Body Blame

Body Blame

by Bryanna Heartley


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Body Blame by Bryanna Heartley

At the age of sixty-six, Bryanna Heartley had what most would consider an ideal life. She was the matriarch of a growing family, each of her children successful in his or her own way. She had a happy marriage. She had close friends, financial security, overseas holidays, and a psychology career that she truly loved.

However, there was a problem: Bryanna was obese. She suffered from bouts of asthma, problems with reflux, high cholesterol, irritable bowel syndrome, and the early signs of hypertension and renal failure. If she wanted to live much longer, she needed to make a change. With the help of EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy, she lost thirty kilograms.

She realized her body remembered its childhood illnesses in a way that affected her present health and created a feeling of unworthiness. She learned why some foods became her comfort foods and how to sever that association. Now healthy and aware, Bryanna shares her story with you and guides those hoping to charge down the path to physical and emotional recovery. Bryanna learned how to be her true self, breaking harmful patterns ... and so can you.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504300018
Publisher: Balboa Press Australia
Publication date: 12/10/2015
Pages: 236
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.50(d)

Read an Excerpt

Body Blame

Beat Emotional Eating and Reclaim Your Life

By Bryanna Heartley

Balboa Press

Copyright © 2015 Bryanna Heartley
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5043-0001-8



Children are so forgiving. You can treat them like absolute crap, and they still give you a cuddle. Terrible things happen to them, and they never remember them. They are too young to remember. These represented the received wisdom of previous generations when advising young parents in the 1970s. The first inkling I had that little children remember what happens at a physical level, even if they can't tell you what actually occurred was when my eldest son was ten. The children were piling into the blue Sigma to go to the garbage dump with Dan. However, things were not quite organized, and gradually the kids left the car. When there were no other children going, my eldest son decided not to go too, yet I knew he really wanted to. (Some "boy thing," I believe, since I had no idea what the attraction was.)

I puzzled over this, and it occurred to me that the last time he had gone anywhere alone in the car with his dad was when he was two and a half years old. We were visiting my in-laws, and after dinner he suddenly started screaming. Nothing could calm him, and he was obviously in pain.

I was breastfeeding his younger sibling, so Daniel took him to the local hospital, staying until he fell asleep around midnight. He had a strangulating inguinal hernia, and if it had continued he would have needed an operation immediately, but it resolved somewhat. Despite intending to be there before he woke, we weren't, though my mother arrived before us to find him standing at the end of the cot, holding onto the rails, crying. He wanted to go to the toilet, and the nurses didn't seem to understand. The following week he was admitted again and had the operation. Afterward, he clung to my leg for the next six months.

Not knowing if this event was connected to his changing his mind about going to the tip, I told him the story and suggested that if he felt uncomfortable in his tummy when he was alone in the car with his dad, maybe his body remembered even if he didn't. In any case, he didn't continue having the problem, so I thought I was a bit of a genius.

There is much research now supporting this. We know adverse childhood experiences impact people throughout their lives. Children might not have an episodic memory of a particular traumatic event, but their bodies remember.

A few years later, as a school counsellor, I did not have that intimate knowledge of a child's life, yet it was obvious those who were referred to me were highly reactive from past experiences.

I had them imagine the early warning system in the brain, the amygdala, as "Sgt. Amy G. Dala" on guard duty, challenging each bit of information coming in to decide if it is possibly dangerous. If "Sgt. Amy" decides there is danger, she sends out the "troops." Cortisol, adrenaline, and other stress hormones are released and prepare the body to fight, flee, or freeze.

The body reacts before the brain thinks. When we lived in the wild, it was important for survival to develop this early warning system. If "Sgt. Amy" recognised there was a threat, she would get you ready to grab your spear to kill or to run away from danger. If you could not run or fight, the reaction is to freeze, like a possum being caught by predators. In the latter situation the possum is not playing dead but is actually immobilised and incapable of voluntary movement. When the danger passes, the possum's body trembles, mobilising its muscles so it can run off to safety.

When I noticed a reaction in my body, I could take control. I breathed slowly and gently, relaxed, took control of my body and thoughts, and calmed down. For instance, visiting hospitals caused me to be on alert. Knowing that I'd been left in a hospital when a first grader did not remove the distress. I did, however, know how to breathe and relax. To desensitize, I relaxed, visualized a hospital scene, and practised staying relaxed while imagining the scene. In this way I did not become phobic about being in a hospital. My level of distress did not become debilitating. I could take my children to hospital if required, but I always needed to calm myself.

I taught children how to desensitize from the things that caused them to react. Students who had a school phobia would begin the day with me as I guided them through relaxation exercises. Children who were irritable with siblings or argumentative with peers benefited from the exercises. In a questionnaire after they had completed ten sessions — many admitting they had signed up to avoid mathematics or some other disliked class — they reported positive effects on their relationships and improvements in their ability to concentrate. In this way, at one high school I taught 44 per cent of the student body how to desensitize on disturbing triggers. This was very good for my self-esteem, and I felt very useful, capable, and confident.

