My Counseling Journey: What to Expect at an EMDR Therapy Session
For the last 18 months I’ve had regular visits to a therapist. Typically, weekly visits.
Originally my husband, Zach, and I decided to go to marriage counseling together. Our first appointment was both of us, there to work on bettering our marriage bond.
We’re at an age where that divorce rate is becoming people we know, couples we witness get married, and while we’re confident in our marriage and have no concerns about divorcing – we’ve seen firsthand how quickly couples can disconnect.
We were in a “marriage valley” as I call it and my husband said, “maybe we should see a counselor.” He only needed to say it ONCE!
As I think most wives would agree – I’d LOVE to see a counselor together but never before had he ever mentioned it so that first time he did? SIGN US UP.
Literally that moment I got on google and got us an appointment THAT DAY. I didn’t want it to become a topic to discuss later, I wanted to seize that moment while I had it!
I’ve been to counseling many times in my life. When my parents divorced, when I moved from living with my mom to living with my dad, in college, and again a couple of years ago for a brief time.
My husband has only ever been to pre-marital counseling with our preacher. Not to stereotype all men but I think most of the men we can all think of probably aren’t quick to want to go talk about their feelings with a therapist.
Just Zach offering for us to go was HUGE but then following through with it? Even more awesome.
We went together that first day and then our counselor said she wanted to meet each of us individually to get backgrounds and such so she’d have a better base knowledge about each of us and what we brought to our marriage etc.
Zach had his solo visit first and it took that one hour visit.
Then I had mine.
And it hasn’t ended yet…roughly 18 months later we’re still working through what all I bring to the table. (Hello baggage my old friend…).
We’ve discussed mixing in marriage counseling with my personal therapy work but decided to just stick with the “me” stuff for now. It’s AMAZING how just working through things on my end has profoundly impacted my marriage too.
I felt like by working through my stuff first that it’d allow us to have a smoother marriage counseling process rather than start to work together and be spending a lot of the time having to focus on me.
I’m sure we WILL go together at some point but truly just my going has had a major effect on our marriage relationship and has even helped Zach in ways with some things without him even attending the sessions!
Let that be an encouragement to any wife who is wishing her husband would go to marriage counseling – if he’s not interested…go alone! Set the example.
It’s a no-lose situation because you’ll gain SO MUCH and be able to bring your best self to your marriage too!
I truly believe it has all been a huge GOD THING in my life.
I knew I had some hurts and some tough things. I knew I had relationships that would benefit from talking through with a counselor on some level but I didn’t have any CLUE just how much therapy could truly transform my ENTIRE LIFE.
For my alpha-male husband to suggest therapy? That’s huge.
For us to scroll google and be able to get an appointment day-of? That’s huge.
For that google search to result in a therapist who is SO perfect for me? Who just so happens to specialize in a totally random type of therapy that I’d never heard of that has literally changed my life? That’s GOD.
I’ve shared a lot of my therapy journey on Instagram via my stories. Which is weird because I’m super uncomfortable talking about emotional stuff and prefer writing it. But it just hasn’t been something I’ve been comfortable writing about yet.
I’m not even really sure how to write this post or what I want to say during it.
Maybe it’s because it’s Mental Health Awareness Month and I feel like being open about mental health is so important. Maybe because it’s Mother’s Day and that holiday always gives me a lot of reflection. Maybe because we’re living in a world pandemic that has rocked my mental and emotional load as I know it has for so many others.
Therapy is Awsome – Even for Christians
Therapy is awesome. Period. I believe every single person could benefit from it. Every one!
I wish we were all more open to each other.
My biggest Christianity pet peeve is that we don’t all openly share our sins with one another.
I promise you the people in your pew have had the same struggles you have! Why do we keep it all so hush-hush?
We ALL sin and fall short. Only Jesus is perfect.
So why not talk about it together? Why not lean on each other? Pray for each other?
I know some people say that I shouldn’t need therapy if I’m truly a Christian. I should be getting all my help from Jesus and all my guidance from the Bible.
But y’all. The WORLD IS BROKEN. It’s complicated. It’s messy.
I actually just took a potty break while writing this post and saw a great tweet while scrolling Twitter and thought it was so perfect to go along with this topic: “Nobody gets through this broken world unbroken. Nobody.”
