Coach Cecilia Ding

Cecilia Ding The Self Growth Coach

Sharing personal EMDR experience

I have personally experienced the benefit of EMDR over the recent few months.  Here I want to share my experience and show my gratitude to my fellow clinician Melissa Martinez. 

EMDR has been around for decades.  Many have passed the technique on, revised it, or added to it.  I have been practicing it in my work for a year.  In both my training and practice, I have found that its impact is more obvious for clients who have been through complex and severe trauma.  I was not clear how it would work for stabilized and functional individuals like myself, and for many of my fellow clinicians, who have had stable even if imperfect caregivers and have not been exposed to complex or shock trauma.  We, perhaps like most people, have experienced developmental trauma that is more subtle and impacts us in less obvious, even if not less profound, ways.  

My attachment wound had stemmed primarily from my father.  When I think about my father, his fragility appears in my mind.  He is 71 and still quite agile and sharp. Even though his memory is not what it used to be, he is still a very functional man.  He had always been smart, book smart to be exact. He studied his way out of poverty, into the university, into the city of China, and then into his Master’s in the States.  He has had very little at the outset of his life.  Even though his family was not classified as the poorest of the poor, he experienced much deprivation. During the famine China experienced in 1960 and 1961, he starved during crucial developmental periods of his life.  It is no wonder he is shorter than his younger brother.   During this period, he had to suffer the pangs of an empty stomach frequently.  There was even one point when all they had to eat was boiled tree bark.  

As I write this, I feel immense tenderness for my father.  I feel his pain and fear, and even more sharply his shame.   Whenever his fear is stirred, he always fails to set boundaries and always tried too hard to please everyone(with the exception of my mom maybe, that was just his chauvinism at work).  The fear can take a break when his environment does not trigger his amygdala’s protective response.  However, the shame is unrelenting.  He carried that with him all his life, into his interactions with me.  The shame of being poor drove him to his professional heights. While he never reached a leadership position in an American company, he transformed himself from an agricultural farmhand to a programming engineer in an American company.    While there should be no shame in having an agricultural origin, there was a clear hierarchy where he grew up, and rural residents were at the bottom of that.  His emotional circuits were scarred by fear earlier on, and they were not stable enough to allow him to acquire a better sense of internal safety. The path he saw for himself and for me was that of academic excellence.  His biggest pride was that I made it into Harvard.  

Due to the kind of nurturing I had, while I was physically and academically able to manage, I was not emotionally mature enough to make the best of my journey. My mom was socially intelligent but had no sense of self-worth or self-confidence. Her upbringing deprived her of higher education and society, along with her husband,  habituated her to the feeling women are less important.  I grew up in that.  Even when no one ever said explicitly women were less, I lived and breathed it. I had the tools to function as a professional cog in society.   Yet part of me is not happy with that kind of existence. I ran into people along my journey and developed those emotional tools on my own to shift my perspectives on life.   Even as my new lease on life grew stronger and firmer, I was still processing the traumatic impact of growing up with a predominantly negative self-belief and fear-based parenting style.  While physical violence was rarely used, emotional violence was pervasive.  I grew up like many highly functioning individuals who had the tools(know-how in the left brain) but limited software(emotional road map in the right brain).  My confidence was limited to areas I knew I could accomplish.  My self-esteem was always set at ground zero because I was constantly returning to the baseline of “if I do not already know then I am not good enough”. Mom and dad repeatedly cemented that concept when they showed no satisfaction with any result other than a perfect score.  My life was an empty vessel that served the attainment of mathematical symbols whether on report cards or income slips.   This is what children who grew up relying on external validation feel like;  this is the formula for creating successful and deeply unhappy people who can’t stop striving for more to fill an invisible hole inside.   