Individual teachers who asked me to conduct a relaxation class with their students would also participate in the relaxation exercises, and then they sometimes asked for additional help in targeting a particular personal problem. This contributed to my interest in seeing adults when I opened my private practice as a psychologist after retiring from my position with the department of education.

Using relaxation and visualisation of disturbing events to desensitize is very time-consuming with adults as they have so many triggers from past experiences and have to do a lot of homework themselves, which I supported by taping the training sessions for them. Imagine "Sgt. Amy" taking a photo each time she sends out the troops and keeping that photo album handy, as she needs to recognise anything that has already proved dangerous. I found the older the adult, the thicker the photo albums. Each "photo" contained what was heard, seen, smelled, felt in the body, tasted, touched, and thought. Everything is locked in the nervous system. I looked for other methods, and this was how I became interested in EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) therapy.

In 1987, Dr. Francine Shapiro began examining the phenomenon whereby remembering traumatic material was combined with eye movements to reduce the intensity of disturbing thoughts. The innate natural healing for the mind occurs during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. This is disrupted when events overwhelm the system. It is replicated in EMDR therapy. Marco Pagani (2013, Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, 7(1), 29) noted that EMDR was "the first psychotherapy with a proven neurobiological effect" as shown with EEG (electroencephalography) during therapy sessions.

As I tell my clients, we can use EMDR therapy to move the photographs that "Sgt. Amy" has in her photo albums to another album for old, faded photos that are not connected with the upsetting feelings. Sometimes we are able to process a whole section in one session so there is no homework. EMDR therapy integrates many elements of other psychotherapies and has a positive effect on the way the brain processes information.

I had heard about EMDR therapy in the 1990s but it was considered by my immediate superiors to be too unorthodox for use in schools. As well, there was little time available for therapy, per se. However, when EMDR therapy was advertised in the APS (Australian Psychological Society) journal, I decided it must have become more established, and I was eager to learn more about it. I undertook the basic training in 2006. Two years later I attended some advanced training in a residential setting. I did not realise at the time that this would be a significant beginning for the rest of my life journey.

My Experience with EMDR Therapy

At the training, in order to practise what we had learned, all the clinicians divided into pairs, with each of us taking a turn as a client and as a therapist. We were asked to focus on an actual issue that held some emotional charge. By this I mean that when a person thinks about an event, there is some degree of discomfort.

We were instructed to choose something from our childhood that had a level of disturbance of around SUDS = 5. That is about half way. SUDS is an acronym for Subjective Units of Distress Scale. It is a self-rating score for distress from a neutral or calm of zero to the most distressed of 10 out of 10.

I searched my childhood memories and no disturbing memory came to mind. I believed I had desensitized all distressing events through my studies, other courses, and even in earlier EMDR training. I did not realize then that I was emotionally overeating and that this operated in a way to block access to my being consciously aware of some emotional distress. I later discovered there were many possibilities.

The course leader suggested as an alternative I choose something mildly irritating or disturbing in the present. It must have been the idea of something being irritating that triggered the thought. I would feel annoyed if when I went to brush my teeth, Dan used the toilet. Perhaps it was true that as we had been married so long it should not bother me. Yet it did. I interpreted my reactions as indicating there was something wrong with me for not being tolerant.

Following the other trainee's instructions during the training session, I closed my eyes, focusing on my body. I became aware of my teeth clenching, my face contorting with disgust, my lips puckering, my eyes screwing up, my throat constricting. I was asked when I had felt those body sensations before in my life. I was asked what emotions did I feel in connection with those body sensations. The emotions acted as a bridge, taking me from the present to the past. Travelling back through the years, holding those feelings in focus, the images that came to me around that disgust were from when I was seven years old.

It was dark; a light shined through the open door. My mother was bending toward me. I saw my mother's face screwed up in disgust and shame. Her skin was smooth, as it remained throughout her life, her brown hair in a long bob, just above her shoulders. At just over five foot, she was plump, and barely thirty. Her green eyes weren't visible in the dim light. She was wearing a dressing gown over her nightgown.

I was on a camp bed, in front of my wardrobe doors. My paternal grandmother was to the left, in my bed under the window, my sister asleep in the other bed. I had defecated in my bed. My mother was exclaiming to my nana, "She has never done anything like this before." I could see the outline of my nana in bed, propped up and leaning forward. Dead at sixty-three, less than a year later, she was very thin and her face wrinkled with ill health and fatigue. Her grey hair was cut severely around her face.

Being with another psychologist, she was able to use EMDR therapy with me on this memory. The SUDS level was way above the halfway target of five, but it was a powerful session. Of course my stated purpose was to be accepting of the normal bowel habits of my spouse of forty years, which did occur, but the most staggering effect was on my own body.

To understand this, we need a little of my personal history around this part of my body. One memory is my mother and her friend giving each of their two daughters enemas. The four of us were lined up in the bathroom. I have no idea the reason for this, but it was gross and embarrassing taking turns releasing the contents into the empty bathtub.

When I was eighteen, I visited the family doctor for the problem of bleeding from the anus. Aside from the shame and humiliation of seeking advice, there was total embarrassment when, during the examination, his hair seemed to brush my bottom. This all came up during EMDR therapy desensitization and was processed. I had haemorrhoids, and I was advised about diet.

From then on it became important for me to eat plenty of fibre and drink water to keep me regular. Porridge with the addition of several spoonfuls of bran was the usual breakfast for most of my life. Away from home I would sometimes experience quite severe problems with constipation. I always feared being away from home lest I couldn't follow a proper diet. This made me very anxious, and to deal with the anxiety I would often take my own breakfast, despite the fact that it did not seem to work.

I also felt ashamed, so I never talked about it. When I visited my doctor to discuss pain in my side and was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), I never mentioned that there was a specific problem of constipation occurring only when I was not at home. My preoccupation was hidden and became hidden from myself in many ways.

Prunes by the pound were always on stand-by. On one of our first overseas holidays in Asia, I woke one morning unable to do up my jeans. Worn the day before, the zipper was now a hand-width apart! I had not emptied my bowels for ten days. This was despite consuming banquets of Asian food at every meal. Buy me some prunes, now! was my plea. I could not mention how much discomfort I was suffering until it became unbearable.

This was a pattern in my life. Away from home, I would become constipated. This fear made me quite anxious about going away for any length of time. I did not talk about it. No one else had any difficulty. I accepted that it was my weird problem and peculiar deficit.

I worried silently, hoping that if I ate enough vegetables and drank enough water I would be all right, but I rarely was. Even a weekend away, or sleeping over at friends' houses after a late night were problems that interfered with regularity. Longer overseas holidays were problematic.

Haemorrhoids, bleeding from the anus, concerns about how old I was, and the medical history of my family that included people dying from cancer found me needing to have colonoscopies as well. I accepted this was the way my system worked, as if I had a uniquely different body from others.

Returning to the story of the 2008 EMDR training, I had not emptied my bowels since arriving four days earlier at a beautiful resort in the country, although as usual I had made no comment about it. In the evening, after processing the event from when I was seven, which included associated memories of the other times I have mentioned, I was able to use the toilet easily without effort. I have had no further problems with constipation ever since.

I do not need any particular foods or worry about not having it. I have travelled throughout Europe for three months and been regular.

Processing being irritated by Daniel using the toilet when I cleaned my teeth began to unlock the memories of my body. I thought his regularity annoyed me but I was so little in touch with my feelings at this point that I could only allow myself to experience irritation instead of recognising that my feelings were far more complicated.

So what?

I would often say I was like an old car that needed to take extra time for service to keep running. I began to expect things to go wrong and be more difficult within my body, because I was older, without actually recognising the history of that part of my body's experience. My doctors never suggested there might be some emotional component to a physical problem. Rather, I believed I should expect things to deteriorate. However, repeatedly, with clients I was finding that a physical problem was often ameliorated and even eliminated through processing memories using EMDR therapy.

In Thinking, Fast and Slow (Kahneman 2013, 53), Kahneman refers to an experiment where young undergraduates were influenced to walk more slowly down a hall after they worked on a word puzzle that contained words associated with old age. I wondered how much more we who identify ourselves as being old are influenced to act at being old.

The belief that if we have a pain it means something is wrong is embedded in our psyche. After all, if I put my hand into a fire, it will hurt, and I will pull it out quickly. It is a basic protective instinct, but recognising that pain and discomfort can also be part of a memory is not instinctual. In fact, people don't want to believe that, because then they may have to believe it is all in their heads — they are crazy, have a mental illness, are a hypochondriac, or have psychosomatic illnesses or some somatic disorder. It is much safer to go with the prevailing cultural mindset. "Of course you have more aches and pains because you're old."


Excerpted from Body Blame by Bryanna Heartley. Copyright © 2015 Bryanna Heartley. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Preface, xiii,
Acknowledgements, xxiii,
Chapter 1 The Body Remembers, 1,
Chapter 2 Weight Obsessed, 19,
Chapter 3 The Genesis of Emotional Eating, 39,
Chapter 4 Breathe, Bree; Breathe!, 63,
Chapter 5 Childhood, 87,
Chapter 6 On the Other Side of Sixteen, 111,
Chapter 7 On the Edge of My Life, 147,
Chapter 8 Repair or Rupture, Realisation, and Recovery, 175,
Bibliography and Suggested Reading, 201,
About the Author, 207,
Endnotes, 209,

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