Yes, take it ALL to God. Yes, pray it UP. Yes, read God’s Word.
But there is NO SHAME in seeking counsel from a trained professional who can best help YOU work through things.
Help YOU heal. Help YOU grow closer to God in being able to forgive yourself, forgive others, and to truly understand the depths of His love for you – and ACCEPT that love.
I do not personally see a Christian counselor. I have met with my preacher in the past and he’s incredible and a licensed family therapist.
If you have a Christian counselor – awesome! If not, that’s fine too.
I’ve also had counseling at our local college and some of the advice given was not in line with my belief system. I am strong in my faith and was able to take the parts of their advice and apply them to my life but also “toss” the pieces that didn’t align with my beliefs. (Very much like how I handle Rachel Hollis ha!)
Now though? I’ve found the best of both worlds. While my counselor is not a Christian counselor, she is a Christian and because I share my faith with her in our sessions she knows I’m comfortable with her bringing that perspective to the table.
I love that she’ll remind me to pray on something or suggested for me to let it sit and see what God has in store.
If you’re considering therapy, it doesn’t hurt to try! It’s okay to “bounce around” until you find the best fit for you.
When I went to counseling a couple of years ago I didn’t stick with it very long as I didn’t find that right match and had life come up and distract me from continuing to find someone that was a better fit.
This time Google didn’t let me down 🙂
Feeling Comfortable with Therapy
I know for many people the idea of counseling is scary and overwhelming. It can feel like people will judge you or think something must be “wrong with you.”
It can be hard to put it all out there. It can be embarrassing for other people to know.
I told the “whole world” (well ya know the IG world ha!) yet I haven’t talked with many people at all face to face about my therapy journey.
I’m more comfortable talking to internet friends than I often am talking to people I know in real life.
We live in a smaller town and I actually ended up knowing my counselor when we found her on google (I didn’t realize I knew her until she told me how we were connected).
She let me know upfront that it would be understandable if we wanted to find someone else if we found it to be a conflict of interest and that she could even refer us to someone.
I knew whoever we saw would most likely know us on some level or know someone related to Zach or know someone who knows someone who knows us. I’m not saying that in an “everyone knows us” way but more in a “that’s how this town is” way. Everyone is connected in South Georgia (most are related haha!).
Y’all know I’m an open book and have always been very transparent so I have no problems sharing all with a counselor.
I have even run into people that I know in the waiting room from time to time. I’m pretty sure it’s more awkward for them than it is for me!
I don’t mind that my counselor knows a lot of the people in my circle. I think it makes it easier in ways. It cuts out a lot of explaining when she already knows who I’m talking about when telling a story 😉
I know I’m in the minority. I know MOST people are not NEARLY as comfortable as I am with being so open and transparent. So I don’t have a whole lot of advice that I can offer as to how to be comfortable with therapy.
I will say this…consider the cost. My sessions cost over $1 PER MINUTE. I want to take full advantage of every single second because I’m literally paying for it!
Get your moneys worth and chat away 🙂 Do not go in being overly worried about what to say, a good therapist will help talk you through things and help you feel comfortable in opening up and guide you through those feelings that you may not even realize need to be discussed.
It can also be embarrassing to think about “real problems” people have. Sometimes I feel silly sharing my problems when so many people have so many harder things they deal with.
My counselor is incredible at stopping those types of thoughts before they even really take shape. She’s so empathetic, she’s had real tears at times while listening to me and I can just feel her genuine heart during our sessions and it helps me to feel comfortable and relaxed – like she’s just a close friend!
It’s also important to remember that your therapist has heard it ALL. Nothing you have to say or share will be shocking to them. They won’t judge you. They are there to help!
It can take a lot of time to dig deep and that’s why it’s so important not to give up! I had times where I felt like I wanted to stop going.
It was too hard, the feelings it was bringing up were ones I didn’t want to feel. I felt too raw and exposed and, honestly, scared.
But then I’d look at my babies and realize that the hard work I am doing is FOR THEM. Being a better me allows me to be a better wife and mom and that only benefits all the people I love just as much as it benefits myself.
