Updated: Jun 27
Counseling is the classroom for the “life stuff” that we did not learn correctly from our parents or primary care givers. It’s not always about having a bad childhood; it’s about unlearning the things we had to learn at the time to navigate our family systems that are no longer necessary. Our parents learned from their parents, and I have yet to meet perfect parents. We adapt to be like them, or we tip the scale in the opposite direction making different errors. I believe that most of the time, they all did the best they could with what they knew, but a lot of the times it wasn’t enough to prevent their children from having symptoms of Anxiety, Depression, and PTSD or self-esteem or relationship issues related to developmental trauma. The truth is, “we don’t know what we don’t know.” As a trauma expert, and spokesperson for EMDR Therapy, I have the privilege of explaining adaptation to my clients, consultees, and a multitude of other audiences, so that they really understand why they show up today the way they do, thus providing insight to drive change their behaviors, thus positively improving futures. The cause-and-effect cycle of less than nurturing parenting, any type of abandonment, or any life-threatening experience, likely created a response that is used for the rest of their life, even when the event is long over, and the person has reached adulthood. There is a good reason for this, and I’d like to explain through the eyes of an amalgamation of clients with whom I have had the honor to walk alongside for part of their healing journey.
Meet Jeff, he is a successful lawyer. He has two kids and a beautiful and loving wife. He volunteers for nearly every event for his children, takes on more than his share of work at the firm, continues to take classes at night and still can’t assert himself with his parents. He is struck by the injustice when his efforts go unnoticed and is angry when he does not get praised and credit for his tireless efforts. He works himself to death, his self-care is compromised, and he feels as though “every waking hour is spent doing things for others.” He feels guilty about this because he wants to be the father that shows up for his kids, as his never had. He can’t seem to understand why his fuse is so short, he is irritable a lot, and is impatient, lashing out at his kids for over even the most minor things.
Jeff grew up the only son of an immigrant father and a mother who was the daughter of a farmer. His mother was loving but in the family system, “what his dad said goes” and “his way is the only right way.” You don’t dare disagree with him. This leaves his mom passive, never standing up for him when he was a young boy. It was easier just to “go along and get along” so as not to “poke the bear.” This left Jeff feeling as though nothing he ever did was right or good enough and made him feel sad and anxious, which drove him to “be perfect” tirelessly trying to prove to his parents that he is worthy of their love and acceptance. Seeking his parents’ approval became the primary motivator for most of his actions. The only problem was it was never about him. His primary work in therapy is to process why his parents’ approval is not necessary anymore to keep him safe and loved. That his need for approval is a childhood need and as a grown up, he can give to himself the validation and love he never felt from his parents.
Now you will learn about Sally. She is the mother of four children. She is married to a hardworking accountant. They participate in a religion where the culture creates a lot of pressure to “be perfect” and “look like everything is just great” often leaving Sally feeling inadequate and alone. She works hard to make sure she shows up for her children, but with the financial stress of raising four kids, her husband works a lot to provide; she feels “responsible for the parenting since he is at work.” He offers to help her when he gets home from work, but she regularly refuses as “it is her job.” She is anxious that she is not doing enough and resentful that she does most of it without her husband’s help. She does not share with her friends what it’s like for her as she doesn’t want to look weak or less than to them. She says, “they don’t have the problems she does, and they make everything look so easy.” She compares herself to many other moms and notices comparing her kids to other kids. She even goes so far as to complete projects in school for her kids so that they are impressive. She believes her kids’ accomplishments are a reflection of her.
Sally grew up in a family system where she was the youngest of four. Her mom was most often overwhelmed, and her dad was never home as he worked two jobs to support the family. She felt resented by her older siblings in many ways and is closer to her older sister than her mom, as “she was the one who did most of her parenting since mom’s hands were full.” Her father was not emotionally present at all, and her mom was easily irritated and controlling. She was more concerned that the house was clean than if her kids had enough hugs, kisses, and validation. Her mom was controlling because she felt so powerless about so many things about her life. Sally grew up believing that women were to be responsible for all parenting and men would not be emotionally available. All the emotional needs should be kept inside. Her primary adaptations are to be perfect, keep all her emotions inside and “not need anything” because no one would be there for her if she did. Her primary work in therapy will be to let go of the belief that men can’t be part of the parenting even when they work and that women, who look like “they have it all together” do not really exist and we all struggle with imperfection, self-judgment, and emotional needs that go unmet as we are afraid to rely on others when we could not rely on our parents. Her primary negative belief is “I can’t count on anyone.”
In both cases there are prominent features of perfectionism which creates anxiety, and sadness and aloneness that creates depression. Over time, if the feelings and experiences aren’t acknowledged, the symptoms can become pervasive and worsen. When we talk about our stories and bring life to our emotional experiences, we can become empowered to rewrite our endings. With EMDR Therapy we can address the physiology of our stored traumas leaving us free to show up like the adults we were really meant to be without the “baggage” from our childhoods.
At Infinite Healing and Wellness, in Arizona, we are all extensively trained in EMDR Therapy, which is one of the two treatments for trauma recognized by the World Health Organization. EMDR Therapy, as defined by the EMDR Institute is explained below:
“Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a comprehensive, integrative psychotherapy approach. It contains elements of many effective psychotherapies in structured protocols that are designed to maximize treatment effects. These include psychodynamic, cognitive behavioral, interpersonal, experiential, and body-centered therapies.
EMDR is an information processing therapy and uses an eight-phase approach to address the experiential contributors of a wide range of pathologies. It attends to the past experiences that have set the groundwork for pathology, the current situations that trigger dysfunctional emotions, beliefs and sensations, and the positive experience needed to enhance future adaptive behaviors and mental health.
During treatment various procedures and protocols are used to address the entire clinical picture. One of the procedural elements is “dual stimulation” using either bilateral eye movements, tones or taps. During the reprocessing phases the client attends momentarily to memories, present triggers, or anticipated future experiences while simultaneously focusing on a set of external stimuli. During that time, clients generally experience the emergence of insight, changes in memories, or new associations. The clinician assists the client to focus on appropriate material before initiation of each subsequent set.”
If you would like to find an EMDR Therapist Here is a short video for some tips on how to choose a provider - How to Choose an EMDR Therapist
My first recommendation would be to see if you can find a provider here (Our EMDR Consultants – EMDR Trained by Deany Laliotis (emdrtherapy.com) that can work with you. If they can’t, ask if they know someone personally that they would recommend to their own family member.
If you don’t have any luck at The Center for Excellence in EMDR Therapy, you can search for a provider at the link below using your zip code. First try to find an Approved Consultant. If you can’t find one in the area, you can search for a Certified Therapist. If there is no one Certified, you can select a basic trained provider.
Kelly O’Horo is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Faculty for The Center for Excellence in EMDR Therapy, Approved Consultant, Certified EMDR Clinician, Certified Daring Way Facilitator, and Emotion Focused Couples Therapist. She is the Founder of Infinite Healing and Wellness with specialized training in attachment and trauma. To learn more, contact Infinite Healing and Wellness, an EMDR Center for Excellence