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Untangling and updating old learning using EMDR

I’d like to give you an example about how EMDR can help untangle and update old messages and beliefs we have about ourselves and the world. To do this, I’ll share a story.

A young woman “Ann” sought counseling to work on what she perceived to be struggles with low self-esteem. She knew it “didn’t make sense;” she knew she was accomplished in her profession—capable and competent.

But she didn’t feel it.

She knew about a promotion coming up at work, but every time she started to approach her boss about it she experienced an uneasy feeling strong enough to stop her in her tracks.

When she and her EMDR-trained therapist began working with the unease and fear which arose inside her, they were able to go back to different times in her life when she had experienced similar feelings which held her back from doing things she wanted to do.

As they worked together, the young woman remembered a time when she was four years old when she experienced something she came to believe was the root of her fear and unease.

Don't reach for it!

Her parents were driving with Ann and her little sister in the back seat. Ann had dropped a book and was struggling to reach it.

Her father glanced back and told her “Don’t reach for your book, it’s not safe. We’ll get it when we stop in a few minutes.”

Being a rather headstrong (dare I say somewhat typical) 4 year old, she waited a moment and then made another attempt to wiggle out of her carseat to reach the desired book.

At this point, Ann’s parents had stopped at an intersection and were waiting to make a left turn. Unfortunately, the driver of a pickup behind them was occupied with his cell phone and did not see they were stopped. The pickup rear-ended them going 55 mph.

Literally years later, this young lady shared “I thought the accident was my fault.”

Looking at the cause-and-effect from a child’s perspective: she reached for something she wanted, dad said no, she reached again and something very bad happened.

This unhelpful and inaccurate belief:

“if I reach for what I want, bad things happen”

continued to affect her decision making into adulthood.

Working with her therapist she was able to untangle the negative belief and update it.

She was able to realize the accident was not her fault, and to really understand reaching for what she wants does not mean bad things will happen.

In fact, she was able to connect the old memory with new, adaptive, adult learning and was able to believe instead:

I can reach for what I want!

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