The Impact of Doing Emotional Work

Written by: Jorinde Berben
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After months of postponing making an appointment, I found myself in my therapists office again yesterday morning. The reason I’ve been putting off this visit is because of the issue that keeps presenting itself over and over again. It’s a trauma from my childhood that brings up very strong and painful emotions, but that I can’t quite put my finger on yet. The feelings are clear but somehow I can only see glimpses of images and find no memory that truly connects everything.

On the one hand I know I need to deal with these feelings since they interfere with my life today and hold me back from making the choices I want to make. I need to face them.
On the other hand I dread looking at them more closely because I’m afraid of what I’ll find. You would have to be a special kind of crazy to willingly dive into deep fear, shame, grief and pain and relive it again. So I tricked myself into doing it.

We originally went in for a couple’s therapy session, but had no pressing problems as a couple, so I mentioned this specific issue. The therapist suggested we try EMDR-therapy (Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing), which immediately made me feel resistant. But my partner encouraged me to tackle this while it was staring me in the face, and left to take a walk outside in the beautiful autumn sunshine.

In EMDR you summon a memory or difficult emotion. The therapist then moves a finger horizontally in front of your eyes for you to follow, so your eyes move from side to side (or uses another bilateral technique). This helps you reprocess unprocessed memories through association. And no, this is not fun. I went through all the emotions I mentioned above, and through lots and lots of tears. I felt my body shake and tremble, and I went from freezing to feeling every muscle in my body clench together. Feeling were alternated by images and pysical sensations, and I was asked to stay with them fro 20-30 seconds each time while following the therapist’s hand movements.

It wasn’t always easy to stay with the experience. My mind tried to distance itself from my experience a few times. At the end of the session we closed with an inner child safe space visualisation that helped me comfort my own inner child and make her feel safe.

After we got home, yesterday, I felt a deep exhaustion set in. It felt like I had run a marathon. I took time for a bath, some reading and a Netflix show.
And today my body is still recovering. I am tired and have a difficult time focussing. I notice how the emotions that I dealt with yesterday have not completely left me. It’s as if I finally opened a door and it will take time for all the emotions to be processed.

I also feel a bit lighter, however, and with this exhaustion comes a desire for a deep rest which might just be what I need.

This has been a good reminder for me to remember that working through difficult emotions is just that: WORK. It takes effort, and courage, and it requires rest and recovery afterwards. I also feel an immense gratitude for the safety and support I felt during therapy.

In the talk below you can learn more about EMDR and hear a powerful account of how it can work to heal trauma.

3 thoughts on “The Impact of Doing Emotional Work

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