This blog post is mostly about a very intense EMDR session I had today, but before I go into detail about it I just want to include the following text about how psychological trauma affects the brain..
The classic fight-or-flight response to perceived threat is a reflexive nervous phenomenon that has obvious survival advantages in evolutionary terms. However, the systems that organize the constellation of reflexive survival behaviors following exposure to perceived threat can under some circumstances become dysregulated in the process. Chronic dysregulation of these systems can lead to functional impairment in certain individuals who become “psychologically traumatized” and suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), A body of data accumulated over several decades has demonstrated neurobiological abnormalities in PTSD patients. Some of these findings offer insight into the pathophysiology of PTSD as well as the biological vulnerability of certain populations to develop PTSD. Several pathological features found in PTSD patients overlap with features found in patients with traumatic brain injury paralleling the shared signs and symptoms of these clinical syndromes. – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3182008/
A hallmark feature of PTSD is reduced hippocampal volume. The hippocampus is implicated in the control of stress responses, declarative memory, and contextual aspects of fear conditioning. Not surprisingly, the hippocampus is one of the most plastic regions in the brain. As mentioned above, prolonged exposure to stress and high levels of glucocorticoids in laboratory animals damages the hippocampus, leading to reduction in dendritic branching, loss of dendritic spines, and impairment of neurogenesis.4 Initial magnetic resonance imaging (M.RI) studies demonstrated smaller hippocampal volumes in Vietnam Veterans with PTSD and patients with abuse-related PTSD compared with controls.44–47 Small hippocampal volumes were associated with the severity of trauma and memory impairments in these studies. These findings were generally replicated in most but not all subsequent work. Studies using proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy further observed reduced levels of N-acctyl aspartate (NAA), a marker of neuronal integrity, in the hippocampus of adult patients with PTSD.40 Of note, NAA reductions were correlated with Cortisol levels.48 Interestingly, reduced hippocampal volume has been observed in depressed women with a history of early life trauma49 but not in children with PTSD. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3182008/
It’s been nearly a year since my father’s attempted suicide and everything I saw in those first few days in the ICU and his recovery, are still very much present in my mind. My brain has had so much to deal with in regards to trauma and emotional dysregulation. I see this clearly from how I am affected by all the drama in my dysfunctional family for over 30 years. Healthy people don’t have recurrent nightmares, flashbacks, uncomfortable body memories and feelings of fear. Healthy people don’t always feel on edge even when things are going well..Constant drama and trauma wires the brain in a destructive way.Luckily cognitive-behavioural therapy, EMDR & being mindful can really make a difference to how the brain responds. I have already dealt with 3 traumas so far and I am already seeing the positive results. EMDR is incredibly powerful if you give it a chance. I haven’t had a nightmare about my partner abandoning me in at least a month. Before the EMDR, I was getting them every few days.
A great way to think of traumatic memories is imagining they are like wounds. If you don’t clean out the wound really well with antiseptic at the beginning, it will only get more and more infected in time.It is the same with a trauma that hasn’t been dealt with properly. If you don’t find a way to heal the mind and reduce the symptoms, it will just intensify and affect your body in a negative way.
I have been having more and more nightmares recently of my father.The guilt that he projected onto me intensifies in each nightmare and his dark side becomes more and more malevolent..
Today I finally got round to having EMDR on this particulare event in my life and we started off by focusing on the cruel abandonment from my father, after the suicide attempt. I focused on the image of visiting him in his office and having to deal with his complete and utter coldness towards me. I was told to focus on the discovery that he had removed the photo he had of me from his desk and to sit with the emotions that came up. Each time my therapist did the bilateral stimulation my thoughts got more and more intense. I could feel that deep feeling of emotional pain in my chest and tightness in my tummy. I could see my Dad right back in the ICU, all swollen and bruised..It was like I was right back there..At some point I felt overwhelmed..tearful but also scared..I told my therapist that I felt fear..that I didn’t want to feel anymore pain..that I was afraid of what the future might still bring..I don’t want to have to deal with anymore trauma..any more pain..
We continued the bilateral stimulation quite a few times as a lot came up for me..When I was very emotional I was also trying to soothe myself..I was telling myself that I was safe and that I didn’t have to deal with anymore in that moment if it was too much..I imagined being at home, being safe with my husband and was telling myself that I would be ok, that this uncomfortable feeling is only temporary..
Luckily, after 3 more sets of bilateral stimulation I started feeling calmer, a little less focused and in a more dreamy like state..I wasn’t thinking of anything anymore..Just that I was in the therapy room and wanted to open my eyes..
My therapist said that it went well and that there were a lot of memories and feelings to sort through..I must admit I am relieved that this first session is over..Reliving something so painful is truly a challenge..I am utterly exhausted after this session but very hopeful..
I am grateful that this therapist is helping me in such a profound way..
I would greatly encourage EMDR if you feel that you are at your wits end and nothing has worked..Make sure however, that it is a qualified therapist using it on you!