It’s amazing how quickly I started to see that work pay off in a real way. Even though the visits would still be hard and I’d have tough moments of even dreading going to the appointments, I’d say in just three or four visits I had a solid list of feedback to tell my therapist of small shifts and changes I’d noticed (or someone else pointed out) that really showed it was already working!
On like my first or second “personal background” session my therapist mentioned that she had training in EMDR Therapy.
I’d never heard of that before but if you know me then you know I’m very “DFW” (down for whatever).
I didn’t even really need any background knowledge of what EMDR is, I trust my counselor and if she said I could benefit from it – let’s go for it.
Here is more info about EMDR Therapy
EMDR stands for “Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing.” It’s often referred to as rapid eye movement therapy.
Let me pause right here to say this: I AM NOT A DOCTOR. I’m just a regular mom with NO CLUE from a science perspective what I’m even talking about here. I’m sharing MY experiences. I’m not giving medical advice or psychological advice. I’m not a psychologist. I didn’t major in phycology.
Read on if you’re wanting a real-life regular person perspective…but if you’re wanting medical advice then seek a doctor 🙂
Basically, from my understanding, when we face trauma or hard things in life it those experiences can get “stuck” in our brains and are unable to process in a healthy way.
Our minds will start to literally see the world through the perspective of that trauma and that trauma will always be there, scanning every situation looking for ways to come to the surface again.
Here’s just one example of this. For me, rejection is a big thing I’ve struggled with. A perspective I have had on the world and a way I reflect to myself as well.
Every situation and relationship I enter into my mind scans it and picks up on any little thing that can be seen as rejection.
A friend cancels plans. BOOM REJECTED. “Of course, she canceled on you, Emily! She doesn’t want to be your friend! You aren’t a worthy friend, look at all the friends who have rejected you in the past. This one will be the same way as all the others. Why do you even bother?”
Seeing the world through the lens of rejection shaped so many of my relationships. My marriage, my children, my friends, even myself.
EMDR helps to reprocess trauma to allow the mind to heal. It is typically known for helping people suffering from PTSD but a quick google search reveals it’s also been used to help with anxiety, ocd, eating disorders, depression, etc.
Basically if you’ve got trauma or emotional scarring – it can’t hurt to try it!
What To Expect During an EMDR Session
During a session where we use EMDR (it is not something used at every session!), we will talk about a memory that is painful. Often the focus is on childhood as that is a time where we are affected long term by the things that happen to us.
And, as children, it’s often more difficult to process things the way in which we can as adults. Kids don’t have the ability to rationalize or understand situations the way adults can so it’s easy for events to be more traumatic to a child.
We will narrow in on something that I struggle with, let’s keep with the rejection example.
Then she will have me find a memory of a time where I felt very rejected.
I’m not going to use a real example here as I don’t want to hurt any feelings or cause any sort of drama. So I’ll just go with something many people have experienced and say the day my parents got divorced.
We’ll then walk through that memory. I’ll talk through what I remember, what stands out etc. Why it made me feel rejection, the emotions I feel when remembering it.
Then she will have me focus on that memory. Just that memory.
As I am focusing she will take two fingers and go back and forth with them while I follow her fingers with my eyes and focus on that memory.
I know it sounds like hypnotizing (it’s not!) and like it’s totally weird! And it is weird at first. Sometimes I can’t really focus like if a light is shining through the window behind her or the memory isn’t concrete enough or I have a lot on my mind or something.
But usually as I think on the memory and watch her fingers calmly going back and forth I am able to just let my mind work, without my thoughts or distractions getting in the way.
She will stop and simply ask me what came up during that thought process. We continue this cycle throughout most of the session, focusing on the same thought or just continuing on what comes up.
For example, if I’m focusing on the day my parents told me they were getting divorced something that would probably come up is the thought that it was my fault that they separated (again, this is just a random example…in actuality, I was NEVER a kid who blamed myself for my parents divorcing nor did I ever secretly hope or wish they’d get back together).
We’d discuss that thought, mostly me leading the way in that discussion. She may ask questions to help guide me but usually during EMDR sessions it’s just letting those thoughts and feelings flow naturally.
Once I share the thoughts of it being my fault that my parents divorced she’d say “go with that” and continue with the finger motions.
