Finding the correct ‘negative cognition’ is a key part of the EMDR standard protocol, but many new clients find they have some difficulty understanding this concept. This article is aimed at clarifying the meaning of the negative cognition as used within EMDR treatments.

When a client first comes in, the practitioner will want to know what particular past traumatic situation or old memory the client would like to work on. Once this has been discussed in general terms, the EMDR therapist will ask if there is a single dominant picture or image that represents either the whole incident or the most distressing part of it. The key reason for finding this image is to create a link between the present consciousness and the parts of the brain where the old unprocessed memory is stored. This is essential in order for effective desensitization to occur. If there is no connection with the old memory, it is unlikely that the treatment will be effective.

Once the key image has been brought to mind, the client must try to find the dominant negative self-belief that accompanies the image. Traumatic incidents that remain unprocessed will have one or more negative self-beliefs attached to them. In Buddhist teachings, the negative self-belief is sometimes called ‘the second arrow’. Dealing with the actual trauma is difficult enough, but sometimes we compound the problem by putting ourselves down, making it harder for the original incident to get properly processed. It is this dominant negative self-belief that we refer to as the negative cognition.

It’s important that the negative cognition expresses an ‘I’ type statement in the present. Statements like ‘My mother didn’t love me’ or ‘I was powerless’ are not true negative cognitions because they are either statements of fact, refer to another person rather than themselves or they are past directed. True negative cognitions instead of the above would be statements like ‘I am unlovable’ or ‘I am powerless’. These general negative self-beliefs are likely to hold a strong power over the client, possibly in a number of different contexts. The idea is that the EMDR treatment will desensitize the negative cognition so it has less power to influence the client’s life in a negative way. Once it has been desensitized enough, a more helpful positive cognition can be installed in its place. This will be something that can empower the client and give them the strength necessary to move on with their lives in a positive way. We will look closer at the positive cognition in a separate article.

Some typical negative cognitions are:
“I should have done something.”
“I’m worthless.”
“I’m powerless.”
“I’m a bad person.”
“I’ll be abandoned.”
“I cannot succeed.”
“I’m not lovable.”
“I did something wrong.”
“There is something wrong with me.”
“I’m out of control.”
“I don’t deserve love.”
“I cannot be trusted.”
“I am weak.”
“I am stupid.”
“I am a failure.”
“I am permanently damaged.”
“I am ugly.”
“I cannot trust anyone.”
“I am a disappointment.”

Do any of these resonate with your particular situation? If so, then it’s possible that EMDR could help you to resolve your old memories and put them behind you for good. Do feel free to contact us to ask if we think EMDR can help you.

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

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