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Summary: Getting Past Your Past: Take Control of Your Life with Self-Help Techniques from EMDR Therapy by Francine Shapiro

  • “Getting Past Your Past” by Francine Shapiro is a transformative guide to healing from past traumas and emotional pain through EMDR therapy.
  • Discover the power of EMDR therapy and learn how to take control of your life by reading “Getting Past Your Past.” Embrace the techniques and strategies that can help you overcome your past and create a brighter future.

Getting Past Your Past (2012) offers practical eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) techniques that can help you understand how personalities develop and overcome barriers. It explains why you can become trapped in unhelpful thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and provides exercises to help you take charge of your life, improve your relationships, and effect real change.

Introduction: Process painful memories, rewire your brain, take control, and reshape your life.

Have you ever wondered why you experience the pain of a negative experience long after that experience has passed? There’s a quite simple explanation: the hardwiring of your brain is influencing your mind.

To explain that, let’s try a little experiment. What do you think when you hear this phrase: Roses are red? Most likely your immediate thought was Violets are blue, even if you haven’t heard those phrases for many years. Why is that? Well, your brain forms connections between memories that operate automatically, outside of your awareness. These automatic associations can affect how you view yourself and respond to the world, often in unhelpful ways.

Painful experiences can get stored in your brain as “unprocessed” memories that still contain your emotions, physical sensations, and beliefs from the original event. When current situations trigger those memories, you relive old feelings and reactions instead of responding adaptively. For instance, a woman begging past boyfriends not to leave may actually be reliving the terror of a stormy night in childhood when she cried out for her parents but they didn’t come.

In this summary, you’ll learn about how eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy, or EMDR, can help you process your painful memories. You’ll also learn about self-monitoring and self-control techniques such as the butterfly hug to help you maintain control.

Everyone has complex memory networks that influence their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors – mostly subconsciously. When you identify your hidden drivers, you take the first step toward real change and can then make informed choices about reshaping your inner landscape.

Understanding the brain-mind connection

Your brain is wired to make connections between memories, often outside of your awareness. These connections can cause negative emotions, thoughts, and physical sensations that affect how you view yourself and respond to the world around you. Childhood experiences get stored in memory networks in your brain, becoming the basis for your adult perceptions and reactions.

When disturbing experiences overwhelm your brain’s natural information-processing system, the memories can remain unprocessed. They’re stored with any intense emotions, physical sensations, and negative beliefs from the original event. When current situations trigger these unprocessed memories, you can experience and react to the present in distorting ways. For example, a combat veteran may dive for cover when a plane flies overhead, triggered by memories of war. Or someone who was bullied as a child may feel insecure when criticized at work, reliving those childhood feelings of shame.

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing or EMDR therapy is an evidence-based treatment that can help process these memories so they no longer cause distress. The therapy uses eye movements and other forms of bilateral stimulation, guided by a clinician, to stimulate the same biological healing processes that occur during REM sleep. This allows new connections to form and the memory to become integrated with more adaptive information already stored in your brain.

Take Lynne, for instance, who developed PTSD after an earthquake. She began EMDR processing the memory of hiding in a doorway with her young son as objects crashed around them during the quake. An EMDR therapist guided Lynne’s eye movements which brought up associations between feeling powerless in that moment and other events from her childhood where she felt powerless and unsafe. After processing the memories, the earthquake memory no longer caused her severe anxiety. She was able to see it as something in the past.

Now let’s try a simple exercise to give you a sense of how connections between memories work. First, bring up a mildly disturbing recent experience, notice how you feel, and then let your mind scan back to the earliest related memory from childhood. Does this old memory still carry an emotional charge? If so, it may be unprocessed and influencing your reactions now.

