EMDR Cognitions: Positive and Negative Core Beliefs

Katy Kandaris-Weiner, LPC

We all have things going on in our minds or memories that we wish we could change. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is one of the best therapies to do  just that. 

EMDR therapy is an integrative psychotherapy used primarily to treat trauma, but it is an effective treatment for many other mental health disorders. It activates your brain's natural healing process through the use of bilateral stimulation. This enables negative and traumatic memories to be turned into “normal” ones. These memories and thoughts about the trauma are called “cognitions.”

What Are EMDR Cognitions?

EMDR cognitions are our beliefs and thoughts formed through to trauma. Cognitions are the absolutes in our heads—they are not just what we think, but what we truly believe. 

We can have both negative and positive cognitions. We associate thoughts, beliefs, and emotions with every single memory we make—both good and bad. Cognitions are not feelings, they are things you fundamentally know to be true. 

EMDR cognitions are beliefs about ourselves that stem from trauma. They are sometimes referred to as core beliefs. These binary beliefs we have dictate how we see ourselves, others, and the world. We know these beliefs and perceptions to be true. 

Cognitions help us make sense of the world and ourselves. That being said, they are not always good and they can sometimes be contradictory with each other. 

a collage of childhood and baby pictures and memories

Negative Cognitions

Negative cognitions are exactly what EMDR therapy works to replace. These negative cognitions stem from trauma and mental health issues. They’re cognitive distortions that people use when they’re hurt to paint themselves in a bad light. When we’ve been neck-deep in negativity from our circumstances or mental wellbeing, we begin to hold these distortions as truth. 

How Do They Develop?

Long-lasting abuse can lead to complex trauma. It can lead to negative cognitions that a person holds with them, either consciously or unconsciously.

Other forms of trauma can also lead to negative cognitions. A person who has experienced life-threatening battles or serious hardships may have negative cognitions that stem from those experiences. 

Different Types of Negative Cognitions

EMDR therapy targets a specific negative cognition that triggers a psychological reaction. A trauma therapist will lead their client through the EMDR process until they no longer shows a significant psychological reaction present when thinking on that negative cognition.

The most common categories of negative cognition types targeted are:

  • Defectiveness—I am wrong, I am worthless, I am stupid
  • Responsibility—I did something wrong, I’m at fault, I should have known better
  • Safety and Vulnerability—I can’t trust anyone, I can’t trust myself, I’m in danger, 
  • Control—I’m not in control, I’m weak, I will fail

These categories of beliefs can greatly impact how we perceive ourselves, and others, usually leading to lower self-esteem and depression

a man with his eyes closed, starting bilateral stimulation

Positive Cognitions

EMDR positive cognitions are still core beliefs we know to be true. However, they are more optimistic in nature and help to bring us back in control of ourselves and our minds.

Flip Negative Beliefs into Positive Thoughts 

EMDR therapy helps flip negative cognitions into positive beliefs and thoughts, or at least neutral ones. The desensitization stage of EMDR allows the negative cognitions to fade away, and the installation phase replaces those faded negative cognitions with positive ones.

Examples of Positive Cognitions 

Positive cognitions allow us to see ourselves in a favorable light, grounding us and improving our wellbeing.

Positive cognitions fall into are the same categories as the negative cognitions:

  • Defectiveness—I deserve love, I am worthy of good things, I am good enough
  • Responsibility—I did my best, I learned from the experience, I did a good job
  • Vulnerability—I am safe, I can choose who to trust, I can trust myself
  • Control—I am in control of my life, I can go after my wants, I have choices

When the cognitions are positive, they act almost like affirmations. 

positive and negative cognitions fall into the same categories: defectiveness, responsibililty, vulnerability, control

Talk to an EMDR Therapist Today

Ready to shed that cloud over your head and begin healing? If you want to see real change, Inner Balance Counseling can help you on your healing journey. 

Our team is trained in EMDR therapy, and many other types of treatments that can help you resolve your trauma, and shed those negative cognitions. Reach out for a free consultation, and see how we can help you.

Reach out. Show up. Feel better.

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Katy Kandaris-Weiner, LPC

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