Editor’s note: The following article was written by the Lovefraud reader who posts as “Laura19.”
My Experience with PTSD
Excruciating emotional pain. Numbness. Loss of appetite. Sleepless nights. Obsessive thoughts. Inability to concentrate. Loss of pleasure in cherished activities. Lack of energy. Anxiety and panic attacks.
All of the above will probably sound familiar to those of us who have been devalued and discarded by psychopaths. When I discovered that the “relationship” I had with the psychopath was not real, that I had been deceived, betrayed, and used, I felt as if my entire world was turned upside down. I did not want to eat, I developed insomnia, and I was consumed by thoughts of him and the other woman. I could also barely function because I was completely preoccupied with how much pain I felt everywhere inside me. I cried on and off every single day, and when I visited another state to see my family, I felt separation anxiety when it was time to leave. I hugged my mother at the airport and cried and cried; like a child, I felt actual fear about letting her go! I lost ten pounds, which should have made me happy, but I was numb and unable to find pleasure in buying smaller clothes, which had always been exciting for me in the past. I felt as if I could barely get through each minute, let alone an entire day.
What I did not realize until I had suffered for at least a month was that these were symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)! Was it possible that being on the receiving end of another person’s lies was sufficient to produce significant trauma?? I believe that it was! I was in such a fog of shock and confusion and pain at the time of my discovery that I do not even remember when or how I diagnosed myself. I do remember that I was amazed, and although I had already found a therapist, I noticed that every time I went to see her, I had a knot in my stomach. One week, when she cancelled our appointment because of a scheduling conflict, a light bulb clicked on in my head, and I suddenly knew what the knot represented. The knot was my intuition telling me that this first therapist was not going to help me move out of the horrific darkness that had descended upon me. I immediately decided to follow my gut and find a different therapist.
EMDR Therapy: What’s That?!
Looking back, I am struck by how fortunate I was to find my current therapist, given the way in which I stumbled across her. She was literally the first person I called from a list of counselors covered by my health insurance. I was intent on finding a therapist who understands personality disorders. So when she answered my phone call that day, I told her that I believed that my ex-boyfriend is a sociopath. She paused, and I quickly said that I probably sounded crazy. She disagreed and told me that sociopaths can blend into society and sometimes be pillars of the community. And even though she was not actually accepting new patients, she decided, based on my concerns, to invite me in for an initial appointment.
During the first appointment, she simply listened to me. I was thrilled, because it can be difficult to find counselors who really listen. I told her about the psychopath, and although she said she did not know much about psychopathy, she agreed that something was indeed very wrong with him. She reassured me that his behavior was not going to change for the new woman, as I thought it might. Then she gave me an assignment to complete before our next meeting: she told me to choose ten memories from across my childhood and adulthood that were painful for me. And then she told me to pick ten memories that made me feel proud of myself. I walked out of her office that day feeling hopeful for the first time since the intense pain had begun.
When she told me that she planned to use the EMDR approach with me, I was very skeptical. I had no idea what it was, and even the name sounded strange: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. What did that mean?? She encouraged me to go on the EMDR Institute’s website and read about it; and so I read about it. When I read that the method has been researched and found to be especially effective for minimizing the negative effects of PTSD symptoms, I was excited, although unsure. It sounded very different from traditional talk therapy. And even though she told me that we would have time to talk and each session would be directed by the needs I had that day, I was still concerned. I thought about the machine my therapist has in her office, and I wondered how it worked, exactly. This couldn’t possibly make much of a difference…right? But, then I remembered how I was unable to get the psychopath out of my head, how I cried daily on my drive to work, and how I still was unable to concentrate on anything, even those activities I used to love, and I decided I was open to doing whatever my therapist suggested!
My counselor and her commitment to EMDR represent an enormous light for me that I began to follow as I struggled to make my way out of the darkness. The books I read and the websites I found about sociopathy/psychopathy have been like candles, warm and reassuring. But my time with my therapist has been like the sun emerging from behind the clouds. It’s taken some time, but now the sun is almost shining fully in the sky, pushing away the remaining darkness. And much of the credit goes to EMDR therapy and the skilled way in which my counselor has facilitated it with me.
