EMDR can calm your brain’s ‘alarm’ system

When we are in danger or feel we are under threat, the alarm system in our brain will be activated.

One-off dangers

Our brains were designed to assess danger very quickly.  It is done automatically, without us thinking about it.  The brain will decide the following:

  1. Can I fight this danger?
  2. If not, can I run away from this danger?
  3. If not, then I will freeze or flop until the danger has passed.

Once the danger has passed or been dealt with, the alarm system will be turned off and the body goes back to a relaxed frame of mind.  The adrenaline and cortisol which was pumped into your body to deal with the danger are naturally absorbed back into the body (this is where people who are in shock can start to shake – this is the body getting rid of the adrenaline and cortisol).

How do I heal from one-off dangers?

Sometimes, these single event dangers can be deeply traumatic and the brain is unable to switch off and will keep reliving the event. This reliving can be in the form of flashbacks, nightmares, feeling tense or jumpy, feeling depressed, lacking in motivation, avoiding reminders of the event e.g. not driving a certain route because you had the car accident on that road. If this is happening to you, then EMDR can help the brain move the event to a lived experience, rather than one that is still happening.

Developmental trauma (feeling continually unsafe as a child)

So, what happens to your brain’s alarm system, if as a child you regularly felt unsafe?  There is a huge range of reasons why a child would not feel safe growing up.  Here are a few examples:

  • Being witness to parents fighting and shouting with another
  • Being witness to parents drinking heavily or taking drugs
  • Being bullied at school by peers or teachers
  • Being sexually or physically abused
  • Living in poverty
  • Receiving no or limited emotional support and encouragement from your primary care givers
  • Moving frequently, which prevented you from making friends
  • Having to deal with illness (either yourself) or a primary care giver
  • Family dealing with early bereavement due to illness, suicide or accident

If you experienced the above, then it is likely your brain alarm’s system was on high alert most of the time by scanning each situation to how you could respond.  It is common for children who have experienced developmental trauma to keep their alarm system on into adulthood. Not realising that the alarm system no longer needs to be on, all of the time.

How do I heal from developmental trauma?

EMDR can help your brain acknowledge that it is no longer in danger. That the adult part of you, can now take control of situations (which you could not do as a child) and therefore, the alarm system can be turned off, and only be switched on when there is a real danger.

The website www.mindmypeelings.com gives a good description of what your brain does when it is on ‘alert’.  The brain can either react by going into ‘hyperarousal’ state or ‘hypoarousal’ state.  Part of the EMDR therapy will help you recognise which state you are in and bring you into a state of tolerance, so you can manage the painful memories of your past.

Pet Grief

It is 5 months since my husband, and I had to make the difficult decision of having our dog put to sleep.  Even writing these words makes my heart ache and tears well up.  Our dog Cherry was a chocolate Labrador.  She came to our home when she was 5 and a retired gun dog.  She quickly fitted into our home.  Cherry was part of our family for 9 years.  We hardly had a day apart over the 9 years.  We took UK holidays instead of going abroad as we didn’t like the idea of her staying in a kennel.  She was the gentlest soul that I have ever met and gave unconditional love. 

Her last year was difficult and it was hard seeing her struggle to walk, go to the toilet and to eat.  We were then told in June 2019 that she had liver and kidney failure.  The vets could not tell us how long she would have.  Then on 23rd September 2019 we woke to Cherry crying in pain and having a fit.  She had lost the ability to pick up her back legs.  We both agreed that this was the day that we would have to say goodbye.   The vets came to our home and was so gentle with her.  She peacefully passed away in her bed.

But that is where my peace ended.  I was totally heart broken.  It felt like someone had ripped my heart out.  I could not stop crying and felt a huge weight in my chest.  I walked around in a daze.  I kept getting flash backs of Cherry being carried out of the home by the vets.  I would be racked with guilt, wondering did we do the right thing?  The house seemed so empty and quiet without her.  I felt restless and often went on long walks to clear my head.  Seeing clients helped distract me and focus on their worlds and not have to think about my own.  Bedtimes were the worse as I could no longer hear Cherry’s gentle snoring.

People have asked us if we will get another dog.  At the moment, we are not ready.  Cherry still feels so present in our lives.  However, we are sponsoring a dog through Guide Dogs for the Blind.  We get regular pupdates which is nice to receive and feels good to support another dog in a different type of way.

