EMDR stands for eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing. It is a technique that helps one to release overwhelmingly bad feelings that are attached to memories. It consists of allowing the bad feeling into one’s awareness while tracking a finger moving back and forth, right and left, before the eyes. Doing this causes the feeling to quickly dissipate. Only the facts of the memory remain without feelings attached to it.
Bilateral tapping is another way to release bad feelings. This is done by alternately tapping the right and left sides of the body—gently tapping the knees, hands, wrists, upper arms or shoulders.
The R in EMDR stands for reprocessing, which is to substitute a positive belief for a negative one—e.g. to substitute “I am a good person” for “I am a bad person.”
By all means follow the protocol. Find a therapist who does EMDR. Do whatever works. But bear in mind that the cause of grief, fear and shame is not that I think wrong thoughts about myself, but my identification with that self.
The ego is not a subject; it is not ‘I’. Rather, it is a role that I am playing. It is as if I were a great actor—happy, healthy, wealthy, able to go anywhere on a whim—playing the role of a poor, unlucky wretch. I didn’t have to take on this role; I chose it. Being a method actor, I have completely immersed myself in this role to the point that I have forgotten that I am acting.
Method acting is an emotion-oriented technique developed by theatre practitioner Konstantin Stanislavski (1863-1938). Stanislavski encouraged his actors to draw from personal experiences and memories in order to generate genuine emotions and fully identify with the characters.
Lee Strasberg (1901-1982) further developed the technique. His theory is that the actor should live the character he or she is playing even while off-stage. Some film actors completely change their habits and lifestyle in order to “become” the character they are playing, and they do not “break character” until the final scene is shot.
The video below demonstrates how simple it is to do EMDR and bilateral tapping. In it, a therapist helps a young man to let go of his grief over being unloved, which was attached to the memory of breaking up with his girlfriend. He uses the thought of the girl to bring up the feeling of grief. By simply allowing it up, it disappears all by itself.
The therapist then has him think of his positive belief, which is “I am strong.” She uses bilateral tapping to help him implant this belief in his consciousness.
Notice how relaxed his body is: muscle tightness is associated with holding on to a feeling, and muscle relaxation is associated with letting go. Practice exhaling as you release.
EMDR/Bilateral tapping protocol
Assigning numbers to feelings tells the therapist when the bad feeling has been completely released and the positive belief has been accepted.
Choose a traumatic memory (see below for the definition of a memory).
State your negative belief, e.g., “I am a horrible person” or “I am going to die.”
State the opposite, e.g., “I am a good person” or “I am fine.”
On a scale of 1 – 7 rate how true the positive belief is. If “I am a good person” does not feel true, assign it a low number—e.g., it feels false, so I give it a 2.
On a scale of 1 – 10 rate your level of distress. “I feel terrible” might be an eight or a nine.
Use the event or memory as a trigger to bring up the bad feeling. Move your fingers back and forth and tracking them with your eyes. If you want to try tapping, alternately tap each knee, right-left-right. You can also cross your arms and lightly tap the front of each shoulder with your fingers. Tapping can be fast or slow.
Keep using the memory as a trigger to bring up the bad feeling until your level of distress is zero.
Now focus on your positive belief as you use EMDR or bilateral tapping to implant this belief in your consciousness.
What a memory is:
• A negative memory is rarely an accurate recollection of what actually happened. Every time we remember something we edit it in some way, and what we put back into storage is never exactly what we retrieved. Memory is constructed, rather than fixed; it is an edited and re-edited recording, rather than the original one.
• A negative memory is a negative memory whether we actually remember it or not. You know those stories you hear so many times that in the end you do not know if your memory is of the event or if it is constructed from the telling? That still counts. It’s what is in your head that matters.
• A negative memory can be something that did not even happen to us. Sometimes we imagine an event that we hear about or see on television so vividly that it is stored in our memory as if it were our own experience. And it can have just as much influence on us.
• A negative memory is sometimes a composite. If something happened over and over, especially when we were children, we might find it hard to know what is an actual historic negative memory and what is a composite of a number of them. But it really does not matter. What counts is what we have stored in our memory, not what actually happened.