I often tell my clients to think of the human brain like a filing cabinet. When the brain encounters trauma, whether it is the death of a loved one, the betrayal of a friend, a car accident, or a mentally ill parent, your brain responds to this trauma in a similar way. Trauma yanks the drawers of the filing cabinet out, dumps the files, and chucks the drawer aside.
Let’s say that your trauma story is from childhood. You were in a large boarding school and one night you snuck out of bed with your buddies and swung from chandeliers like monkeys. Well, unbeknownst to you, the chandeliers were old and suddenly the one you were dangling from fell from the ceiling. As you’re falling, all you can think is “I’m powerless to make this stop.”
There is some truth to that statement. After all, gravity is an unkind friend on occasion. But the problem now, as an adult, your brain is making mistakes.
Go back to the filing cabinet image. Falling from the chandelier dumped a good portion of your files onto the ground. Now every time you’re on a de-escalator, or a ladder, or a trampoline where possible injury awaits, you’re stomach clenches, your hands sweat, you can feel yourself falling and you are powerless to make the symptoms stop. Only you’re not falling. The de-escalator is moving downward and your feet are stable on the step. The ladder is being held by a friend. (Well, the trampoline, you really could fall, but what a glorious time.)
What do you do? How can you change your brain’s mistake in your adult life? How can you reorganize those files that have been yanked out by Trauma’s hand?
One way to heal and grow and get past the “stuck-ness” of disorganized files is through EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing). We do not completely know why EMDR works, but we know that it works (and I can vouch for it personally). What happens is that after several sessions of EMDR, where you are guided by the counselor with eye movements (or other forms of bi-lateral stimulus) you are able to pick up several files, look at them and place them neatly back into the drawer. EMDR gives you the ability to even take a look at the new files that have appeared (new information and memories that were forgotten or never catalogued).
Now there are some traumas that take a longer time to reprocess. For example, growing up with a mentally unhealthy parent can take much longer because it is involved with physical and emotional development, and it involves many years of mini-traumas or massive traumas. So patience is necessary in some cases. But generally speaking, if you are willing and able to pursue one targeted trauma on a consistent basis, you may suddenly find freedom.
The filing cabinet can even be shut and opened by choice when needed. The question now is not “will this ever go away?” but rather, “how can I interact with this trauma so that it does not control my life?”
*Many of these thoughts and ideas have come from my own training in EMDR by EMDRIA as well as time spent with supervisors and counselors who are trained in EMDR.