Tag Archives: trauma
More from the deputy who knew Brents in jail: “the malice and instability that resided within him was so think it was nearly tangible”
Reader: You asked me previously to write about EMDR and here it is. It’s taken a while, but I wanted to get it right.
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) was developed by American psychologist, Francine Shapiro after she made a chance observation one day while walking in the woods, that moving her eyes from side to side appeared to reduce the discomfort of disturbing thoughts and memories. She worked to research and develops the techniques over the 1990s and it is now a recognized psychotherapy that enables people to heal from the symptoms and emotional distress that are the result of disturbing and traumatic life experiences.
The theory is, that our brains process memories we experience during Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. When a person experiences a traumatic event or situation, the memory of it can sometimes fail to get processed by our brains effectively, causing them to experience the memory as if they are actually happening, instead of relating to it as a past experience. Such a response to trauma can often be identified by a particularly vivid or detailed memory of a situation such as the precise pattern of a carpet, a smell, a taste, an image etc. These can easily and repeatedly trigger thoughts of the experience as if it was really happening to the extent that the person’s life and identify becomes defined by that memory or group of memories…
EMDR now has a strong international evidence base. One particularly remarkable study found that 100% of people who’d encountered a single traumatic experience where no longer diagnosed of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following 6×50 minute sessions of EMDR and 77% of people who encountered multiple traumatic events were PTSD free in 12 sessions. EMDR is recognised by the American Psychiatric Association, the World Health Organisation and the Department of Defense as an effective treatment of trauma related mental health conditions.
What I particularly liked about it and responded well to, was that there was very little talking involved (unlike cognitive, talking based therapies). I didn’t need to describe past experiences in detail, I didn’t need to worry about saying the right thing, or the wrong thing or missing something important out. There was nothing to work out. To someone with an excessively busy and ruminating mind, this was so refreshingly uncomplicated. I left the first session even, wondering whether anything had really happened at all. I wasn’t really accustomed to “gentle” therapy as being effective and was about to right it off when the “real work” began after the session and my brain kicked into action.
The treatment came in phases:
Phase 1 is a brief history taking. What’s currently not working and a very succinct account of memories that we wanted to concentrate on. There were four particular ones for me and we explored when and how they get triggered, and how it would be if these memories did not have such an impact on my life – I hadn’t thought that could even be possible. Those memories were not hard at all to identify; they regularly appeared in my mind and popped up immediately with minimal exploration, as real as if they were happening. In brief they were:
1. being overpowered and briefly suffocated as a child
2. a nun telling me I was disgusting and should be ashamed of myself & locking me in a cupboard
The common theme with these memories appeared to be entrapment and shame. I was surprised to discover that although I came to no physical harm at the hands of the nun; the encounter with her was the most impactful, being related to my identity. This throws the old saying that “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” completely out of the water.
Phase 2 related to finding ways to cope when things got shakey. And they did get shakey. The job of R, the therapist was to produce rapid change in my brain and my job was to ensure my brain could cope with that rapid change, and commit to asking for help if I needed it. Fortunately, I had the support of R and several other people who knew I was undergoing this therapy, who I could call upon when I didn’t know which way was up. I was also taught grounding and de-escalation techniques and advised not to meditate or indulge in overthinking as this may make the experience too overwhelming. Instead I exercised, I wrote and had acupuncture as an added method of releasing tension and stress (the latter was helpful but not necessary).
Phases 3 -6 targeted on the specific memories. Starting from the earliest, I was invited to get present to the experience through a chosen visual image relating to the memory. The pattern on a pair of trousers, the carpet I was on, the contorted face of the nun etc.. Again this was not hard for my brain to imagine, these memories being so close to the surface of my thinking experience.
Once my mind was occupied with the memory… I was asked what showed up, just to notice what happened, whatever it was. Sometimes it would be a smell, sometimes a visual image, sometimes a word popped into my head, a texture, a feeling… often, a well of emotion would accompany what I recalled. Tears would flow down my cheeks. Sometimes, I panicked and R would bring me “back into the room” by asking me to feel my feet or the chair I was sitting on. She ensured I knew I was safe, despite not feeling it at times… She was wonderful.
