Is It Normal to Cry, Have Flashbacks and See Nightmares After an EMDR Session?

woman leaning against a wall in dim hallway, crying after EMDR

Crying during EMDR

I have had EMDR Therapy last year and my experience is good, it worked very well for me.

However, there were some strange side effects that I experienced after my sessions.

I would cry uncontrollably, have flashbacks of memories that I had long forgotten about and also nightmares the following days.

Are these normal and part of the healing process?

What is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. EMDR is a type of psychotherapy that allows people to heal from the psychological and emotional distress of traumatic experiences. It involves 8 EMDR phases, external stimuli, such as eye movements, hand-tapping, vibrations, or audio stimulation, to help both hemispheres of the brain process the trauma and unlock it from the brain.

During EMDR, the patient recalls the traumatic memory while receiving the lateral stimulus. This helps the brain to properly process and store the memory so that it does not cause acute mental and physical distress, such as flashbacks or nightmares, anxiety, insomnia, or depression. EMDR can be used to treat conditions such as PTSD, complex PTSD, anxiety, insomnia or addiction.

Why did EMDR make me cry?

What made EMDR make me cry was the intentional focus on the negative memories and emotions associated with them. For example, during my EMDR session, I was asked to focus on a traumatic event that had left me feeling scared and overwhelmed. As I focused on the event and the emotions associated with it, I started to become overwhelmed and began to cry.

The crying helped me to release some of the built-up tension and pain associated with the event, allowing me to process it in a more healthy way.

When EMDR goes wrong

EMDR can make things worse – it may not be beneficial for everyone. Signs and symptoms that an EMDR session has gone wrong can include: feeling overwhelmed, feeling anxious or agitated, difficulty focusing on the task at hand, feeling disconnected from yourself or the therapist, intrusive thoughts or memories that are too intense to process, flashbacks or extreme reactions to particular topics or memories, difficulty regulating emotions, physical discomfort such as headaches or nausea, and heightened physical or emotional reactions to everyday triggers.

If the person being treated does not feel comfortable with the therapist or the process, they should speak up and make sure they are supported in their healing.

What are the side effects of EMDR?

1. Emotional pain and discomfort

EMDR can be a tough and intense experience, and many people experience a range of emotions such as sadness, grief, anger, confusion, frustration, fear, and light-headedness. Other physical reactions include nausea, tightness in the chest, and crawling sensations on the skin. There can also be a sense of hollow feeling, as well as vivid thoughts related to the traumatic event.

Many people also cry during EMDR sessions, both out of sadness and relief. This can help to release the emotional stress and toxins that have built up due to elevated stress levels. Crying can also have a calming effect on the body and can help to reduce physical and emotional pain.

2. Nightmares

The side effects of EMDR nightmares can include feelings of psychological distress, anxiety, helplessness, guilt, shame, and a negative self-view.

3. Anxiety and Panic

The possible anxiety and panic side effects of EMDR can include physical symptoms such as tightness in the chest, difficulty breathing, rapid heart rate, sweating, and trembling. It can also cause emotional and mental symptoms such as a negative self-view, changes in beliefs and worldview, difficulty regulating emotions, relationship issues, detachment from the trauma, and preoccupation with the abuser.

4. Difficulty Sleeping

The side effects of difficulty sleeping after EMDR can include nightmares and flashbacks, trouble breathing when remembering the trauma, shaking or body tremors, hyper-arousal and hyper-vigilance, seeing the world as a dangerous place, a loss of trust in oneself and others, difficulty sleeping and concentrating, worrying all the time, being startled by loud noises or unexpected surprises, a negative self-view, and changes in beliefs and worldview.

5. Physical Symptoms

The physical symptoms of EMDR can vary, but some common signs include feeling pressure in your chest, light-headedness, crawling sensations on your skin, tightness in your chest, intense emotions such as anger or sadness, feeling hollow, and fatigue.

Some less common reactions can include a physical re-experiencing of part of the trauma, such as feeling like you can’t breathe if you survived someone attempting to strangle you.

It is also possible to experience trouble breathing, shaking and body tremors, hyper-arousal and hyper-vigilance.

6. Increased Stress and Trauma Symptoms

Increased stress and trauma symptoms can occur with EMDR when the person is exposed to powerful reminders of the traumatic event during therapy sessions. During EMDR, clients are asked to focus on the traumatic event and any associated thoughts, feelings, and body sensations. This can trigger intense emotional reactions, such as fear, guilt, shame, or anger.

7. Crying during EMDR

The crying response that occurs during EMDR sessions is a natural physiological reaction to the processing of emotions that are being addressed during the session. It is the body’s way of releasing pent up emotions and toxins that have built up during elevated levels of stress.

This release of emotion is beneficial because it helps to reduce stress levels, which in turn can help to prevent the development of cardiovascular disease and other stress-related disorders.

Research has shown that when a person cries, their body releases a natural painkiller called leucine enkephalin. This can provide further relief from stress and emotions. The act of crying can also help to reduce breathing and heart rate, and it can provide a sense of calming and relief.

8. Recurring memories and flashbacks

EMDR sessions can be incredibly intense and can trigger a wide range of physical and emotional reactions, including nightmares and flashbacks. These experiences can occur both during and after the session. After EMDR sessions, many people feel weary, both emotionally and physically, as the trauma is being released from the body. It is not uncommon to experience recurring memories and flashbacks, although the intensity of these feelings is usually much lower than when the trauma initially occurred.

The frequency of the flashbacks and memories can vary from person to person, but many people can expect to experience some degree of recurring memories in the days, weeks, and months following an EMDR session. To combat these memories, it is important to have healthy coping strategies, such as self-care, mindfulness, and talking it out with a trusted friend or therapist. With time and practice, the intensity of these memories can lessen, and the triggers may become much more manageable.

