EMDR therapy (eye movement therapy) for the treatment of infidelity-related anxiety

Infidelity is one of the most significant stressors in a relationship and a common cause of marital divorce or cohabitational separation. Infidelity has a broad impact on the well-being of the one cheated on and can result in loss of trust, various negative emotions (including anger, bitterness, or shame), fear of rejection, and weakening of self-confidence. Sometimes it acts in the human mind as a justification for getting rid of a relationship that has often been difficult for a long time.

The cheated person’s cognitive assessment of the situation (including, among other things: perceptions, appreciations and responsibility themes) determines the stress reactions that the person experiences: the more harmful the person perceives the situation and the more responsibility he or she places on his or her partner, the more he or she experiences stress. This in turn increases e.g., risk of depression and anxiety disorder.

In my experience, infidelity fits very well for the experience of both the cheater and the cheated person to be treated with eye movement therapy. My client case in this writing is a 41-year-old woman (I call her Milla here) who, at the age of 25, had been dating for a year with a man who had been unfaithful to her. Meanwhile, Milla had competed at the national team level in sports.

In EMDR therapy with Milla, a phone call that Milla had received 20 years earlier from a health center was chosen as the starting point for the target memory. She was told on the phone that a sexually transmitted disease had been found in the urine sample previously given by Milla. Milla had had symptoms related to this. The time of the target memory was limited from the phone call to when Milla had picked up the medication prescribed to her by the doctor from the pharmacy and discussed her partner’s infidelity with him that evening. The man had initially denied everything, but eventually told Milla that he had betrayed her with Milla's fellow student friend. In her mind, Milla compared herself to that woman and experienced inferiority. She had ended the relationship that night.

I asked Milla to focus on the worst moment of the target memory, which was the disappointment at the time of the incident that she did not feel good enough for the man. I instructed her to name a negative thought about herself related to that event and the representative image of it. Milla said “I’m not good enough””. As an alternative positive cognition to be related to the target memory, Milla chose the opposite to the negative cognition “I am good enough” and its reality felt like a 1 (= feels completely wrong) on a scale of 1 of 7, before starting desensitization. At the appointment, the target memory evoked feelings of dirtiness, disappointment, sadness, guilt, and shame in Milla, both on mind and body level, and she felt that the intensity of the disturbance of the image related to the target memory was 5 on a scale of 0 to 10.

Bilateral visual stimulation was initiated with Milla focusing on the target memory and attaching the negative thought about herself to it. Described below is the stepwise processing of Milla's (M) mind as bilateral stimulation (BLS) progresses and lasts approximately 20 to 30 seconds at a time. To reduce the length of the text, each step of the bilateral stimulation is not marked, but they always recur with the relatively same duration after Milla’s response:

M1: “I remember when I left the doctor's office.”


M2: “I remember wondering why this happened to me, blaming myself for that disease.”

M3: “I’m telling that to the guy and I demand him to tell me who she was… It feels like the ground is falling out from underneath my feet.”

M4: “I’m thinking all the time why I wasn’t worthy of him and what he has got from the other.”

M5: “Now I’m thinking about that my brother always criticizes me for my appearance.”

I ask Milla to return to the target memory: “Let’s get back to the target memory, what’s happening now?”

M6: “I remember I thought what my parents would say about this. I felt like I had completely failed.”

M7: “I remember that I burst into tears at the health station. I remember when that nurse said everything’s going to be alright. I said to the nurse that this is bullshit, but the nurse just looked at me kindly.”

M8: “I remember that I repeatedly said to myself that I never want to get into this situation again.”

M9: “I remember when I was cheated in another relationship as well.”

I say: “Let’s get back to the target memory, what’s happening now?” “Let’s get back to the target memory, what’s happening now?”

M10: “My anger starts to rise.”

M11: “I remember that I couldn’t be compassionate towards myself. I don’t know if I’m angry with the guy or myself, but I’m pretty sure that hatred is towards myself.”

M12: “Why did I trust other people when this happened, now I see others as enemies.”

M13: “Now I see that nurse as good and that guy as bad.”

M14: “I feel like I can hear the voice of that nurse as a very small stream and the voice of that guy as a big bad rapid that rumbles in my head.”

M15: “I return to that phone call from the health center, and I just hear it as really friendly. But I'm still wondering what's wrong with me.”

M16: “I don’t know who I’m now posing these questions about not sufficing to.”

M17: “I can see from even the guy’s face that he’s worried. All the time I’m just crying about why he has done it. Why can't I move on from here?”

I make a cognitive intervention and ask: "Why can’t you move on?”

M18: “I’m just marking time… I don't know… There’s no door.”

M19: “I trusted a person, and someone can do that, pull the rug out from under me… I’m stuck.”

I ask him to return to the target memory and ask for its disturbance on a scale of 0 to 10.

M20: "I don’t know, there's nothing more to disturb me than why am I blaming myself?"

I make a cognitive intervention and ask: “Well why are you doing that?”

M21: "I don't know... This is not a competition… Why am I competing against myself?"

I make a cognitive intervention and ask: “Was that infidelity your fault?”

M22: “It wasn’t, that’s how I want to believe.”

M23: “I’ve been taught at home that everyone takes responsibility for their actions.”

M24: “I couldn’t have done anything better in that situation.”

M25: : “Now I remember a situation from my childhood where I always had to let the balloon into the air before going to the car… I remember when I let it… I remember that feeling… Now I feel like I’d like to go and buy a balloon and let it go into the air… I feel that it would be just fine.”

M26: “Now I feel like I can feel whatever I want, and no one can access or spoil them.”

M27: "Words and actions hurt but I can’t influence others… I don’t know, I feel strong.”

I said: “Let’s get back to the target memory, what’s happening now?”

M28: “It comes to my mind that I’m stronger than the other one… Nothing else comes to my mind.”

I ask him to return to the target memory and ask for its disturbance on a scale of 0 to 10.

Milla answers: "Zero."

After neutralizing the target memory, Milla and I checked the suitability of the positive cognition (“I am good enough”) to the target memory, and she estimated it to fit and feel real as 4 out of a scale of 1 to 7. The positive cognition was strengthened until it felt completely real in relation to the target memory. It took a total of 75 minutes to process the memory of infidelity into neutral and relate the positive cognition into it. After that, Milla described herself as calm and said she was feeling well in her body. Finally, she stated: “Maybe I’m competing against myself somehow… If I dared to show myself my weaknesses, I could be pretty strong.”


Kiitos Milla, olet huikean vahva!


One Response

  1. Thnx so much for this! I havent been this thrilled by a blog post for a long time! You have got it, whatever that means in blogging. Anyway, Youre definitely somebody that has something to say that people should hear. Keep up the outstanding work. Keep on inspiring the people!

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