Once I’d described what I noticed, often in one short phrase or a sentence… R would move her upright index finger towards the right and left in front of my face, a bit like a pendulum, it felt slightly hypnotic. My eyes would accompany her finger rapidly looking to the right and left for around 2-3 minutes. She sometimes used another technique, which was a small buzzer in each of my hands which would alternate buzzing from my right to left hand. My eyes would often follow suit. This was the gentler of the two techniques by far and was used to “open out” and explore the memory more, when it got too emotionally intense. I was often amazed at what showed up.
During the therapy sessions, I was also asked to describe the experience through my identity or belief about my identity. R would often ask “and what are you telling yourself” and I’d answer such things as: “I’m powerless” and “I should be ashamed of myself (but why?)” and “I’m disgusting, she must be right, she’s an adult” and “I can’t get clean, I want to be clean”. Throughout the course of the therapy, over several weeks, these beliefs gradually changed. I found myself saying instead “I chose to submit to stay safe”, “I have nothing to be ashamed of” and “I am clean” and “I don’t have to agree with the opinion of others”.
Although many of the sessions themselves were powerful, the real work happened outside of the sessions. I’d return home, completely shattered and wanting to sleep, remaining disorientated for a few days afterwards. Often, I didn’t have a clue what was going on and leaving the house to meet others was out of the question. At one point my anxiety escalated but I remembered that I’d taken on the responsibility to ask for help when I needed it. It also took trusting myself in what I needed. I committed to taking care of myself through the process.
The final phase of the therapy, after around 10 weeks, was to revisit the earlier memories to see how I now responded to the memories, and if there was anything else to explore.
Since the therapy, I’ve learned:
• That I needed psychological help. I’m grateful that I had access to that help. No amount of transformation workshops, brooding or journaling or meditation was going to process those traumatic memories. My brain, in response to emotionally painful memories, took on a strategy to keep myself safe: it told me to submit, pretend to be weak, stay quiet, ignore my needs, that to experience love & intimacy I must endure physical pain, not to disagree or say no or rock the boat and it kept repeating those strategies, often to my detriment.
• That I’m emotionally strong. It took nearly everything I had to get through it. The process during the sessions was straightforward, complex and gentle. The processing at home most certainly wasn’t. In order to get through it I had to surrender control of my beliefs, expectations and world view; that’s that hard part. The belief that I’m strong has gradually grown as I’ve taken on running again and am training to 10k and half marathon level. I’m not fast yet, by I keep going and I do not stop. I’m also working with a trainer so that I can do chin ups, something I’ve never been able to do. Last week I amazed myself by walking my hands across parallel bars. My mentor is a 10 year old boy called George who of course, launches himself at the monkey bars with ease and laughs while he does chin ups. I love the cheeky little shit.
• That I don’t have to know how something works in order for it to be effective.
• That I get to choose which story I believe. If it doesn’t involve self-compassion, it doesn’t work. Another mentor is Maya Angelou (“Still I rise”).
The circumstances of my life were not my fault.
The experience of my life however, is certainly my responsibility.
Further information can be found about EMDR here:
Amy- I watched your whole video on Have you ever met a Monster. I will be honest, at first when I started to watch it I couldn’t listen objectively. I was unable to understand from the rapist’s point of view because I usually don’t have compassion for them. When I watched your video for the second time, I watched the whole thing and my views were changed a little. You are right, we need to change the way we view monsters.
Brent Brents- I understand exactly how you feel, you feel angry and betrayed by those around you. I’m so sorry for all the trauma you went through as a young boy. It wasn’t your fault and you didn’t deserve it.
I know it’s difficult. I’m angry at the fact he got zero help..no one saw what was going. I’m not pitying him, I feel sad for his inner child…. It’s awful. In my own trauma I definitely am angry that my abuser got away with it and that the foster parent at the time chose to ignore it. But I’m so lucky to have gotten adopted into a loving and supportive family.
Time: January 28, 2018 at 7:52 pm
Hello again, I hope that today is a good day for you, with new possibilities for the coming year. Your book, that I read several months ago still resonates powerfully with me and was instrumental in finding peace and empowerment. On reflection of your words, it occurred to me to say that from my experience, the full impact of the rape/abuses I experienced are not the sole responsibility of the abusers/rapist(s).