Instead of continuing to focus on the divorce memory in general, I’d be focusing on that feeling that it was my fault. I can’t speak for other EMDR patients but in that scenario myself, I’d most likely be repeating it to myself over and over while watching her fingers go back and forth “it’s my fault my parents got a divorce. It’s my fault my parents got a divorce.”
That thought will lead to other thoughts or memories or feelings. We pause and discuss and then continue on.
What Does EMDR Therapy Do?
By focusing on the painful memory or trauma using EMDR therapy the brain is able to get that trauma “un-stuck.”
It allows the trauma and pain to be processed. Worked through. Healed from.
And then stored away.
It frees the mind from constantly focusing on that hurt and seeing the world through that skewed perspective.
Truly it’s fascinating.
It’s not some big ah-ha moment though. In fact, it’s HARD.
The EMDR appointments are mentally, and even physically, exhausting.
In order to protect ourselves we often try to put certain hurts or memories out of our mind as much as possible (ironic that those are most often the ones that are stuck right there at the focus huh?).
Having to bring up those feelings to the front and face them head on is hard.
Having connections made to painful memories is hard.
Most of my EMDR appointments resulted in a LOT of crying (I invested in a good waterproof mascara for therapy days!).
Sometimes I’d feel MORE upset because I realized just how much those painful things affect my every day life, how much power they have had over me.
So many dots become connected that you never even realized were related! It’s hard and painful but also, from an outside perspective, super interesting too.
My therapist pays attention to my physical response during the session as well, she will note things about how I physically respond to certain portions and will push further to explore areas that are clearly tender for me or ones that my body seems to want to reject focusing on.
By working through those traumas in therapy the mind is able to process them fully and in a much healthier way than whenever they originally “got stuck.”
We talk through it ALL. As an adult I’m able to understand things that a child’s mind simply can’t.
Like with the divorce example – of course an adult can see that divorces happen for many, many reasons but it’s NEVER the fault of the child.
Connecting that adult perspective to the childhood trauma helps in the healing of it.
At first I went into therapy with the goal to be NORMAL. I was angry at the hurts I carried. Angry at the damage I’d allowed others to cause me to have to face all the time.
I wanted it GONE.
But that’s not reality. As you process the hurts in a positive way it allows the brain to move them, but they are still there. They will always still hurt.
The difference is those hurts no longer cloud my vision, my worldview, or my heart!
I can have a situation that would normally cause me to be literally in the bed crying all day long and now it’ll be a brief pause of like “aw man that stings” and then I move on with my day.
Still hurts, yes, but no longer controls me.
With the divorced parents example again: Maybe I see a friend post a picture of their parents wedding anniversary on social media and say what a great example of marriage their parents have been in their lives and in their own marriage.
Old Emily may have seen that and thought “My marriage is doomed to fail because my parents got a divorce.”
Therapy Emily will see it, pause and think “Man I wish I had that kind of example in my own marriage, I’m so thankful to be that example for our children.”
Allowing the Mind to Process Therapy
I learned very quickly in my therapy journey that appointment days are very emotionally draining.
It’s important for the rest of my day after my appointment to have very little responsibility on my plate.
I need to relax and let my mind work.
Through the EMDR those painful memories are being activated. You can’t move something without waking it up!
Sometimes I’ve spent the rest of the day crying. Or feeling angry. Or needing to just SLEEP.
Sleep, by the way, is a wonderful way to allow the mind to heal and work through things and my counselor suggested taking naps on tough EMDR days which I’ve found helps a ton!
I’m a note taker by nature (total school nerd right here) so I’d write a note in my phone at anything that came up throughout the week following a session.
I found that if I allowed myself to relax the entire day of my session that I’d be good to go the next day. On days where I couldn’t rest I often struggled to “bounce back” as quickly.
I think it’s important to be up front about how much time and work therapy takes (and money whew!). It’s an investment in YOU that is also an investment in every single relationship in your life.
My husband has been incredibly supportive in helping with the kids on therapy days and has never once complained about the cost or the time it takes. He’s seen the results too and how much it’s made our already great marriage even better (without him even needing to be there, lucky him haha!).
EMDR Therapy Isn’t Always Hard
Recently I had what I’d call my big breakthrough session of EMDR.