So why am I writing about this in a blog on my counselling website?

I wanted to write that grief takes many forms and we mourn in different ways.  There are no wrong ways to grieve and no fixed time period either.  However, there are times when it is a good to get some extra support.  To have someone walk alongside you in your grief.  As a bereavement counsellor for the past 10 years I have been a witness to how people mourn, and to give them permission to mourn and help celebrate the person or pet they deeply loved.

Fighting porn and sex addiction

Developing an early warning system to prevent relapse

I had one of the ‘aha’ moments today in counselling.  I didn’t see the pop band Aha, but I had a clarity of thought of what it is like to fight your addiction.  My client is a porn addict and was talking about their relapse.  He described that this other person who he does not recognize seems to just take over his mind and he ends up acting out.  This other person then disappears, and he is left feeling shell shocked, awash with shame and wondering how that happened again. 

We looked at his triggers and after describing events leading up to the acting out, he came to realise there were clues that triggered the ‘other’ person coming out and helping him to self soothe from his feelings.

I was struck in that moment that triggers are a bit like the tremors before of an earthquake.  Technical term for this is ‘foreshocks’.  Foreshocks can happen within minutes, days, months or even years before the actual earthquake.  Foreshocks are a warning that an earthquake is likely.  Similarly, we have developed systems under the sea to warn when a tsunami is going to strike.  In my counselling session today, we used the analogy of foreshocks and being hit with by a tsunami.  My client was able to see that the foreshocks started happening about two weeks before he acted out.  Our work now is to help him develop an early warning system, so he won’t be hit by a tsunami and left dazed on a beach wondering what on earth happened to him.

Here are some tips if you want to start to develop your own warning system:

  • Review – if you have just acted out – write down every action you can remember that got you to the point of acting out – it did not ‘just happen’
  • Take stock – review how calm things are (or not) in your life, how are your relationships, friendships, family, work, health, eating habits, sleep pattern, general mood?
  • Be honest – how is your recovery going? Are you seeing a sex addiction counsellor? Are you going to a 12-step group such as SA, SAA or SLAA? Do you have a sponsor or an accountability partner?
  • Act – now you have reviewed how your relapse happened, what is going on in life at the moment and how much do you want to stop acting out, you are now in a position to write an action plan.  This can either be done by yourself, with your sponsor or with your counsellor.
  • Be kind to yourself – my final point, be kind to yourself.  Slips and relapses do happen.  They can be turned around for good and be useful tools to preventing another relapse.  You can learn to ride the tsunami wave rather than be swallowed up by it.


Facing your fears and worries

The one constant in life is “change”.  Life does not stand still.  Each day when you wake up the weather is different (well it is in the UK!).  The length of the day has either lengthened or shortened depending what month we are in.  The prospect of change can be scary and produce a lot of anxiety in us.  Change sparks questions in our mind. These questions can go around and around our head on an endless loop.  Some change can be sudden and feel like a rug has been pulled away from our feet such as a bereavement or facing redundancy.  Other change can be more planned such as going on a date for the first time, starting university or starting a new job. 

Whichever change you are facing, there is a common element that people face and that is fear.  Your brain is trying to make sense of the change and your mind is filled with questions.  Questions like:

  • Will I fit in with my work colleagues?
  • What shall I say?
  • Will they like me?
  • How did this happen to me?
  • How am I going to pay the bills?
  • Why is this happening?
  • What is wrong with me?

Change means the future is now unclear.  It is unknown territory.  Our plans have changed.  So, how can we cope with change or even dare I say thrive in the process?  Here are a few tips:

Talk to someone

By talking out your fears, you are moving them from the endless loop in your head to being out in the open.  The fears can be faced head-on.  They can be understood.  Once you understand why you have the fears, you can move into action.  Find a trusted friend or family member, or if that is not option, then talking to a counsellor is very helpful.  A counsellor has no agendas, they are there to help you process the change and find a way forward.

Write a daily gratitude list

Often when we are hit with change, we can feel very low and despairing.  Each morning try and write a few things down that you are grateful for.  It could be that you are well enough to walk your dog, that you have food in your cupboards, that the sun is shining.  At the end of the day, reflect on it and write down a few good things that happened.  This could be you chatted to your neighbour, a friend dropped by, you got a job application out the door, you made a phone call, you got up and had a shower.  The gratitude list does not need to be big things.  Daily things that sometimes we take for granted.

