedicated to you, or Superman, or Wonder Woman, Glinda the Good Witch or your adult self who can help out the child of the past.
Wise figures can be someone whom you’ve met in your life who feels emotionally wise, such as a teacher, or it can be totally imaginal such as Yoda or a power animal or spiritual, such as a shaman, God, Jesus, Mother Mary.
Step 4: Tap them into your bodymind, your consciousness
After you have your team assembled, rest quietly and imagine each one, one by one. First imagine your sacred place, let yourself experience this fully, emotionally and embodying how it feel to be there. based Putting your hands on your knees, and alternate tapping your hands back and forth on your knees. Breathe in and tap back and forth about 12 times.
Next, experientially embody your nurturing figures, your protector and your wise figures, one at time.
Tap them into your consciousness as well.
Finally, imagine them all as a team, surrounding you in a semi-circle and tap your team into your bodymind as well.
Step 5: Use Your Team to Help You When Needed
Consciously use your team when you need them in your life, such as when you are anxious or when you are feeling overwhelmed.
Step 6: Your Team Slowly Strengthens Your Emotional System
If you use your imaginal team consciously and consistently, eventually your emotional resources will strengthen as you develop new neural pathways to access, rather than having only the feeling of being alone or not good enough be the only path available to you.
Parnell, L. (2017). Attachment focused EMDR: Healing developmental deficits and adults abused as children. DVD. California: Parnell Institute.
Siegel, D. (2012). Pocket guide to interpersonal neurobiology: An integrative handbook of the mind. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
Rossman, Martin. (2010) Guided imagery for self healing. Novato,California: H.J. Kramer.