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Tag Archives: Emdr

Disturbing Memories – Why They can Remain Unprocessed


The human brain is able to process most memories without difficulty. If, however, we have experienced particularly disturbing events during our childhood, it is possible that certain memories connected to such events have not yet been properly processed by the brain. Distressing memories which remain unprocessed can give rise to a number of most unpleasant symptoms; these may include, for example, anger, fear, terror or panic (the types of symptoms experienced by individuals will be strongly connected to the type of experiences connected to the unprocessed, distressing memories).


A leading theory is that, under normal circumstances, memories are processed during sleep – such processing involves neural connections being made (so that the memory becomes integrated with other memories), irrelevant detail being discarded, and appropriate learning taking place.

However, sometimes, if a memory is extremely distressing, it overwhelms the brain, preventing it from smoothly integrating the memory alongside other memories. Such distressing memories, in this way, can REMAIN UNPROCESSED, for years or decades, and, as a result, have a profoundly negative effect on how we think, feel and act if we do not seek out and undergo appropriate therapy.

In this circumstance, the distressing, unprocessed memory gets stored with associated unpleasant physical sensations and negative emotions. These unpleasant physical sensations and negative emotions can, in turn, be easily triggered by seemingly unconnected life events. However, the crucial word here is ‘SEEMINGLY’ ; this is because, UNCONSCIOUSLY, the life event reminds the individual of the events connected to the unprocessed memory.

In this way, for those of us who have unprocessed, distressing memories from our childhoods, our reactions to certain events in our adult lives may seem, on the surface, to be disproportionate, or, even, grossly disproportionate. This is because the events have, on an unconscious level, triggered how we felt in the past (during our childhoods) when the original traumatic experiences connected to the unprocessed memories occurred. This can lead, at times of acute stress, to a phenomenon known as age-regression.

How traumatic an event is to an individual, and the subsequent chances the memory connected to the traumatic event will not be properly processed, is influenced by a number of factors; these include the period of time over which the individual is exposed to the traumatic events, genetic predisposition and how the individual PERCEIVES the event.



One therapy that has (relatively recently) emerged to treat people suffering from the ill effects of traumatic, unprocessed memories is EMDR therapy, which many have found most effective. 

By helping the individual process the traumatic memories, EMDR can help alleviate psychiatric conditions connected with the previously unprocessed memory. These include :

– depression

– panic

– anxiety

– dysfunctional attachments (relationship problems)

– anger


– complex PTSD

– borderline personality disorder (BPD)

– sleep disruption/nightmares/night terrors

– addictions

– eating disorders


RELATED ARTICLE : Can ‘Buried Traumatic Memories’ Be Uncovered Using Hypnosis?


eBook :



Above eBooks now available for immediate download on Amazon CLICK HERE.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).


Childhood Trauma : Three Key Stages of Recovery.

childhood trauma and stages of recovery

Herman’s Three Stages Of Recovery :

The psychologist and expert on trauma, Judith Herman, has identified three key stages that it is necessary for those who suffered childhood trauma and subsequently developed posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) [now sometimes referred to as complex PTSD] to pass through on their journey to recovery. I have summarized these three stages below :


This stage involves focusing on the symptoms that many suffer as a result of childhood trauma, including :

– difficulty controlling/regulating emotions

– aggression/anger/hostility (click here to read my article about how to control anger)

– alcohol/drug addiction (click here to read my article on this)

– behavioural addictions (internet porn, anonymous sex, gambling etc) click here to read my article on this

– re-enacting abusive patterns of behaviour

– problematic eating behaviours (click here to read my article on this)

– dissociation (click here to read my article about this phenomenon)

– self harm (click here to read my article on this)

– emotional numbing

– feelings of being unsafe/ in danger

– self-neglect/lack of self care

– depression (click here to read my article on this)

– panic attacks

– feelings of powerlessness

– feelings of shame/guilt

– deep distrust of others

It is necessary to identify the symptoms one may have and then to set treatment goals and to learn about ways one will be able to reach those goals.

It is also highly necessary, in this first stage, for the individual to establish a sense of safety and security.

In this first stage, too, inner strengths which may well have been neglected in the past are developed.

It should also be noted that stage one does NOT focus upon discussing and attempting to process painful memories. However, this rule is not set in stone and such memories may be addressed if doing so facilitates creating a sense of safely and/or greater stability and/or good self-care.

