We start with Truth. Truth is always at the heart of healing, and finding it is the ultimate goal of therapy.
In a recent session, I was dealing with the problematic and painful cognition “I am a bad person/I am broken”. This was a huge problem for me for several years, but had gone away in the past few months. I am 10 months out of a divorce, and my world is changing rapidly. Recently, I found out that my ex-husband, with whom I have cut contact completely for the past 9 months, is moving to a new city about 2 hours away. This news made me remember him as a person instead of a vague cloud of damage that hangs around me sometimes. Once he turned back into a person in my mind, shit got fucked up.
Suddenly, I had to deal with feelings that I’d been protected from by my mental dehumanization of him, and I couldn’t close the door on my memories. With remembering our marriage and all of his destructive words, thinking about what he’s doing, and wondering what he’s thinking, I’ve done some backsliding into former problematic thoughts. Some of them are extremely painful. I believed so many awful things for years, and was reinforced in those beliefs by him the whole time. I believed I was a truly bad person (as in, it should be a crime to not kill me on sight), that I was a burden (and was therefore hated and resented by all the people I loved and would eventually lose them all because no one could bear the weight of how much help I needed), and that I was completely broken and no one else could possibly love me (so I couldn’t expect any better than to be treated with impatience and hostility). Every time I went into an episode, those thoughts were there, jerking tears from my eyes. Sometimes it even worked the other way around; the thought would be introduced from outside (often by him) and send me into an episode. In both scenarios, these problematic cognitions were excruciating.
I was able to go into my weekly therapy session two weeks ago and present the problem of these thoughts. My therapist is so experienced with me by now that she knew exactly what I needed. She suggested we make a list of Truths for me to reference when I have those thoughts. I’ve hung the list above my computer on my desk so that I can read it often to build and strengthen the new neural pathways in my brain so I can believe it when I’m ill. And this week, we used EMDR to work on these problem thoughts more, and I’ve made some real progress. I anticipate being able to combat these thoughts effectively and possibly eliminate them within the next month. These are thoughts I’ve struggled with for over 13 years. This is the list we made together; feel free to adopt it for yourself:
You’re Not A Bad Person!
- Sarah (my therapist, name changed) thinks I’m not a bad person.
- None of the people I love think I’m a bad person.
- “You are, by my most conservative of estimates, at least average or above.” –my dad
- I help people because helping people is a good thing to do.
- People like me.
- I try my best.
- I don’t give up.
- I don’t hurt people on purpose.
- I don’t have episodes on purpose.
- I don’t mean to harm people.
- Therefore, I am a good person.
How Truths work for me is pretty simple, but hard to do. I find truths when I’m stable and try to reinforce those beliefs through repetition, which strengthens the neural pathways that carry the new and positive thoughts. When I’m ill or in an episode and believe terrible things, I can fight back by saying “My stable self believed I’m x, so even though I don’t believe I’m x, I will trust my stable self and just believe that I am wrong. I can put off judgment until I’m stable again, and then I will find out the truth. For now, I choose to believe that my brain is lying to me.”
EMDR can be a beast. Doing it this past week was partially life-affirming and partially excruciating. I went into the beginning stage of an episode with so many horrible thoughts shouting at me that I stopped the processing and had to go mentally to my Safe Space, which is Krause Springs in Spicewood, Texas (pictured above). In line with the EMDR practice, I focused on every sensory input I would experience if I was there, effectively concentrating on putting my mind into that environment. This is a technique that is also useful outside of EMDR. I use it every time I go to the movie theatre, since that’s a triggering environment for me because of all the intense stimulation (crowds, the noise of people, smells, bright lights, and loud sound systems). Once I got into my Safe Space, I was able to calm down and the horrible spiral of harmful thoughts stopped. When I was ready, we went back to the original memory of my problem cognition (I am a bad person/I am broken) and started over.
On my EMDR journey, I revisited horrible times in my life, each connected to the thought “I am a bad, broken person”. My brain rested, one by one, on the suicide of my childhood best friend, my college breakup five days after I attempted to hang myself in the psychiatric hospital, and my psychologically abusive marriage. But when I got to my Safe Place, in the calm of the natural beauty of Krause Springs, I had a cognition. I was a pie chart, a whole circle with different sized parts inside of it. I could see that it was whole, and was made up of different parts in varying amounts, but it was still whole. That was me. I am many things, and the percentages go up and down, but I am always still the circle. I am always still a whole entity. My mind rested on “I am whole”. When my therapist checked in with me (she stops the process every two minutes to check in with where I am, we briefly discuss it if I need to, and she writes it down), and I asked to focus on the thought “I am whole” for a few minutes. By the time the session ended, I firmly believed that I am a whole person, and I believe that today. We have more work to do on “I’m a bad person”, but that’s okay, because I’m going to keep trying until I get to “I’m a good person”.
Replacing bad thoughts with good ones is the most simplified way I could describe therapy. I could also say we replace false thoughts with Truth.
The Truths will set us free.
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