Teaching an Old Brain New Thoughts

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How the mind works fascinates me. I’m not a scientist, but I’ve studied quite a bit about it over the years. There are some fascinating new discoveries (that support ancient truths) about the way the brain stores information and how our physical and emotional health are all connected.

Part of my process as I sort through my thoughts and feelings on abuse, is to re-examine all my core beliefs and attitudes that brought me to this point. EMDR therapy is instrumental for me in uncovering and repairing these thoughts. EMDR stands for  Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, and it is a process in which the patient recalls a traumatic event and the negative belief about oneself that goes with it. It uses bilateral stimulation, which can be a sound, physical sensation, or a movement the eye follows back forth to ignite both sides of the brain. The process includes a form of exposure therapy to conjure up old traumas and then through the bilateral stimulation, reprogram the negative belief to create a new reality in the brain. It’s reverse brainwashing. The process allows you to re-challenge false and limiting beliefs, then replace them with what’s true.
As I’ve been processing my stuff, it amazes me how my brain was able to hide away so many uncomfortable realities about my childhood, then reveal them as I feel more and more safe to bring them into the light. With each layer I pull back, more repressed memories surface. They are things I had known all along, but had pushed so far into the corners of my brain, they surprise me when they pop out. I separated them from my every day reality, and yet there they are, driving so much of my subconscious thinking.

EMDR is difficult work. It’s like having a fear of spiders and then deciding to overcome it by living in a garage full of black windows. It’s intense. Some days I leave therapy feeling like a zombie for the rest of the day. My brain feels swollen, and maybe it is. It’s working really hard to reprogram itself. But I’ve also seen a lot of encouraging progress. The adage that sometimes it has to get worse before it gets better absolutely applies here. As a result of doing this work, I now feel safe to let these old thoughts and feelings come to surface for the sake of being acknowledged and released. The traumatized, two-year-old version of me is no longer in control of my subconscious. She has been given a new family that nurtures her and protects her. She is paid attention to, but she doesn’t have to call the shots, and this is good news for all of us.

I am becoming more and more aware of the difference between what I “should” think, or how I want to think, and how I actually feel. For example, I can tell myself that I am safe and that I have the power to defend myself if someone tries to hurt me, but my body is still trembling and wants to hide. My body still doesn’t “know” that it is safe, it’s reacting to the past. EMDR is ideal for this. It allows you to go into the root cause of your thoughts and feelings, and how they are stored in the body. Once the primary trauma is healed, it has a ripple effect on the compound effects of trauma over time.

As a person fascinated with brains, I realize that I don’t have a lot of time left to do this kind of work. As we age, our brains tend to set up. If I wait until retirement age to deal with my stuff, my brain is going to have a much harder time trying to reprogram itself. Even in middle age, I am finding it a lot more difficult to change the way I think compared to the ways I changed my thoughts in my teens and twenties. However, regardless of age, I believe that it is never too late to make a change. Challenging my core beliefs is hard stuff, but it’s not impossible. With each challenge, I am able to reclaim a tiny bit more of who I really am, and who I am meant to be.


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