Finally, stage one may also include going on medications, if appropriate (for example, anti-depressants), psychotherapy (usually the most appropriate form of therapy is dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT)CLICK HERE TO READ MY ARTICLE ABOUT DBT).  This type of therapy is particularly useful if the person is suffering from extreme difficulties controlling/regulating emotions or is experiencing acute difficulties with interpersonal relationships.

Once a sense of safety, stability, good self-care and the ability to adequately regulate emotions has been achieved, stage two may be moved on to.

Herman's three stages of recovery


Judith Herman called this stage of recovery remembrance and mourning.

During this stage, painful memories are reviewed and discussed with the aim of reducing their emotional intensity and revising their perceived implications for the person’s future life and sense of self-identity. There are many techniques that may be used to process and make less painful memories of trauma. At the time of writing, perhaps, the most popular one is known as eye movement desensitization and restructuring – CLICK HERE TO READ MY ARTICLE ABOUT THIS.

Also, during this stage, the therapist encourages the person to grieve for the losses s/he has suffered due to a traumatic childhood (for example, many who have suffered severe childhood trauma feel, in a very real sense, that their childhood was stolen from them.

This stage is also a time to start coming to terms with the active harm the trauma has done (eg perhaps the pain of the emotional trauma has led to alcoholism, drug addiction, self-harm etc).


Once stage two has been successfully completed, the person can start trying to get on with a ‘normal life’, involving re-forming relationships with other/reconnecting with people and resuming meaningful activities.


This is not the only model of recovery from trauma in existence, but is certainly one of the better known ones. I will look at other models of recovery in later articles.

Recovery is thought to be very difficult if a person stays socially isolated and does not re-connect with others. CLICK HERE TO READ MY ARTICLE ON OVERCOMING RELATIONSHIP DIFFICULTIES.


Above eBooks, by David Hosier MSc, available on Amazon for immediate download – CLICK HERE TO VIEW FURTHER DETAILS.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE.

Childhood Trauma: Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR).


Individuals who have suffered severe childhood trauma may, as a result of it, later suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or similar condition. Some professionals advocate a relatively new technique which aims to address this; it is known as Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR).


The therapist administering EMDR will first examine the issues related to the individual’s psychological difficulties and, also, help him/her develop strategies to aid in relaxation and deal with stress. After this, the therapist encourages the individual to recall particular traumas, whilst, simultaneously, manipulating his/her eye movements by instructing him/her to follow the movements the therapist is making with a pen, or similar object, in front of the individual’s face). The theory is that this will facilitate the individual in effectively reprocessing his/her traumatic experiences, thus alleviating psychological distress.


My first reaction to hearing about this particular therapy was that it sounded somewhat strange. However, the rationale behind EMDR is that disturbing memories from childhood need to be PROPERLY PROCESSED by the brain in order to alleviate symptoms associated with having experienced childhood trauma (eg PTSD, as already mentioned); this is because the view is taken that it is the UNRESOLVED TRAUMA that is the cause of the psychiatric difficulties the individual who presents him/herself for treatment is suffering. Those professionals who recommend the therapy believe that the EYE MOVEMENTS INDUCED BY THE THERAPIST IN THE INDIVIDUAL BEING TREATED LEAD TO NEUROLOGICAL AND PHYSIOLOGICAL CHANGES IN THE BRAIN WHICH AID IN THE EFFECTIVE REPROCESSING OF THE TRAUMATIC MEMORY, and, in this way, ameliorates psychological problems from which the individual had been suffering.



These are briefly outlined below:

1) The first stage is the identification of the specific memory/memories which underlie the trauma.

2) Next, the individual is asked to identify particular negative beliefs he/she links to the memory (e.g. ‘I am worthless’)

3) Then, the individual being treated is asked to replace the negative belief with a positive belief (e.g .’I am strong enough to recover’ or ‘I am a person of value with potential to have a bright future’ etc)

4) In the fourth stage, the therapist moves a pen (or similar object) in various, predetermined motions in front of the individual’s face and he/she is instructed to follow the movements with his/her eyes (e.g repeatedly left and right). Whilst this is going on, the therapist instructs the individual to simply, non-judgmentally observe his/her own thoughts, letting them come and go freely and without trying to influence them in any way – just to accept them, in other words, and let them happen.