EMDR: How It Works
Before beginning the “official” EMDR sessions, my therapist taught me two techniques that I can use on my own to deal with obsessive thoughts and overwhelming feelings. First, she had me picture a peaceful place that was devoid of any negative memories or associations. I think of a “cozy chair” in which I can relax and read a book, in front of a warm fireplace. To bring up this image, I simply need to think of the words “cozy chair,” and it takes my mind to that place. Second, she instructed me to create a “box” in my mind, into which I can place difficult thoughts and feelings. They are not permitted to come back out of the box once they are put in it, until or unless I release them. I decided to use the pensieve from Harry Potter as my image. As she taught me these techniques, she had me hold a flattened, oval-shaped “ball” in each hand; the two balls are connected to the machine I mentioned earlier. They vibrate back and forth in a regular rhythm while they are held. (Sometimes therapists use auditory tones instead of the balls.) She adjusted the intensity of the vibrations until I felt comfortable. After I learned these techniques, we were ready for the official EMDR.
My counselor knew that I was in so much pain because of the psychopath, so even though EMDR protocol suggests that the earliest difficult memory be targeted first, she decided to focus on my most recent trauma. She had me go back to our breakup conversation and asked me what images I had in my mind and what I was feeling. She asked me about the intensity of the feelings and in which part of my body I felt those emotions. She asked me what thoughts I had about myself, too. Then she encouraged me to just allow the images and thoughts in my brain to go where they wanted and needed to go. I did that, and after a little while, she stopped me and asked me to share what I was thinking. I shared, and she took me back to the original memory, and we repeated the above process.
During this first session, the memory was not reprocessed to adaptive resolution—in other words, the memory was still emotionally traumatic—because it was fresh and very painful. However, soon after that first session, I started to feel immediate benefits! For instance, my brain had been stimulated and continued to do some reprocessing; I had a dream two nights later about the psychopath that was a bit intense, but was also productive and reassuring. And the following weekend, I noticed that I had the desire to accomplish something and complete a task, which felt wonderful after the constant numbness. After that first session, I certainly became a believer in EMDR!
A few of the subsequent therapy sessions involved targeting the breakup memory, but as I began to feel better and better, we focused on negative childhood memories. A few of these were each reprocessed in just one session! And my therapist guided me in strengthening the positive feelings and thoughts when a memory was on the verge of being reprocessed. I was amazed to find that, as they were reprocessed, I began to feel a new kind of lightness and self-love that I had never felt before. It is difficult to describe. I simply knew that deep and fast changes were occurring inside me—inside my brain—and I was grateful beyond words.
Finding a Therapist
I am sharing my experience with EMDR because it has literally changed my life. Six months ago I could barely function. Today, I feel confidence in myself that I never thought was possible. Before EMDR, I really believed I would always battle insecurities; I figured it was an ingrained personality trait. Now I know that many of my struggles were the result of upsetting childhood memories that had been processed by my brain in ways that allowed them to remain traumatic, until they were reprocessed through EMDR. Also, I have never been able to meditate, and I have never been good at “visualization” exercises. I thought that the EMDR approach might require that I have those abilities, but it does not. I really believe it can work for anyone and everyone.
As a disclaimer, I am a teacher of young children, have no interest in becoming a therapist, and certainly am not getting any compensation for endorsing this approach. I simply want to share what has worked for me in the hopes that it can help someone else who is now suffering in the way that I suffered. Finding the right therapist can help tremendously!
My counselor calls herself an EMDR therapist, not a therapist who uses EMDR. She offers two important tips for finding a good EMDR therapist: first, find out if the counselor uses a list of the ten most upsetting events from childhood to the current age; second, ask how often the therapist uses EMDR. The best answer to this question from a prospective therapist is, “I use it with most of my clients.” If the answer is, “I use it as needed,” then the counselor may not be as involved in or comfortable with this particular treatment. Also, EMDR should be covered by any insurance policy that includes mental health insurance.
To learn more about EMDR:
Here is a link to a wonderful PF thread that our member from Turkey, zeynep, started about EMDR:
And here is a link to the book written by the creator of EMDR, Francine Shapiro: