EMDR Questions: Categories and Choosing Memories

LittleBigFoot

MyPTSD Pro
How did you choose the themes/categories to work with? And then how did you choose the “worst” memory within that category? Just by what bugs you most? But what if things bug you most at different times and just shift? Like this molestation memory is really bad on week A but week B this other molestation memory is the worst? I don’t like the idea of using the I feel whatever statements as themes cause they all fit for all memories. But if I use like my stepdad, that’s various types of trauma that could fall into different categories on his own. I’m overthinking this.

Also, did you use a spiritual resource even if you aren’t religious? Like I feel really close to nature and believe there might be a higher power but I don’t have a name for it. I just weirdly envision Grandmother Willow from Pocahontas lol, but I also don’t want to be laughed at for that.
 

joeylittle

Administrator
How did you choose the themes/categories to work with? And then how did you choose the “worst” memory within that category? Just by what bugs you most? But what if things bug you most at different times and just shift?
I think the idea is not so much choosing the one that is subjectively 'worse' - it's tunneling down into the one that would be considered formative - the 'root' of the trauma that then runs through subsequent similar events. In this way, the root may not be directly connected to what you perceive as your primary trauma.

By directly connected - I mean, part of the trauma 'plot', or narrative.

This is less likely to be an issue with self-contained, single-event traumas. If you're dealing with multiple occurrences over time - complex trauma - the root might be in the first time the molestation occurred. But, if the predominant traumatic emotion you're dealing with is (hypothetically) helplessness..there could be some other, earlier event that is the root of that.

Example: Patient X was repeatedly sexually abused by their grandparent over a period of 10 years. When describing the events, the visceral emotional trauma response for patient X connects to a panic-inducing fear. That emerges as a consistent 'theme', and appears to the therapist to be the strongest. Patient X agrees.

Therapist and patient X decide to begin with the earliest memory of the abuse. Why? Because the first incident is typically where the 'root' of the traumatic response will be found. Even if there is (hypothetically) a later event that seems like it's worse, one that patient X thinks of as 'the worst one' - it's the initial occurrence that is most likely to be at the root of the traumatic experience.

There's a fair amount of guesswork involved in this, on both the part of the patient and the therapist. With EMDR, the thinking is that it doesn't matter whether or not you've guessed correctly. You'll find the root eventually, just get as close to it as you can, before you start.

Patient X and therapist begin EMDR processing on that initial event. Turns out, patient X isn't able to connect to any real feelings about it.

So, they move to targeting the feelings that go directly with the narrative from that later event, the 'worst one', in patient X's mind.

And it's while working on that, that patient X remembers something that they had forgotten, because it didn't seem connected - but now, it's becoming a very overwhelming feeling of panic-inducing fear - even more than the memory of the abuse.

It's the time when patient X was playing in the yard, and the grandparent abuser snuck up behind them wearing a terrifying mask, and pushed patient x from behind. When patient x turned and saw the masked figure, they were so completely terrified that they wet themselves, and froze on the ground, while the masked figure laughed.

That's a very crude example. My point is that - for patient X - there was an event involving the abuser that happened before the abuse started. It's not the trauma itself - rather, it's a terrible and traumatic (small-t) experience involving the person who eventually begins sexually abusing them, that is the root of the panic. Once that's identified, it becomes easier for patient X to start connecting that panic to the subsequent abuse events, and by working on the emotions associated with the mask incident, part of the abuse gets 'processed'. Not all of it - there are other feelings more directly tied to the abuse events, and they can now emerge as other 'roots'.

That process will be repeated until enough roots have been removed that the whole architecture of the complex trauma - the other roots, the branches, whatever - these elements whither away and become events that are located in the past, instead of feelings that are still happening in the present. In theory - and sometimes in practice - with EMDR, you don't need to go through every single thing that happened in the narrative. You only need to go through enough of the common themes, that the events all start to lose their power.

Like I feel really close to nature and believe there might be a higher power but I don’t have a name for it. I just weirdly envision Grandmother Willow from Pocahontas lol, but I also don’t want to be laughed at for that.
Nothing laughable at all in that. Many people think of the natural world as their higher power, and all that matters is that you have an understanding of it that is clear to you, that you can connect with and rely on.

Hope some of this is helpful.
 