I have known this and analyzed all this for over 25 years, either as an amateur psychologist or a professional counselor. I often returned to a few key memories that lingered in my conscious that represented the type of anxious attachment I had with my fearful(toward the world) and fearsome(toward me) dad.  Yet, when it was when I was doing EMDR that I realize how much the more subtle nonverbal experiences have impacted my perception of life.  I especially benefited from connecting with the preverbal memories in the womb, the memories of the birth process, and the first couple of years of my life.  Of course, none of these were derived from conscious memories but a combination of somatic sensations and sentiments surrounding the memories adults have shared with me.  Yet, the process zoomed in on that entrenched feelings of being unwanted(I was almost aborted), ugliness(I was born with a twist in the neck due to a medical error), and inability to get what I want(not being able to drink my mom’s breast milk).  In addition, clarity came through further research about the impoverished environment I lived in and the shortage of milk formula during the first 2 years of my life. All of which added to my sense of deprivation and helplessness at getting what I want.  It was through the eye movement, the flash, and the gentle shifting of the negative cognitions that I was able to rewire some of the deeply rooted parts of my brain to a different perspective on the whole of my life considering both the then and now.  

 It helped me with the first 2 steps described in my own Secure Attune Guide Embody steps.  It helped me realize I am Secure now. By acknowledging at a deeper level my past experience, or giving more pixels to the vague memories, I can now separate my present from the past.  It helped Attune to my feelings of shame that I had felt but dodged acknowledging most of the time.  Once the first 2 steps are done, primarily accomplished in the right side of the brain, my left brain naturally took over to Guide me toward the next steps in embodying my true belief about myself and my true potential.  I find myself making new connections and discovering new opportunities after those powerful yet subtle sessions.  For example, I would feel empowered to advertise myself to more people, and not worry about how I might be perceived by others, especially those I traditionally perceived to be in different social circles and only have seen certain aspects of me.  I no longer projected the shame I felt onto them and feel more confident about being accepted by all.  Anyone who would not accept me has roots in their own subjective limitations not caused by who I am.  Another time, I find myself being able to look at my Chinese friends’ faces more calmly. I lost an edge to the anxiety I normally felt when I was with them. It was as if I stopped feeling the shame of looking at faces that more closely resembled mine after living amongst predominantly non-Asian communities my entire teenage and young adult years.  

My healing is still ongoing. I am very lucky to have both a dedicated and skilled partner.  It helped me understand more how EMDR and other traumatic memory process techniques are completing my S.A.G.E. steps, which also resembled the 3 phase trauma resolution model by Judith Hermann: establishing the feeling of safety(S), Retelling of the Experience(A) and connection with the present (A).  I find that there are also plenty of “collateral” changes during the resolution: I am more aware of the feelings that will float through me, such as shame, anger, release, and lightness, then repeat until the emotional waves simmered out about a particular memory; I am also able to set boundaries more easily without activating my own fear or shame about what I might or might not deserve from others.    I also began to have new insights about how even as I struggled to heal from my childhood negativity, I had done well in a world, that my education did not prepare me for, where people of my skin color and gender had to work harder to be heard. Even as I was trying to reestablish my voice, I was losing more of it in the different set of reality.   I might have become more embodied within myself even as I become more muted toward the outside world as an Asian woman.   There is still significant growth waiting for me. I am excited. 

I have been an emotionally stable person for several years, and before that, I was only inwardly tumultuous while managing to stay just above the water inside.  The improvements I have described above are felt primarily within me as subtle shifts and gradually more by those around me—sometimes only after a while as they are not dramatic shifts.   Life is an unending journey of discovery.  EMDR could be part of it.  To serve clients the best,  I do not believe any technique should be exclusively used.  The mandate to meet clients where they are requires that we respond to their needs and not insist on using any particular technique unless it is the client’s choice.  Most clients, like many of us, have not felt sufficiently seen by their caregivers.  It will only serve to re-traumatize them if we insist on using our way rather than what they are ready for. Over time, it will be the quality of the rapport we build that determine if we are able to employ their techniques at times with their full buy-in.  My story only illustrated what could happen with a technique like EMDR, even in the absence of complex or shock trauma, when there is trust in the technique as it was in my case. 

I will continue to explore this and many other techniques in my own healing and healer path. I will share along the way.  I feel secure and confident as I continue this journey with my partner Melissa Martinez. 

Cecilia Ding The Self Growth Coach

How to manage relationships you have outgrown?

