Our panel of Marriage Recovery Center clinicians discuss the role that EMDR can play in the healing process for victims of emotional abuse. Many of the clients that we work with feel trapped and overwhelmed by self-sabotaging beliefs and emotions, most often because of past or ongoing trauma such as emotional abuse.
Until they are able to move beyond those thoughts and emotions, they will not be able to move forward in their healing. Healing comes in the journey of learning to walk out life differently, and if you are stuck in the past, you aren’t free to live life differently. Sharmen, Lenne and Leigh Ann discuss how it can free you from the trauma response by reprocessing those painful and traumatic memories and desensitizing how your body responds to triggers.
How EMDR Can Help in Emotional Abuse Recovery
Emotional abuse can be just as damaging as physical abuse, leaving deep scars that are not always visible to the naked eye. Survivors of emotional abuse often find themselves trapped in a cycle of pain, fear, and self-doubt. Fortunately, there are therapeutic techniques like Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing that can offer hope and healing to those who have experienced emotional abuse. In this article, we will explore how Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing can play a crucial role in emotional abuse recovery.
Understanding Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing: A Brief Overview
Before delving into its application in emotional abuse recovery, let’s understand what Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing is. It is a psychotherapy approach developed by Francine Shapiro in the late 1980s. It was initially designed to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) but has since been widely used to address various forms of psychological distress, including the effects of emotional abuse.
The central premise of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing is that traumatic experiences can become “stuck” in the brain, causing distressing symptoms to persist. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing aims to help individuals process these traumatic memories and integrate them into their broader life experiences, ultimately reducing their emotional impact.
EMDR for Victims of Emotional Abuse
Recognizing Readiness for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
When working with survivors of emotional abuse, therapists often assess their readiness for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. One key indicator is the extent to which the survivor’s past traumas continue to affect their present life. If a person is constantly haunted by their past experiences and struggles to live in the present, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing may be a valuable therapeutic tool.
Survivors of emotional abuse may find it challenging to move forward because they are continually revisiting their past pain. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing can help them “let go” of these memories, not by erasing them but by changing their emotional charge. The goal is to enable survivors to live in the present moment without being constantly weighed down by past traumas.
EMDR and Memory Processing
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing does not erase memories but rather reprocesses them. It allows survivors to view their traumatic memories from a different perspective, reducing the emotional distress associated with those memories. This reprocessing can be especially liberating for survivors of emotional abuse who are burdened by triggers that can cause them to relive their trauma unexpectedly.
Imagine a person who was emotionally abused and, as a result, developed severe anxiety. Even everyday activities like going to the grocery store can become triggering experiences. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing can help individuals regain control over these triggers, allowing them to react differently when confronted with reminders of their past abuse.
Empowering Victims to Take Control
One of the most significant benefits of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing for emotional abuse survivors is the restoration of a sense of control. Emotional abuse often leaves victims feeling powerless and helpless. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing provides survivors with the tools to manage their emotional responses and break free from the grip of their past traumas.
As therapists guide survivors through Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing sessions, they learn that they can confront their fears and painful memories without becoming overwhelmed. This newfound empowerment can be a pivotal step in the journey toward emotional healing and recovery.
EMDR for Abusers: A Different Approach
While EMDR is primarily associated with helping victims of abuse, it can also play a role in the treatment of abusers. Abusers, too, may have experienced traumatic events in their lives that have shaped their behavior. EMDR can assist them in processing their own past traumas and addressing the root causes of their abusive actions.
Therapists working with abusers using Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing may focus on:
Addressing the Root Causes
EMDR can help abusers explore their own histories and the traumas they may have experienced. Understanding the link between their past and their abusive behavior can be a crucial step toward rehabilitation.
Breaking the Cycle of Abuse
By reprocessing their traumatic memories, abusers can gain insight into how their actions affect others. This can motivate them to change their behavior and seek healthier ways of relating to their partners and loved ones.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing can facilitate the development of empathy in abusers. As they work through their own pain and trauma, they may become more attuned to the suffering they have caused others. This newfound empathy can be a powerful catalyst for change.
EMDR with Children and Adult Children of Emotional Abuse Survivors
Children who grow up in homes where emotional abuse is prevalent can also benefit from EMDR therapy. Although Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing is not typically used with very young children, it can be effective with teenagers and young adults who have experienced emotional abuse in their upbringing.
EMDR for Children
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing can work remarkably well with children, as their memory networks are still developing, making the process more efficient. Therapists often use creative approaches to engage children in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, such as utilizing tactile sensations or playful techniques.
Adult Children of Emotional Abuse Survivors
Adult children who have witnessed emotional abuse between their parents may carry the emotional scars into their own relationships and families. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing can help them address the trauma they experienced as children and break the cycle of abuse in their own lives.
The Role of EMDR Therapists
EMDR therapists play a crucial role in guiding survivors and abusers through the healing process. They provide a safe and supportive environment for clients to confront their past traumas and work toward a brighter future. Therapists help clients understand that Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing does not erase their memories but allows them to regain control over their emotional responses.
Furthermore, therapists can assist clients in recognizing the readiness for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, assessing whether they are continually haunted by past traumas that affect their present lives. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapists work to empower their clients to take control of their emotional responses and help them develop healthier ways of coping with their past experiences.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing is a powerful therapeutic tool that can aid in the recovery of emotional abuse survivors and support the rehabilitation of abusers. By reprocessing traumatic memories and offering newfound control and empowerment, EMDR offers a path toward healing and hope for those who have endured the devastating effects of emotional abuse. Whether used with children, adult children, victims, or abusers, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing can be a transformative approach in breaking the cycle of emotional abuse and promoting healthier, happier lives.
Also read: Can Narcissism Be Treated?
About Dr. Hawkins:
The internet is inundated with hyperbole and misinformation about narcissism, leaving many people confused and hopeless. Get the facts on narcissism and emotional abuse from someone who has been researching, writing about and treating narcissism and emotional abuse for over a decade.
Dr. Hawkins is a best-selling author and clinical psychologist with over three decades of experience helping people break unhealthy patterns and build healthier relationships.
He is the founder and director of the Marriage Recovery Center and the Emotional Abuse Institute which offers education, training and counseling for people who want to break free of, and heal from, emotional abuse. Whether the perpetrator of the abuse is your spouse, partner, parent, boss, friend or family member, we offer practical advice for anyone trapped in a toxic, destructive relationship.
In addition to narcissism & emotional abuse, you’ll learn about the lesser known forms of abuse, including covert abuse, reactive abuse, spiritual abuse, secondary abuse, relationship trauma and much more.