My Therapist Says I’m Not Powerless — but What If I Am?

Recent news and EMDR therapy’s “positive cognitions” do not match up. How do we make sense of the world?

Ashley Broadwater
Human Parts
Published in
5 min readAug 9, 2023

--

A white woman stares at the camera. Her hand is over her mouth.
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels

“I am powerless.”

I’m sitting on my therapist’s gray couch, looking over a laminated sheet of paper she gave me. We’re doing eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, which is basically a way to reprocess a traumatic event in a more helpful, adaptive way. (Yes, it sounds woo-woo, but it’s actually one of the gold-standard treatments for trauma!)

I’m looking through the sheet’s list of “negative cognitions” or “negative beliefs,” which are kind of like cognitive distortions, trying to find the ones that feel most relatable. Some seem a bit too intense — “I deserve to die” sticks out — but others don’t seem like “distortions” at all.

Is that the point of EMDR, to recognize the distortions that are so deeply embedded in our brains, they seem real? Or is this where the problem lies, in the idea that our fear is always a distortion rather than something justifiable?

“Um, ‘I am powerless,’” I call out. “That one for sure.” It feels weird, though, to utter those words in such a cut-and-dry way.

I can’t remember which particular trauma we were trying to address at the time. Honestly, I’ve felt that way regarding multiple bad memories, whether it was a particularly damaging comment or an assault or a scary situation with an abusive person.

At the same time, I don’t think nailing down the specifics matters. I did and do feel powerless. That’s not great.

For whatever reason, I can be (overly) worried about how other people see me. Part of me works hard to be mindful of that, while another part of me feels, well, powerless.

Maybe it’s because I’m an Enneagram type 3 who wants to be seen as worthy. Maybe it’s because I’m a people pleaser. Maybe it’s because I try so hard to be nice and want that piece of my essence to shine through.

“Why is being ‘nice’ so important to you?” a previous therapist asked me during one session.

--

--

Ashley Broadwater
Human Parts

Freelance writer on multiple platforms. On Medium: writing tips + relationships. UNC-CH Journalism + Media. Newsletter + more: www.linktr.ee/ashleybroadwater