The acts themselves were painful, yes. The ones that happened repeatedly, I got used to and developed a way of removing mind from the place I was in. But the physical injuries healed within a week. The real impact by far, what really stuck, was the shame I felt for many years. I was to blame. I should never have found myself in that position. Why couldn’t I have prevented it? While I didn’t provide consent for being raped (being blind drunk), neither did I fight for all I was worth while I was violently violated by two men I’d just met. I spent years ruminating on the moments like when the taller one said “Where do you think you’re going?” before I found myself on the bed. Why hadn’t I shouted or kicked him in the balls then?…
I took on the blame and shame from other people’s reactions (notably women, I observed) and while they were never identified or convicted, I imposed my own life sentence on myself. Letting yourself off the hook, or denying your part is one thing Brent, and I acknowledge your courage in taking on the responsibility for your role and suggest that you may be taking on more than is yours.
I read with interest, your view that “rape is worse than murder.” I have come to the place, that while painful, my rape still provides me with possibility. The story I tell about my experience is mine to tell, and I no longer feel that it ruined my life. It’s brought a new level of relatedness to others, to women, to men, to children, to you. If I were to meet those men again, I have realised just this second, as I’m writing these words, that I would thank them. If they’d murdered me, I wouldn’t be able to do that would I? If I’d succeeded in murdering myself , as I had considered and prepared for, I wouldn’t be in this place now. Today, I’m grateful, awake to being alive and I believe in that possibility for everyone, without exception.
I ‘ve recently watched a film called “The Work” which documents an extraordinary programme which takes place at Folsom State Prison. Run by the Inside Circle Foundation. The men who participated having experienced traumatic, chaotic, abusive pasts come to tell of their experiences and with great courage and vulnerability proceed to breakthrough.
I was deeply moved and my mind came to you, as I was watching. I asked myself, what would it be like if this was available for you. You may already be aware of this programme and foundation. If not, you may want to take a look…
With love and respect to you (both), Emily
January 11, 2018
Note from Amy: This was a reader comment sent to this Diary of a Predator website:
“It is rather seldom that I have tears in my eyes when reading accounts of trauma. But I did this time. It is easy to hate violent people. It is harder to see what creates them. In Brent’s case, he was abused so horribly in childhood that it is astonishing that he survived. I bow down to Margaret in respect and admiration. How she can forgive, I don’t know. I doubt if I could forgive. It is true that hatred does more harm to the hater than the hatee. Thanks for writing this.”
Time: January 21, 2017 at 12:41 pm
I was sitting in the yard the other day. Just watching every one and every thing. Listening to words and conversations as people passed by. Its is creepy some times to hear the depth of violence and hatred that is spoken and communicated. As I sat there I thought of the countless victims we are all responsible for. Known and unknown. All the hurt we’ve caused so many thousands of people here alone. Not to mention the hidden damage we’ve caused our families friends and other innocent people. Its a brutal reality when you get right down to the plain truth of it all. Then one has to think about the lasting effects of their hate and violence.
The children’s lives, we’ve violated them in so many ways. Sexualy, physically, Mentally. And it is a life time of violation. Sure we may only do it once. Rape one child or adult, murder someones family member, rob some person or place. These things leave a wake of damage. Often there is no one to help repair the emotional trauma.
-Brent Brents 8-25-16
Reader Comment: I sure object to the listing of NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) under the resource column on the left of the screen. NIMH does not address issues of trauma and only seeks to medicalize human experience- the disease model. NIMH would tell you Brent Brents was born with a biological disease that caused him to do the things he did, and would discount his early life experiences completely. Psychiatry, despite all evidence to the contrary, is intent on proving this model, which we fight against. I am a member of the CSX movement, psychiatric patients fighting globally for human rights & better treatment protocols, and I reference your book ALL THE TIME in our dialogues. (not to mention I lived in Denver at the the time, and also worked at 6th Avenue Pets) I plan to bring you & the book up tomorrow night (02.21) on BlogTalk Radio, Late Night with a Hero, which is why I came over to take a look at your website). –Amy Smith
We are, as a people, frustrated and outraged at every step of the way. We have few basic human rights (in Colorado, a person can be taken from their home in the middle of the night, with no information given to anyone regarding possible destination, with no due process, and can be held for five business days, which can span two weekends in some circumstances), our treatment protocols are driven by industry greed like no other, with little science to back up the subjective, nebulous criteria in the DSM, treatment guidelines or suggested medical protocols. The drugs are addictive, seriously damaging, and cause serious comorbid disease. New treatments in the pipeline are even worse- implants, shock & surgery- ALL with absolutely no valid or robust scientific foundation. It is appalling, but no one really cares about us much and we are very expensive.