Anne's story *
- by Dr. Elaine Kindle-
Tears welled up in Anne's eyes like a lake swelled by rain, slid in sheets down her face and splashed stains onto her blouse. Her rounded shoulders shook. She covered her face as if to block out or to hide the pain from within. "Why can't I get past this already? It makes me so upset to be upset over this still. I should be done with this stuff already. What's wrong with me, anyway?" Anne spoke of events 25 years ago that had shaken her life. She had endured more than ten years of constant denigration, correction and rejection. Anne ultimately walked away from that situation, scared of the future, but relieved. Yet all these years later, there she sat, upset, and angry at herself for her inability to let the emotional impact associated with that time pass. Anne's didn't realize that her daily life in those days had been marked by psychological trauma.
To Anne, the concept of trauma meant life-shaking catastrophic events such as earthquakes, floods, wars, or other acts of violence. Since she had not experienced those circumstances, she had no idea that trauma had been part of her life.
Psychological trauma occurs when issues of safety and of trust get shattered. Such traumas often result in children who are neglected or abused, but also, trauma may happen to adults who experience violations of body, mind or spirit by trusted individuals or institutions on whom they depend.
One of the newest and most efficacious therapeutic methods to help work through the effects of trauma is EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). The genesis of EMDR began in 1987 due to an observation Dr. Francine Shapiro made about the way in which her eye movements seemed to eliminate disturbing thoughts she was experiencing. Her intellectual curiosity about this peculiar phenomenon led to further exploration. Her first research study involving Viet Nam Vets diagnosed with PTSD demonstrated positive results. Those results sparked further research. Since that time, a multitude of research studies examining the validity and effectiveness of this method has occurred. Scientists want to know how, why, and where EMDR is effective and where it is not. At this point over a million people have been helped through EMDR. Individuals experiencing anxiety, phobias, depression, performance problems, addictions and issues with self-esteem have improved. Studies continue to identify additional areas that can benefit from EMDR. Exciting research points to the use of EMDR to ease phantom limb pain and other types of chronic pain. Interestingly, many of people, regardless of the reason they seek out EMDR, have experienced trauma at their core or heart of the matter.
Meanwhile, the understanding of how trauma works in our brains also has become more clear. Traumatic events affect us differently than non-traumatic experiences. Usually our days come and go, and we more or less remember what we did or how we felt on a particular day. However, both the memory and the emotions fade over time. If, for example, something funny happens and we laugh loud and long, often when we try to retell the event to another, it falls flat. We say, "oh well, you had to have been there." Even though we still may get a good laugh from whatever happened, in time the "funniness" of the situation will fade, the memory moves into the past, and as it does we will no longer get such a good belly laugh as we originally did. However, trauma stays present for us. Even if the memories may fade, the emotions still can be activated as though they just happened. Current research believes that trauma gets lodged in the neural network of our brains, whereas other incidents move on through.
In Anne's case, she went through her daily life doing fairly well, but upon occasion met with some friends she had known during those difficult years. This group of friends had been part of the same environment, and they, too, had had negative experiences of their own. As they would speak of those times, Anne might not even remember the incident to which they were referring, but she would notice that the old disturbing feelings would rise up again in their intensity, and would evoke an unwanted and embarrassing emotional response. Sometimes the feelings would overwhelm her so much she would need to leave the room. This reaction in turn would add to a sense of shame and to thoughts about not being a good enough person. As a result, Anne's self-esteem was low and she functioned below her real abilities. Consequently, her attitude and resultant behavior further frustrated Anne, and the negative cycle kept spinning out of control, year after year.
Through the advice of friends, Anne eventually sought out a therapist trained and skilled in EMDR and began to work through the trauma she experienced all those years ago. Anne has made significant progress thus far, and understands that since her experiences were long-lasting and untreated, the healing process will take time. She grasps the concept that the deeper the wound, the longer the healing time. Already she sees some positive changes, and looks forward to talking with her friends about the past with it being just that, and without wanting to flee the room.
*Anne's story is true; her name has been changed.
**Dr. Kindle is trained in Levels 1 & 2 of EMDR and has taught EMDR to Masters' Level students and is the process of gaining status as an EMDR consultant .
LeDoux, J., The Emotional Brain (1996), N.Y.: Simon & Schuster
Manfield, P. (ed.), Extending EMDR (1998), N.Y.: W. W. Norton & Co.
Parnell, L., Ph.D., Transforming Trauma: EMDR (1997), N.Y.: W. W. Norton & Co.
Shapiro, F.. Ph.D., & Forrest, M. S., EMDR: The breakthrough therapy for overcoming anxiety, stress, and trauma (1997), N.Y.: Basic Books
Shapiro, F., Ph.D., Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (1995), N.Y.: The Guilford Press
van der Kolk, B., (1999) "The body keeps the score: Memory and the evolving psychobiology of post traumatic stress," in David Baldwin's Trauma Information Pages, Eugene, Oregon