You can do this!

The majority of change is manageable and (enjoyable?!).  Remind yourself of previous changes in your life and how you coped and adapted.  If you are trying to decide to change jobs, then make a list of pros and cons of why you want to change.  Think through your fears and challenge them.  Are the fears realistic or are you catastrophising?  Talk to someone who has made a similar change and asked them for advice.

Whatever you are facing today, remember you are not on your own.  The most important thing is to share your worries and seek help, so you don’t struggle by yourself.  Good Luck!


The dictionary definition of shame “the painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonourable, improper, ridiculous etc done by oneself or another”.

Shame is so much more than this dictionary definition. The feeling of shame sticks to you like glue. It is hard to pick off and when you do try to pick it off it can leave marks behind. It can linger around every decision that you make. It can whisper in your ear that you are nothing, you are disgusting, no one is going to love you or even like you if they KNEW. So the weight of shame silences you and pulls you down and down. Lies begin to be a normal part of life as you attempt to cover up the behaviour you are ashamed of. My shame was pornography.
I have found that the only way to break the cycle of shame is to talk. To tell people about what you are struggling with. This is not easy to do! But the more you do it, the more it helps you and helps others who are struggling with their own shame.

I managed to break my silence just over 2 years ago – it was very scary but also one of the most freeing moments of my life. I had been looking at pornography for many years and this had led to low self-esteem and body image worries. The discovery of pornography in my developing years as a woman distorted my thinking and beliefs of sex and how I should act. I was young and naïve and assumed what I saw through the pornography was real life and that is what I needed to do to be loved. This caused me a lot of heartache and damage over the years.

3 years ago, I read “Surrender to God” by Kay Warren. She explained in one of the chapters that she used to be addicted to pornography. She led a double life – a good Christian on the outside but behind closed doors she was a completely different person. I was gobsmacked. It was the first time that I realised I was not the only woman who had looked at pornography and was using it to cope with life. Reading that book was the start of significant healing in me. A year later I attended a conference and one of the key speakers was talking about porn and sex addiction. I am a trained counsellor and for some time I have been wondering about specialising. That conference allowed me to see that my personal story of porn addiction can help other men and women who struggle with this area. I completed a Diploma in Sex Addiction Counselling in January 2017.

So what broke the cycle of looking at porn? Well it was a variety of things, here is a brief summary:
• Talking about my feelings
• Letting go of guilt linked with past sexual behaviour
• Knowing my triggers and temptations
• Changing in lifestyle – exercise / eating well / hobbies / friendships etc
• Going for counselling
• Growing in my faith
• Reading about addiction

What is counselling?

The word “counselling” can drum up all sorts of thoughts and feelings in a person. When I am in a social gathering and get asked that inevitable question of “so, what do you do?”. My reply that I am a counsellor, can have a mixture of responses. Sometimes I can see the person looking away and the tumble weed drifting past or I have someone generally curious about counselling. If you are reading this blog, I am assuming you are of the latter!

I became a counsellor because I was interested in people’s stories. The story of their life. I wanted to be alongside them in the messiness of life and be a listening ear, a support that can help them see a path through the wilderness. I have been a qualified counsellor now for 7 years and have seen many people start off broken, confused, bereaved, bewildered, hurt, ashamed or curious. Each person’s story is unique and so there is no “one solution fixes all” in relation to counselling. I personally feel the most important part of counselling is the relationship you have with your counsellor/therapist. You need to be able to trust your counsellor. To know they are on your side, that they are your cheerleader, that they want to see you thrive and increase your resilience to make changes in your life. Most people that come in for counselling want to see some change in their life. The counsellor is there to witness that change.

As each person is unique, so is each counsellor’s style of therapy. They will draw on core beliefs of how people can change, but they will approach those beliefs in different ways. Some will give you homework to work on outside of sessions, some will use creative techniques in the sessions such as drawing, play doh modelling, sand tray work, some will use physical movement to help with healing of trauma, some will use psycho education to improve how you talk with your partner or family members or children. Each counsellor will listen, not judge, accept you for who you are, keep things confidential and will celebrate with you when change happens. Counsellors are human and carry their own fair share of hurts and bruises so don’t worry you are not alone when you tell your story to a counsellor.