Freida

MyPTSD Pro
Because my past is such a tangled mess we do it kind of opposite. We start with how I feel or remember today and track backwards to might be causing those feelings. Sometimes it works, sometimes not so much, but it's way easier than trying to get me to jump into the past. Then T and I do an overview at the end of our appt to see what came up and use that as the plan for starting the next week.

Well - that's the plan anyway LOL
But often what happens is a random memory just starts banging around in my head all week and that's what we end up working on. Start with that memory, work backwards to try to see why it's there at this moment.

Something to remember though is that the whole point of emdr is less about facing every memory and more about reframing how you feel about the traumas you went thru. It's a pretty subtle difference, but it's an important one.

Like, once you can get from "I deserved this trauma" in one incident it's easier to apply that to all of them.

Most important thing to remember: EMDR is tough. Really, really tough. Its important that you give yourself time to take baby steps through it. Don't try to rush it. Be honest with your t on how it is affecting you. And - remember that when it works it is amazing!

Also, did you use a spiritual resource even if you aren’t religious? Like I feel really close to nature and believe there might be a higher power but I don’t have a name for it. I just weirdly envision Grandmother Willow from Pocahontas lol, but I also don’t want to be laughed at for that.
Yep - this is really common for people with pstd. A lot of people's trauma involves organized religion so turning to more "outside" practices is a way to connect with a higher power. I don't think anyone around here will laugh -- because we get it.
 

Freddyt

MyPTSD Pro
We start with how I feel or remember today and track backwards to might be causing those feelings.
This....

With two trauma incidents 45 years apart and the fact suffering from one may have helped with the second one so there's a bit of a tangle there. So, pull on the thread and see where it goes. Where ever it ends there is a feeling or a memory or something that is bothering me.

I know now what her first question will be when I see my T next. "How have you been since I saw you last?". Since the first session something has shaken out between every session that needs work. A feeling or a memory or an emotion. Talk works well sometimes too. A different point of view can make a huge difference sometimes. Gaining tools in the fight against stress is never a bad thing either.
 

LittleBigFoot

MyPTSD Pro
This is less likely to be an issue with self-contained, single-event traumas. If you're dealing with multiple occurrences over time - complex trauma - the root might be in the first time the molestation occurred.

I’ll be dealing with both types unfortunately. I’ll have molestation stuff but also singular shit that I’ll have to figure out.

But, if the predominant traumatic emotion you're dealing with is (hypothetically) helplessness..there could be some other, earlier event that is the root of that.

This is where I get unsure because every trauma memory has a root of helplessness. So could I just do three memories and call it done? 😅

Thank you for the patient example. That was extremely helpful. Extremely.


But often what happens is a random memory just starts banging around in my head all week and that's what we end up working on.

This worries me. Because I feel like this will happen and it will be messy and uncontrolled and I’ll feel like I’m never getting anywhere.
 

Mach123

MyPTSD Pro
I didn’t like it at all and I felt it didn’t work. I felt helpless when they asked me what I wanted to do or what memories I wanted to work on. Almost like the things I should have done I couldn’t remember anyway? Can’t really explain it but I just was really disappointed. Frustrating. My therapist is really good at it and it moves me somewhat when she does it, but we haven’t met in person since covid so who knows if we would have done anymore .
 

Freida

MyPTSD Pro
This worries me. Because I feel like this will happen and it will be messy and uncontrolled and I’ll feel like I’m never getting anywhere.
yep.
It's totally messy and uncontrolled and some days it's just down right ugly.
One of the reasons I keep a journal is that way I can go back 6 weeks or 6 months or 6 years to see the progress I've made, because some days it just feels like I'm swimming in oatmeal.

But.
Once it clicks into place it is amazing. Those memories that tear you up become nothing more than sad memories of your past that don't really bother you any more. Which is why it's worth the pain of doing it.
 

Freddyt

MyPTSD Pro
Grouping things to work on:

Trauma - Hard work. Really hard work. Reprocessing takes longer and ties up more brain power than other work.

Emotions- Not nearly as hard to work on as Trauma and reprocessing is easier.

"Talk" Therapy - Sometimes things look very different from someone else's perspective. Sometimes you find unexpected things you didn't know about too.

This worries me. Because I feel like this will happen and it will be messy and uncontrolled and I’ll feel like I’m never getting anywhere.
It may seem messy and uncontrolled but the way therapy works you are dealing with the next thing you need to. I wouldn't doubt that you make it easier to deal with trauma by working on other things around it before you actually work on it.

With a good T you will make progress. It depends what you are working on as to how fast that progress is.
 
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