5) This procedure is repeated several times.

Each time the process is undertaken, the therapist asks the individual being treated to rate how much distress he/she feels – this continues until his/her self-reported level of distress becomes very low. Similarly, each time the process is undertaken, the individual is asked to report how strongly he/she now feels he/she believes in the positive idea given in stage 3 (see examples provided above); therapy is only concluded once the level of reported belief becomes very high.

N.B. The therapy is actually more involved than this, so the above should only be taken as a brief outline. There are, too, different variations of procedure outlined above which can be employed within the EMDR range of therapies available.



When we suffer severe trauma we are not able to fully mentally process what it is that has happened to us and the trauma becomes mentally entrenched – in other words, what happened to us becomes locked or ‘stuck’ in our memory network. The effect of this may include us experiencing various symptoms such as irrational beliefs, painful emotions, anxiety and fears, flashbacks, nightmares and phobias. It may well also cause blocked energy and greatly reduce our self-efficacy.

When we experience events that trigger memories of the trauma, images, sounds, physical sensations and beliefs which echo the original experience of the trauma cause our perception of current events to be distorted.

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) can unblock this traumatic information and thus allow us to healthily mentally integrate it with our other life experiences and our life story as a whole.

Trauma can occur in the form of SHOCK TRAUMA and DEVELOPMENTAL TRAUMA. Shock trauma consists of a sudden threat which is overwhelming and/or life threatening – it occurs as a single episode such as a violent attack, rape or a natural disaster. Developmental trauma, on the other hand, refers to a series of events which occur over a period of time. These events GRADUALLY ALTER THE PERSON’S NEUROLOGICAL SYSTEM to the point that it REMAINS IN THE TRAUMATIC STATE. This, in turn, can cause interruption in the child’s long-term psychological growth. Experiences which can lead to developmental trauma include : abandonment by parent, long term separation from parent, an unsafe environment, an unstable environment, neglect, serious illness, physical and/or sexual abuse or betrayal by a care giver.

The effects of developmental trauma include damaging the child’s sense of self. self-esteem, self-definition and self-confidence. Also, the child’s sense of safety and security in the world will be seriously undermined. This makes it far more likely that the individual will experience further trauma in life as an adult as his/her sense of fear and helplessness remain unresolved.

EMDR works by allowing the locked or ‘stuck’ traumatic information to be properly, mentally processed. This leads to the disturbing information becoming psychologically resolved and integrated.


EMDR is based on the idea that it is our memories which form the basis of our PERCEPTIONS, ATTITUDES and BEHAVIOURS. Because, as we have already established, traumatic memories fail to be properly processed they lead to these perceptions, attitudes and behaviours becoming DISTORTED and DYSFUNCTIONAL. In effect, the trauma is too large and too complex to be properly processed so it remains ‘STUCK’ and DYSFUNCTIONALLY STORED. This often leads to MALADAPTIVE ATTEMPTS TO PROCESS AND RESOLVE THE INFORMATION CONNECTED TO THE TRAUMA SUCH AS FLASHBACKS AND NIGHTMARES (Sharpio, 2001).

When this problem occurs it is EMDR which is being increasingly turned to allow effective processing and mental healing to occur. I will look in more detail at what EMDR involves in later posts.



A recent meta-analysis of evidence (ie an overview of a large number of particular, individual studies of EMDR) supported the claim that it is effective, as have other meta-analyses. However, some researchers have suggested that it is not the EYE MOVEMENT PART of the therapy which is of benefit, but only the act of repeatedly recalling traumatic memories which is the effective component (based on the idea that these repeated mental exposures, under close supervision and in a supportive and safe environment, of the traumatic memories alone facilitates their therapeutic reprocessing).

In response to this criticism, its exponents (and there are many professionals who are), regard the EYE MOVEMENT COMPONENT of the therapy as ESSENTIAL in giving rise to the NECESSARY NEUROLOGICAL CHANGES which allow the EFFECTIVE REPROCESSING OF THE TRAUMA; these proponents also emphasize that the therapy only requires short exposures to the traumatic memory/memories, thus giving it an advantage over therapies which utilize far more protracted exposures.

Research into EMDR is ongoing.

eBooks :

borderline personality disorder ebook


Both above eBooks available on Amazon for immediate download. CLICK HERE.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).