Rather than feeling sad or upset during the session, I felt euphoric.
All these things just CLICKED into place and it was like I felt relief.
My counselor said that it’s very normal to have that happen! It’s part of the natural, healing process.
My mind first had to bring all the “tough stuff” to the surface in order to work through it all in a productive way to then be able to feel that release.
Letting go of heavy baggage you’ve been carrying for decades. Of the luggage you’ve continued to cram in those bags over the years making them heavier and heavier.
It’s truly a relief to put them down and a weight lifted to unpack them and put everything away.
Since that session I’ve continued to feel lighter about those hurts.
It’s also interesting that as wounds heal it allows our minds to shift and focus on other hurts that may need to be worked through as well. Ones we may have suppressed because we couldn’t focus past those heaviest hurts.
How to Support a Spouse through Therapy
I felt it was important to share my therapy journey with others as I believe the paths we walk in life can bless others in ways that we may not even ever know or understand.
Through my sharing on Instagram I’ve had a lot of great discussions with others who have been working through their own personal struggles.
I’ve been approached by wives whose husbands are the ones in therapy and have been asked many times for suggestions on how to best show up for their spouse through that tough process.
It is tricky!
I’m thankful Zach is always supportive, but it did take us a good bit of time to find a good groove with all of it.
I have found I feel the most comfortable not talking about my appointments right after. I need to just let my mind rest.
I tend to overthink and overanalyze and just relaxing, resting, and trying NOT to think allows my mind to do it’s work on it’s own with processing everything I experience during my sessions.
It is best if Zach doesn’t ask too much or press too hard and to just allow me to come talk to him about things when I’m ready.
Sometimes I never want to talk about it. Sometimes I’ll randomly want to tell him every single detail of a session.
It’s also important for Zach to listen and offer support without trying to “solve the problem.”
Zach, like many men, is a “fix it” type guy. He puts on that Mr Fix It hat and tries to approach a problem with a solution.
When he offers up ways to fix things or suggestions of how I should face a problem, feel about something, let something go, etc. It can feel overwhelming and I can take it like he’s being critical or in some way judging me in my experience.
Of course there are MANY times in our relationship where I LOVE his input and seek out his counsel (if yall know me you know I’m super indecisive so typically I BEG him to make the decisions so I don’t have to!).
But we’ve found my therapy session days are not the days for brainstorming ideas and when I share what the session covered I’m just looking to include him and am not looking for advice.
If your spouse is going through therapy support them! Try your best to make sure the home environment on session days is as relaxing as possible. Take the kids out for a walk so they can relax a bit. Pick up their favorite take out for dinner.
Be patient as well. It can be quite an emotional rollercoaster and I know it’s tough for the support person to navigate. Some days I’ll feel really sad after an appointment, somedays I’ll feel angry. By letting your spouse have alone time it allows them to feel those feelings without having to worry about your feelings too.
Most of all tell them you are proud of them. Point out positive changes you see in your relationship that can be credited to that hard work.
Just because they may not feel like talking about the specifics of their sessions doesn’t mean they don’t want you to be part of the process.
I see the results myself but having my husband point them out and say he’s proud of me is HUGE and so encouraging!
My Personal Results from EMDR Therapy
Therapy is an investment – financially but also with time and mental and physical focus.
Just like anything else in life, if you commit you will see results! It will be worth that hard work!
I will say straight up – just having that unbiased outsider perspective is HUGE. Having someone who is a professional in their field offer insight is worth every single penny.
Both my husband and I take a lot of stock in what my counselor says about things or suggests or, well, counsels me on.
I trust my doctor to give me medicine to help me feel better. I trust my dentist when they say I have a cavity they need to fill. I look at my therapist the same way. I trust her completely to help me heal.
And it’s a big reason I firmly believe in the marriage counseling side of it, even though we haven’t yet really gotten into that part yet. I know having that third person accountability will be so great for our marriage and that she’ll be able to offer insight and perspectives on things that we can’t see about ourselves or each other.
My counselor told me early on that it wouldn’t be an all at once change, that many of the changes I’d experience I wouldn’t even notice were happening.
Obviously everyone brings their own unique concerns and hurts and areas of pain to work through to therapy and everyone will have different results.