I have been feeling a slightly unsteady mood lately. As a counselor and coach, I have the tools to regulate my emotions on a daily basis. Yet as a human, I accept that my emotional waves are supposed to go up and down. I rarely feel 10-foot waves, but I still sense the tide that could gently rock the heart. For the past few days, I sensed the tide has been slowly carrying me to a new dock for my friendships.

While I am a very social person with a wide network, there have been only 2 people, outside of my parents and my immediate family, who have taken places in the inner chambers of my emotional abode. One is a mentor/long-term friend and another is a confidante I made during the early days in my career. On the surface, I had very little in common with them in the academic, professional, and economic reality of our lives. They came from much less privileged backgrounds with broken families. What has brought our hearts together was our common desire for emotional connection, analyses of our inner selves, interest in social realities, and commitment to keeping in touch. Over the years, as I grow busier with professional life, marriage, and motherhood, I, like many others, no longer have the time dedicated to making friends with the same intensity we had in our teens or 20s. The friendships formed over the previous decades became the stronghold of my life. The intimate rapport of the olden days is irreplaceable. They are precious friendships that I have preserved for over 20 years despite my traveling around the world for most of those years and rarely seeing them in person. Covid has only exasperated that.

There are unfortunately other less-than-healthy reasons for our friendship, namely the insecurities and wounds we have carried from our childhood that led us to bond over negative beliefs or even fear about our surroundings. Even though my parents had grown to be financially stable in my teenage years and their marriage was preserved to the end of my mom’s life, I had grown up with the generational trauma of poverty that lasted till my early childhood, the gender inequality in their marriage and the negative and fear-based parenting style I labored under. In the fight-and-flight reaction my friends and I experienced during the better half of our early days, we clung to each other for comfort. It is soothing for the wound yet it also inadvertently reinforces patterns of interaction we had carried from our childhood.

There are many kinds of unhealthy relationships just as there are beautiful ones. Traumatic bonding, anxious attachment, avoidance attachment, disorganized attachment, and Stockholm syndromes are just a few of the terms that describe relationships that create difficult emotional patterns and limiting beliefs. While there are many differences between the types, the common factors include lack of safety and equality. The consequences are victims, or the ones with less power in these relationships, develop low self-esteem, low self-worth, and inability to form healthy relationships subsequently–they tend to repeat what they do and thus generate a cycle of repeated abuse. While my relationship with my friends did not consist of inequality and safety, we have all brought the over-activated alarm system(anatomically, it is the neutral complex that includes the amygdala) to our perception of the world. Together, we reassure each other of our perceptions based on our emotionally, or at times physically, insecure experiences from the past. While my relationships with my dear friends are mostly positive, recently I have started finding myself needing more space from them. I have changed my relationship with the world, which had a domino impact on my relationships.

If there is one thing I have learned through my clients and my own healing is how much we are capable of change. It might not all come at once or for a long time, however, if we believe in ourselves or someone believes in us, our brain and body are capable of incredible growth. However, we do not all grow at the same rate or direction. What if, as it has happened to me after you have grown through therapy and coaching, you find that people who are close to you have not, or have moved in different directions? They are not able to relate to you in a new way because you have rejected the negative self-belief and emotional patterns that formed at least part of interactions.

In my story, I have begun to heal through the counseling and coaching I received. While I still cherish my friendships, I no longer wanted to expend energy on some of the past pursuits, such as analyzing obsessively so I could feel I had control over the situation, dwelling on the emotional attachment that was a remnant of the past and impedes moving forward to new types of relationship, and most of all no longer always prepare for the worst even if I am aware of the uncertainties life carries. As a result, I started to sense the weight of those conversations and attitudes from my friends more. As a loyal and caring person, I tried to bear with it without complaint. I slowly built boundaries for myself and created some distance. However, things would come up that brought heaviness into our relationship. Whether it is a perceived criticism from the random encounters, continued entanglement with unhealthy alliances, or hypervigilance over an uncertain outcome. Finally, I shared with my friends my thoughts. I stated clearly that I no longer want to have certain types of conversations, I want to believe in and put forth more positive energy, and I want to reduce the role fear has in my pursuits. It was an uncomfortable process, but I was ready. As a counselor, I support many people through these moments. As a friend, I want to share joy not caretaking abilities, and much less spreading negative energy.