5. No development of coping skills

EMDR should help develop coping skills by allowing individuals to recall traumatic memories in a safe and controlled environment.

Through the use of EMDR, a person learns to use their imagination to create positive outcomes for their traumatic memories. This allows them to develop new coping strategies for when similar situations arise in the future.

When you see no development of your coping skills, something is wrong with your EMDR therapist.

6. No improvement of self-belief

EMDR sessions should help to break up the traumatic memory and enable the client to access more positive thoughts and beliefs.

You should also expect to see a decrease in your level of distress, while developing a more positive outlook. This can lead to greater self-confidence, self-belief, and insight into the underlying causes of their trauma.

When you see no improvement of your self-confidence, something is wrong with your EMDR therapist.

How to cope with the reactions after an EMDR session?

1. Talk to your therapist about your feelings and emotions

Talking to your therapist about your feelings and emotions after an EMDR session can be daunting, but it’s important to express yourself in order to get the most out of the therapy. Here are some steps to follow that may help:

  1. Take a few deep breaths to help you stay composed if you feel overwhelmed.
  2. Focus on what your therapist is saying, and try not to get caught up in your own emotions.
  3. Engage fully in the conversation and stay present as much as possible.
  4. If you start to catastrophize, ask questions to alleviate your fears and listen to the facts of the answers.
  5. Allow yourself to cry if you need to – tears are a positive representation of who we are and can make us feel better.
  6. When the session is over, take some time to process what you’ve been talking about.
  7. Talk to your therapist about your feelings and emotions afterwards, explaining what you feel and why.
  8. Ask your therapist for tips on how to manage your emotions and feelings in the future.

By following these steps, you’ll be able to talk to your therapist about your feelings and emotions after an EMDR session in a productive and meaningful way.

2. Use self-soothing techniques

Self-soothing techniques can be invaluable tools to help manage the reactions after an EMDR session. During the session, the therapist stimulates both sides of the body to activate the brain in a way that helps the patient process and reprocess memories or beliefs. This can cause strong emotional reactions and physical sensations. To help manage these reactions, the therapist may suggest self-soothing techniques, such as breathing and grounding exercises, butterfly hugging to end a panic attack, or meditation.

These techniques can help the patient ground themselves, relax, and process the emotions associated with the session. Additionally, self-care practices, such as getting enough rest, sleeping with a weighted blanket, self hugging, eating nutritious meals, and exercising, can be beneficial in helping the patient manage the emotions and reactions after the EMDR session.

3. Try to understand what you are feeling

Understanding the emotions you experience after an EMDR session can be a difficult task. However, by following these simple steps, you can better understand the feelings that you are experiencing.

Acknowledge your emotions. It’s important to understand and accept the emotions that you are feeling after your EMDR session. It doesn’t matter if you are feeling anger, sadness, fear, or any other emotion – acknowledging them is the first step in understanding them.

Identify your emotions. Once you have acknowledged your emotions, try to identify which specific emotion you are feeling. Are you angry because of a past traumatic event? Is your sadness coming from the loss of someone or something important? Naming the emotion can help you process it more effectively.

For example, if you have had an EMDR session and you are feeling overwhelmed by fear, you can acknowledge the fear, identify it as fear, take a few deep breaths, allow yourself to cry, reflect on why you are feeling fear, and seek the support of a professional if necessary.

4. Write down your feelings

After the session is over, take some time to reflect on the experience. Write down your emotions and feelings in a journal or diary. Be honest with yourself about the intensity of the emotions and don’t be afraid to cry. Tears often release stress and can make you feel better.


What is the role of the bilateral stimulation during an EMDR session?

The role of the bilateral stimulation during an EMDR session is to provide a rhythmic sensory experience while the patient recalls a traumatic incident. This stimulation, which can be performed using eye movements, tapping the arms or shoulders, listening to music or binaural beats, vibrating paddles, or by using a specialized EMDR app, is designed to help the patient process the emotional and physical feelings associated with the traumatic event.

Does EMDR release emotions?

Yes, EMDR can release strong emotions. This type of therapy helps people to heal from the emotional distress and symptoms related to traumatic experiences. The purpose of EMDR is to unlock and de-tangle the negative memories and emotions that are stored in the brain, allowing them to be processed and ‘reprogrammed’.

How do you know if EMDR is working?

If you are wondering if EMDR therapy is working for you, here is a step-by-step guide to determining if EMDR is working for you:

  1. Firstly, check in with how you are feeling after your EMDR session. Common emotional reactions experienced by clients include feeling highly emotional, peaceful and relaxed, or numb. If you are feeling highly emotional, this can be a good sign that the session was successful, as your emotions are being released. If you are feeling peaceful and relaxed, this is also a sign that the session has been successful. If you are feeling numb, this is normal and is not necessarily a bad thing.
  2. Secondly, look out for any physical changes you may experience. Most clients report feeling less emotional distress than when they started. Additionally, you may feel tired after about 10-15 minutes of processing. This is a good sign that your amygdala is giving up hoarding the old distressing memories and allowing them to be processed.
  3. Thirdly, take note of any dreams you may have. It is common to have more vivid dreams for a night or two after an EMDR session. This is a good sign that your brain is now processing the remnants of the traumatic memories.
  4. Finally, review the progress of your therapy over time, with your therapist. Ask your therapist if they have observed any changes in your emotional state, or if there have been any other improvements.

By understanding these common emotional and physical responses, you can get a better idea of how your EMDR is progressing and whether it is working for you.

Categorized as PTSD

By lezt

Lez Taylor, Founder and CEO of Corala Blanket. She tried every sleep system and trick to conquer her insomnia for good.