I like to be very transparent and open as I feel like it’s important. While I’m trying to do my best to walk that line of privacy (since relationships take two people) I also want to be as open as possible in hopes that my path can encourage someone else too!
Many therapists offer EMDR type therapy and I highly recommend doing your own google search in your area to get more information about the possible services available.
Giving and Taking in Relationships
With that rejection mindset example – I tend to “give at a 10” in relationships. I’m terrified if I don’t give give give that the other person will stop caring about me and, therefore, reject me.
What I learned is that when you give at a level 10, it doesn’t give room for the other person to give back. It forces them to give at a level 0. They take, you give. You give, they take.
How can you feel loved when you don’t give people the chance to love you? By not allowing that space for others to give it only reinforced the deep fear that I’m unloveable and easily rejected.
As I’ve worked at healing those rejection wounds and that trauma that has caused that mindset, I’ve been able to truly see the entire world and my relationships in a totally new way.
A big realization for me was with my children. If I give at a 10 to them, I’m raising them to be takers. How will they know how to love or show up for others in the future if they’ve never been given that opportunity to show love? Never had to give in a relationship? If they are raised by someone constantly giving?
I know some real-life examples of parents who give at a 10 and see how their children are incapable of giving in relationships and I don’t want to raise my children to be that way as adults! I’m sure we can all think of examples of that!
My fears of others loving me caused me to overly worry that my children would doubt the love I have for them. I felt like I “had to” do all the things in order for THEM to know how much I love them. So they would never, ever doubt my love the way I have doubted others many times in my own life.
And I’m not meaning “I’m a giver” in some martyr sense like I’m some super generous person or that my kids walk all over me. In fact, being a giver is also selfish in many ways. If I do x, y, z then that person will not only KNOW I love them but they will also HAVE to love me. They will OWE me their love.
So often I showed up for people out of fear that if I didn’t they would stop loving me.
And that’s not really love at all!
It’s like with God. He could FORCE us all to love Him if He wanted, but that’s not true love. By allowing us free will we’re able to TRULY love Him and show Him that love we have for Him. Forced love isn’t true.
An example (and yes this one is a real one!) would be beating myself up over missing a school function for my kids. I felt like if I wasn’t at every class party that they’d be hurt and not know how much I love them. That they’d doubt my love for them and harbor that hurt and decide not to love me anymore in response.
I know that sounds silly, but it’s a true feeling I had. I didn’t even realize it until one day I couldn’t attend a school function for some reason and I felt ZERO GUILT about it. I realized my kids DIDN’T EVEN NOTICE I wasn’t there.
My missing their class function wasn’t meaning I was any less of a mother or that they’d reject me someday. They won’t even look back and EVER think about that! It was a natural progression in my therapy.
I naturally stopped giving at a 10 to every relationship. I naturally stepped back and allowed others to fill that gap.
Being a level 10 giver all the time means some people will respond by showing up at a level 0 and others won’t show up at all.
Some personalities pull away when being given too much. I push for a relationship, they pull away. I push harder trying everything I can to have that bond, they pull further.
By setting limits on how I show up and the ways in which I show up, it not only allows for those who are wanting to give more than a 0 to do so but also allows for those who may be pulling away to come closer.
In addition, it also gives clarity to see the relationships in which aren’t a worthwhile investment of my heart.
Maybe ones I’d been trying to so hard to hold onto that are better off being let go of. People who truly aren’t capable of showing up and my ability to see the relationship clearer and to have that confidence that my love is better given elsewhere towards relationships that want to show up for me too.
And NOT seeing that as rejection but instead as an opportunity to seek out bonds that are healthier! Seeing it is a win rather than a loss.
I feel like I can see things much clearer in relationships now and I’m able to take things much less personal. Realizing that everything isn’t a reflection of me. Sometimes it’s a reflection of them. Everyone has their own hurts that may be clouding their perspectives too. Maybe they simply can’t give to the relationship. Maybe they don’t want to!
It doesn’t mean those hurts don’t still hurt, but it’s allowed me to have a clearer mindset and ability to move past the hurts and take things at more face value.
Trauma Doesn’t Transfer
Another HUGE thing for me has been recognizing that trauma doesn’t transfer.