If you have read my piece on parentification, you might recall how being made responsible for monitoring our parents emotionally or physically as children could result in habitual caretaking. Many of us went through it with different degrees of severity. Women are more likely victimized by it due to social expectations of caretaking behavior. An overwhelming percentage of counselors and therapists have reported taking care of adults emotionally or physically as children. Of course, living as a member of any community requires us to be aware of emotional cues from others and help each other out, both for our safety and to foster empathy toward others. The difference between healthy awareness of such needs and unhealthy ones is whether fear is involved. As children, we instinctually depend on our parents for survival, so if there are any expectations for physical or emotional support by adults who were supposed to guide us, or worse if fear was used as a weapon for compliance, then we would assume there is no choice but to comply. Over the years, we develop the urge to respond to other people’s needs out of a knee-jerk reaction. Even as adults, we subconsciously fear the consequences for our survival if we do not respond. This is different from the intentional caretaking we do for those we love because we care and choose to, I call it “survival caretaking.” My father is a good dad but he was naturally not perfect like all humans. I have grown up feeling responsible for my dad’s emotional state, so I became skilled and even talented at studying, achieving, and making sure other people are feeling good, even if their discomfort might have nothing to do with me. There was also an element of mirroring since I saw my father doing that all throughout his life. As a professional, I have made a conscious choice to own my talent and convert it into my superpower as a professional.

My determination to set boundaries on how much “survival caretaking” shows up in my life is part of my personal development. I have stopped being responsible for acquaintances’, colleagues or friends’ emotional states, then I started to cut down on my enmeshment with the emotional state of my inner circle of friends, I am also creating healthier distance with my family while maintaining intimacy, finally, I am able to reduce my anxiety over people with power over me and their emotional state—the category closest to the role my father played early in my life. As part of this personal growth, my decision to adjust my friendship is another way of creating more space for my emotional landscape. It leaves more energy for intentional caretaking, such as in my professional as a coach and healer, and less for survival caretaking. During the process, I was ready for some distance between myself and my close friends. If the price of a healthier self is losing some of the negative connections, I was ready to let go of some dysfunctional intimacy. It also brought on my days of melancholy moods because I thought I lost irreplaceable friendships. To my surprise, my friends were ready to accept it. There were some new division lines marked, and limits respected, there was also an initial cooling-off period during which I was steeling myself for rejection. Yet I saw they never went away and still supported me in my pursuit and accepted who I am now. I believe even more than before that real friend are strong enough to grow with me. We are complex beings with multiple levers of reality. Even if my boundary setting means I no longer dock at the previous harbor we met on, there will be meeting points for us down the coastline. Their strength and love allow me to be authentic, even as there are parts of the new me they do not have in common, just as I accept them for who they have grown into without needing to interact with each piece. I know now that previously by hiding my discomfort with certain parts of our relationship, I was compromising the honesty that was essential to our relationship. The courage to reveal my truth to them paid off. It did not isolate me. It only deepened our intimacy because it allowed us to see each other even more clearly.

I am fortunate to have friends who can grow with me. I know that is not always the case. My preparation for rejection could have been necessary. If that is the case, I know I would have been able to make new connections even as I mourn my lost ones. I would not have known the capacity of our relationship until we are ready to test its limit by setting my own priorities. I am grateful for my relationships, even those less than healthy, and have not survived my own rebirth. They have helped me grow through trial and error. What is your own story of continuously evolving relationships that have helped you grow or just grown alongside you?

Night-Time-Meditation Cecilia-Ding the self growth coach

Night Time Meditation Group

My dear friends and family, please help spread the word about my free Online Guided Meditation group, at 9 pm PST on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. Anyone is welcome and no experience is necessary.  

I will play a piece of gentle music and use scripts I wrote or learned from others to guide the group. No audio or video from participants is necessary. This is an entirely experiential time for silence and mindfulness meditation.

Meditation and Mindfulness have been pivotal in my own healing and in the journey to heal for my clients as a counselor as well as an important tool for my coaching clients. I want to share this with everyone through this group. You can learn more about me at http://www.ceciliading.com  Please scan the qr code in the pinned post to sign up with a very simple form.

#mindfulness meditation  onlinemeditation