How Can EMDR Be Used For Codependency?

How Can EMDR Be Used For Codependency?
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EMDR can be used for a variety of concerns, experiences and memories. It can also be used effectively for codependency! Read on to learn more about how EMDR is used for folks who struggle with codependent behaviors or people pleasing and get to the bottom of what these behaviors are attempting to do for you.

What’s Codependency? 

Briefly put, it’s a category of behaviors that are about control. It can look different for different people. For some, it’s avoidance based which could be suppressing feelings, pushing everything down because it may not be what others want to hear. For others, it’s about having to feel needed by someone, using sexual attention to gain approval.  And still for another set of folks, it’s believing (whether admitting it out loud or not) that other people are incapable of taking care of themselves (so that’s why they need you).  Read more about signs of being codependent here.

What’s That Got To Do With EMDR?

EMDR may have originated to deal with specific event based trauma but that’s not the only thing it’s used for today. Over time and with a breadth of research conducted, EMDR has been shown effective for much more than one small definition of trauma. Ultimately, EMDR takes a disturbing memory or image and through bilateral stimulation (eye movement or tapping, or audio tones) it reduces the emotional charge of the memory and the associated thoughts, emotions and body sensations. What this looks like in practice is to first have a client identify a memory or image that upsets them and is causing them some damage or distress in the present. For example, someone who was attacked by a dog may experience increased heart rate, fear, anxiety, sweating, believing something bad will happen or the attack was their fault every time they leave their office and walk on the same path as the day they were attacked. EMDR doesn’t remove the memory of someone being attacked by a dog, it reprocesses the memory so that it can be safely stored in the brain. 

With that being said, EMDR can be used (and I use it often with clients I work with) to reprocess unpleasant, painful experiences related to the beliefs clients present with. What does that mean? Well, simply put, EMDR therapists will want to know what the issue is really about for a client.  I work with people who see themselves as codependent, putting others’ needs before their own, people who push down their own feelings out of fear of what someone else may think or what might happen if they express their emotions. Is this pattern of behaving new in the past year for that client? Maybe theft experienced a bad breakup last year and the pain of that breakup is affecting them in the present. Or perhaps this person has always “gone with the flow” and done whatever they could for others, for as long as they can remember they were the helper. Through some exploration and intentional questions, clients and I figure out what’s underneath these behaviors. From that point, we identify specific memories related to that theme and the belief about themselves.

So, What Is It About, Really?

Typically, for clients I work with I see themes of responsibility, value and choice.  Some of the negative cognitions or beliefs about themselves are “I should have done something”, “I have to be perfect/please everyone” and “I am not good enough”. These beliefs, and there are plenty more/variations, hold a lot of charge and fuel codependent behaviors. For someone who grew up having to make sure their younger sibling got fed, dressed and to school on time, believing that things in the present are their responsibility may feel true to them in their gut. And should that person go against their gut and not take care of a task for someone else, or tell someone no, they may feel intense guilt, shame or anxiety and not know why. It’s not that everything relates back to our childhood necessarily. It is that the way we experienced the world and people in it growing up, as a teen, as a young adult, as an adult, all matter. It all plays a part in how we view ourselves today in the present. This can be a wonderful realization for some, and scary for others. 

Therapy is a place to explore, to gain insight into why you are the way you are and to make changes should you decide changes are called for. EMDR therapy can be a direct, powerful way to address distress related to codependency and to ultimately start living life for yourself. If you’re a NY or OH resident looking for therapy, contact me for a free consultation.

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