My kids don’t see the world from my perspective. They aren’t being raised the same way I was.
What I may see as a huge rejection, they shrug off. What may impact me and cause me to be upset, doesn’t even phase them.
When your own perspective is clouded from hurt it’s hard to grasp that other people aren’t seeing the world in that same way.
My kids are not being raised in the same ways in which I was. Their perspectives do not shadow my own.
Whereas I may see a friend canceling plans as rejection, they don’t. I miss their class party and they don’t notice I wasn’t there or simply fill me in on the details, never wavering in their smiles, not worried that my love for them is in some way fragile or feeling like I’ve let them down in any way.
Realizing and recognizing that our own children are not feeling the same hurts we have felt nor do they have the same wounds to work through is huge in the healing process.
It’s a cross WE carry and so often we carry it so that our children won’t have to.
Just as the experiences and pains we have faced aren’t transferred to our children, the lens through which we see the world is also nontransferable.
They don’t see us through the same lens we may see ourselves through. They don’t have our issues or hangups or judge us as harshly as we judge ourselves.
We may see similarities in ourselves and those that have hurt us but they don’t see that.
A big moment for me was the realization that my second grader wants to be exactly like me. That’s high praise and just about the best compliment I could ever receive!
It helped me to really accept that I AM different. My goals of breaking molds ARE happening.
Accept the Voids in Life – Avoid Bandaid Relationships
When relationships we have in life disppoint us or hurt us it’s natural to look for another person to fill that void.
A boyfriend breaks our heart and we’re seeking out another one to replace him. As kids, we have a pet that dies and we are eager to get a new pet to love on in its place.
And for pets, and often boyfriends too, this works! Heck, usually the new boyfriend is an upgrade replacement anyway, right? 😉
But some relationships can’t be replaced. Voids that simply cannot be filled.
I spent a lot of my life focusing on what I call “bandaid relationships.”
Rather than heal the wounds I had, I poured myself into relationships that covered up those hurts.
These bandaid relationships were not healthy because I was putting this unrealistic hope and expectation on someone to fulfill a need in my life that wasn’t fair to expect of them. And when they couldn’t step up? I felt doubly crushed. Felt rejected by them but it also caused that deeper hurt to come to the surface as well.
A common question I’m asked is what made me feel like I needed to seek out counseling. I already mentioned that this current experience initiated with Zach and the idea of marriage counseling but I had a previous brief counseling experience a couple of years prior.
That decision was made when one of those bandaid relationships pulled away. Ripping off a bandaid is crazy painful and it also exposed that deeper wound that wasn’t anywhere near being healed.
I’m now able to be very thankful for the changes in some of the relationships in my life. If those bandages hadn’t been removed I wouldn’t have been able to do the work to heal the wounds that really needed healing.
I have learned that we can’t expect someone to fill another persons shoes. We have to grieve the loss and truly face whatever hurts may come from it in order to be healed and to approach new relationships in a healthy way.
As an example, I have a friend whose mother passed away. She may look to women in her life to fill that void. Maybe it’s an older boss of hers. Maybe it’s her mother in law. Maybe it’s an elderly neighbor that reminds her of her mother in some way.
Rather than grieve the death of her mother she pours into these other “mother-daughter like relationships.” But these other women? They aren’t her mom. She may be looking at them to fill this void but they most likely aren’t looking for a daughter figure in their lives.
Having these hopes and expectations aren’t fair to the positive relationship she already had with these women. By putting that pressure on those relationships to be more than they already are she isn’t able to clearly see the grief she needs to process in the loss of her own mom, she is left feeling more hurt when these people don’t fill those shoes, and she risks losing those relationships too!
It’s been a big wake up for me to accept that we can’t expect people to show up for us beyond what they are capable of giving and to see that sometimes the rejections we face have a greater purpose to allow us to heal the wounds that really need to be mended.
It’s helped me accept relationships at face value and find a way to appreciate those relationships as they are rather than hold onto a hope for them to be more than they are able to be.
It’s also helped me to grieve the losses I needed to grieve and allow myself to feel all those stages along the path of working through that grief.
Reflection of Them, Not You
I often repeat this to myself “It’s a reflection of them, not you.”
We’ve all heard the phrase: “hurt people, hurt people.”
And it’s so, so true. I, like most people I’m sure, tend to take things personally.
If someone pulls away, it must mean I am to blame.
If someone says something hurtful, it must be how they really see me.
Through therapy I’ve learned that sometimes, often times, the way people treat us is not a reflection of us but instead a look into the hurt they are experiencing.
Some people are just hurting and lashing out. Some are not wanting to face those hurts and denying them so hard that they create this narrative and when you don’t play along with their story you become a threat to the alter reality they’ve accepted as truth.
This phrase also is very true when people respond to you in a certain way or say something hurtful.
It’s a reflection of them, not you.
Not only may people be acting from a place of hurt but they may be experiencing feelings about themselves that they’re trying to deny and instead reflect those feelings onto you.
They feel stressed so they tell you that you seem stressed. They feel scared so they tell you to stop freaking out.
In addition this phrase is also one that helps me better myself. What am I reflecting onto others?
It’s wise to evaluate the why behind our actions, our feelings, and the things we say. What hurts am I truly feeling? What painful parts are triggered? What am I deflecting?
Love Truly Conquers All
I worry a lot about my kids feeling loved and knowing that I will love them forever and ever no matter what.
Unconditional love is something I struggle with understanding and accepting and truly even believing in.
I fear my children will grow up and decide to stop loving me. I fear my husband will up and leave at any time and, while it would crush me, I’d also think “No surprise there, everyone I love leaves.”
I worry I will mess up. I will fail them in some way. I won’t live up to the standards I’ve set for myself (truly, I put SO MUCH PRESSURE on MYSELF. I set the bar high!).
Anytime I “mess up” I fear I’ve “ruined everything.” If I miss that class party, lose my temper, forget a kid off the bus…I become very, very hard on myself.
My sessions have been huge in helping me to see that my children KNOW I love them.
Yes, I make mistakes. We all do. The biggest thing is that I ALWAYS go to my children and talk through things with them. If I lose my temper, I sit down and apologize to them. If I’m having a rough day and get easily frustrated, I’ll tell them that.
It’s important to be human with our kids. To help them work through their own feelings by being open and honest about our own.
Never to a point where we unload on them or put our adult worries onto their hearts. I’m the parent, they are the children. But I think it’s also important for them to be able to relate to us too.
Yes, sometimes Mommy is sad. Sometimes Mommy is angry. Sometimes Mommy makes mistakes and has to say sorry too! Allow them to see me apologize, see that I am not perfect, and see the ways in which I work through difficulties and come through the other side.
I do appreciate that Zach typically handles parenting duties on my therapy days as not only does it allow me to rest but it also avoids the kids from seeing me if I do need to be upset too.
Most of all in my therapy sessions? I’ve truly learned that love truly conquers all.
My counselor told me that it’s been proven: as long as children are raised in a home where they feel loved that the other parenting “fails” just don’t affect them as much.
It has helped me so much in letting go of the pressures I put on myself.
To just love my kids (without going to that level 10 all the time too) and be ME and have that confidence that they’ll keep loving me right back.
They are loved. They know they are loved. They will always be loved. No matter what! And in turn I can trust that they will love me just as unconditionally.
I’m still a work in progress on that, while I’ve really accepted that my kids KNOW I love them I still struggle with truly believing they, and Zach, will always love me.
I know that’s a deeper issue that will take more time to work through and I will keep being patient and know I will get there eventually!
Counseling is a marathon, not a sprint. I often looked at my appointments as a “hurry up and heal me” situation but that is not how it works.
We cannot put a time limit on healing. We can not put an expectation on it either.
We are all different and have experienced different paths in life.
I believe we ALL benefit from having someone to talk through things with and that counseling is a practice that can benefit all people and all relationships.
I am always an open book and hope that my path of healing can help encourage others to begin their own or to keep going and not give up on the work they’ve started!
I’ve seen such huge positive changes in my own life. Literally every aspect of who I am and the way in which I see the world has been altered in a positive way over these last 18 months.
I cannot wait to see the continued positive changes that take form as I keep on this path…who knows maybe someday we’ll finish with my “personal background” sessions and actually start the marriage counseling ones 😉
What a great post, Emily. I’m sure it will impact many of your readers lives for good.