EMDR can rapidly process emotion-laden memories that underlie conditions like trauma, anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. You can also use self-monitoring and self-control techniques to manage emotional disturbance. For example, keep a daily log to record situations that trigger you, along with the emotions and physical sensations you experience. When you notice yourself feeling disturbed, you can use what’s known as the butterfly hug technique. First, cross your arms in front of you and then alternately tap each shoulder to stimulate both sides of your body. This can help you calm strong emotions. The butterfly hug activates your body’s natural information processing system that’s used in EMDR therapy. Simply tapping each shoulder repeatedly shifts your emotional state and brings relief. Noticing when you get triggered and using techniques like this will give you more control.

If childhood memories make you feel like you’re “not good enough,” remember that these experiences were outside your control. Have compassion for yourself and understand that your reactions don’t define you. But if old memories continue to run your life, you may need trauma-focused therapy to help free you. You deserve to live with a sense of empowerment and well-being.

Bringing the memories that shape your perceptions into your awareness is the first step in your transformative healing. Understanding your own brain-mind connection will allow you to take control and reshape your inner landscape.

In the next section, we’ll explore how EMDR can help with unresolved medical issues.

Breaking negative patterns of behavior

Your brain, mind, and body have an intricate connection. Your unprocessed memories can surface as baffling physical symptoms. Issues like panic attacks, childhood asthma, sexual dysfunction, and phantom limb pain may appear to be solely medical conditions, but they can stem directly from traumatic memories that remain frozen and unintegrated in your brain.

Sandi, for instance, had been unable to experience sexual arousal for 20 years. This was a result of the painful memory of a teenage date. She had been experiencing her first innocent kiss when her father flung the door open and called her a slut. By processing this kind of memory using EMDR therapy, strange physical and emotional symptoms can disappear, as the initial trauma is properly digested and absorbed.

Problems also arise when people develop extremely negative self-perceptions about their bodies that are detached from reality. They may become adamantly convinced that they constantly emit a foul odor, are covered in repulsive hair, or are horribly disfigured – even when no one else observes these things. This distortion often originates from humiliating experiences in childhood that were never reconciled. When Marla was a teenager, her aunt made a careless remark about her underarm hair which then caused an irrational lifelong belief about excessive body hair. Memories like this can remain locked in time, continually influencing emotions and beliefs in the present. With EMDR treatment to process the original traumatic memories, these irrational thought patterns and body image issues can be relieved.

Some individuals feel intensely compelled to relentlessly seek medical opinions and treatments, obsessed with the notion that they suffer from a dire health condition. Despite normal test results, they remain firmly convinced something is seriously wrong internally. This fixation is frequently rooted in unprocessed traumatic memories related to past illness, loss of loved ones, or not being believed about health problems. For example, a cancer survivor continued to feel certain of impending death until the memory of her diagnosis was processed. By targeting these memories, EMDR can often relieve the fixation and anxiety about imagined medical issues.

Those struck by disfigurement or disability can feel burdened by fear, shame, and powerlessness, seeing their sense of self-worth and purpose as greatly diminished. With EMDR processing of memories surrounding the initial trauma, they’re able to reclaim their strength, dignity, and control, despite their condition.

For those in current physical pain, techniques like Lightstream visualization can temporarily relieve distress by altering their mental state. Here, the patient imagines a beam of colored light entering their body and resonating around the area of pain. This visualization of pulsating, vibrating light can shift perceptions of the pain sensation and provide temporary relief. But chronic psychosomatic pain syndromes require more than brief guided imagery alone. The key is identifying and reprocessing the traumatic memories driving and perpetuating the pain, so the mind-body symptoms can be fully resolved.

So, as you can see, the mind and body have a profound interconnectedness. When puzzling medical issues remain unresolved, exploring traumatic memories as a contributing factor can be very worthwhile. If standard treatments fall short, EMDR therapy can target the memories sustaining problems which can then give patients true resolution.

Now let’s turn our attention to how EMDR can help in your relationships.

Building healthy relationships

Unhealthy relationships often originate from unprocessed childhood memories and trauma. Using EMDR to process these disturbing memories can help you transform destructive patterns in your current relationships. EMDR activates your brain’s natural healing processes to reprocess the memory and eliminate irrational emotions and beliefs linked to it. For instance, processing childhood rejection could help you stop sabotaging relationships due to an irrational fear of abandonment.

Here are some other techniques which can help you to develop strong relationships.

First of all, developing strong communication skills is vital for relating well. Setting healthy boundaries, identifying your triggers, and expressing your needs calmly and clearly to your partner fosters mutual understanding. If you feel you need help strengthening your communication, don’t hesitate to seek professional counseling.

Second, letting go of guilt, shame, and resentment from your past can liberate you to be fully present and intimate with your loved ones. Don’t let those disturbing memories or traumas erect walls separating you from your partner. Make the effort to process them.

Third, practice generosity in your relationships by noticing your partner’s needs and offering your time, assistance, kind words, or forgiveness freely. For example, if your spouse has had a difficult day, why not prepare their favorite meal, draw them a bath, or give them a foot rub to show how much you care?

Fourth, stay open even when you feel hurt. Make the effort to give your partner the best of yourself. Communicate clearly from a place of love, not blame. Statements like “I feel lonely when you come home late. Let’s talk about how to meet each other’s needs” can open doors.

And fifth, when triggered by someone’s behavior, check that you aren’t overreacting due to your own unresolved issues. Try responding from a mature, adult perspective.

You can’t control others but you do have power over your own responses. Relate to your partner and others from your highest self, with compassion. By processing disturbing memories that are blocking intimacy and learning relationship skills, you can build healthy, fulfilling bonds.

Tools for healing and growth

Dealing with unresolved issues from your past can free you up to live a happier, more fulfilling life in the present. You can use techniques like floatback and affect scan to help identify core memories that are causing you problems in the here and now. Floatback involves concentrating on where you feel distress in your body and letting your mind float back to an earlier time when you felt something similar. An original event may come to mind that’s the root cause of your current emotional disturbance. Affect scan involves methodically scanning through your life to uncover memories associated with negative emotions.

Once you identify these key memories, you can process them using bilateral stimulation, like eye movements or tapping. Have someone move their fingers back and forth in front of your eyes as you bring up the troubling memory. Or you can tap alternately on your thighs as you focus internally. This bilateral stimulation, while concentrating on the memory, can help transform painful memories into neutral learning experiences that no longer cause you distress.

It’s also important to have self-control techniques available to manage difficult emotions as they come up. For instance, you can develop a safe place visualization, where you imagine somewhere peaceful. Really notice the details – what you see, hear, and feel. You can go to your safe place in your mind anytime you feel anxious or upset. To help calm strong emotions you can also think of a cartoon character with an unusual voice, Daffy Duck, for instance. Use that character’s voice whenever you hear your mind criticizing you. Most likely, the negative feelings that usually accompany those criticisms will simply disperse. The key is to practice these techniques daily, strengthening your ability to use them when you need them.

Make a timeline of your key memories and rate their distress level on a scale of one to ten. This will give you a map to see patterns and identify hotspots to target. Are there certain years when many painful memories occurred for you? Do certain events stand out as highly distressing for you? Process these memories first.

To improve your performance at work, why not try a technique favored by athletes to prepare for competing? Visualization and imagery. First, clear any blocks, then picture yourself competently managing difficult situations.

Turning now to grief, this can become complicated by linking into other unresolved painful memories from your past. Processing these with bilateral stimulation allows you to experience healthy mourning, without getting weighed down by old baggage. Similarly, trauma from violence often breeds cycles of revenge. Yet healing your original pain has the power to transform it into humanitarian pursuits instead.

You can also identify areas where unchecked anger, envy, and greed cause problems in your life. Use floatback to find the root causes of these patterns, often in childhood events. Processing those core memories can eliminate these dysfunctional behaviors.

And when it comes to spirituality, many who feel spiritually disconnected or have lost the ability to pray or meditate are blocked by unresolved memories. Targeting those specific blocks with bilateral stimulation can reopen access to spiritual resources that comfort and sustain you.

Ultimately, as you heal your own pain, compassion for yourself and others will grow naturally. You’ll realize that even small daily acts of kindness on your part can ripple outward, multiplying into wide positive effects. The path that lies ahead involves linking arms to bring everyone struggling alone back to shore – no one has to drown in the dark.


Your brain stores memories in networks that operate automatically, outside of your awareness. Painful experiences can become trapped as unprocessed memories containing the original emotions and physical sensations you experienced. When current situations trigger those memories, you relive the past instead of responding adaptively. EMDR therapy can help you reprocess disturbing memories so they no longer cause distress.

EMDR utilizes eye movements and bilateral stimulation to activate your brain’s natural healing processes, allowing new neural connections to form. This neutralizes upsetting memories so you’re no longer haunted by your past. Additional tools like keeping a diary of triggers and techniques like the butterfly hug can give you more control over your emotional state.

Identifying your disturbing memories is the first step in healing. Your perceptions are shaped by the past unconsciously. But by recognizing this brain-mind connection, you can take control, starting by identifying hotspots for processing. Clearing out old pain enables growth of self-compassion and compassion for others. Performing small daily acts of kindness can create exponential positive ripples.

Your future is unwritten, despite the influence of your past. By understanding how your memories shape your inner life, you can reshape your inner landscape. With your newfound awareness, you can boldly process painful memories and move forward with hope.

About the Author

Francine Shapiro


Psychology, Personal Development


“Getting Past Your Past” by Francine Shapiro is an insightful and practical guide that introduces readers to Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. Dr. Shapiro, the creator of EMDR therapy, offers a wealth of information and self-help techniques to help individuals overcome the lingering effects of past traumas, phobias, and emotional pain.

The book is divided into several well-structured sections, each providing a step-by-step approach to understanding and applying EMDR therapy. Dr. Shapiro begins by explaining the science behind EMDR and its effectiveness in processing and healing traumatic memories. She then guides readers through a series of self-help exercises, including the use of bilateral stimulation and guided imagery, to help them address various emotional challenges. The book also delves into the connections between our thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations, showing readers how to recognize and change the patterns that may be holding them back.

Throughout the book, Dr. Shapiro shares numerous real-life case studies that illustrate the transformative power of EMDR therapy. These stories offer hope and inspiration to readers, showing that healing is possible, even for those who have endured significant adversity.

“Getting Past Your Past” is a remarkable resource for anyone seeking to heal from emotional wounds and past traumas. Dr. Francine Shapiro’s deep knowledge and experience in the field of EMDR therapy shine through as she simplifies complex concepts, making them accessible to a wide audience. Her compassionate and empathetic approach creates a safe and supportive space for readers to explore their own pain and work toward healing.

The book’s strength lies in its practicality, with a wealth of self-help exercises and techniques that readers can easily incorporate into their lives. Dr. Shapiro’s explanations are clear and concise, ensuring that even those unfamiliar with therapy concepts can grasp and implement the strategies effectively.

Furthermore, the inclusion of real-life case studies adds a personal touch to the book, making it relatable and inspiring. These stories of individuals who have successfully used EMDR therapy to overcome their pasts are both motivating and reassuring, reinforcing the book’s central message of hope and resilience.

In summary, “Getting Past Your Past” is a comprehensive and compassionate guide to healing and personal growth. Dr. Francine Shapiro’s expertise, coupled with the practical self-help techniques, makes this book a valuable resource for anyone looking to take control of their life and move beyond the shadows of their past.

Alex Lim is a certified book reviewer and editor with over 10 years of experience in the publishing industry. He has reviewed hundreds of books for reputable magazines and websites, such as The New York Times, The Guardian, and Goodreads. Alex has a master’s degree in comparative literature from Harvard University and a PhD in literary criticism from Oxford University. He is also the author of several acclaimed books on literary theory and analysis, such as The Art of Reading and How to Write a Book Review. Alex lives in London, England with his wife and two children. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Website | Twitter | Facebook

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