I’m very effective at using EFT for physical pain and small frustrations, but when it comes to the big emotional issues, I just don’t know where to start. I tap on all of the issues and emotions I can think of, but it doesn’t feel like I’m making any progress. Is there a way that I can break down an issue so it’s more manageable?
One of the reasons I love Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) so much is because it is very effective at dealing with the emotions we feel, right as we are feeling them. However, when we are feeling an unpleasant emotion deeply, we are less likely to have the presence of mind to do EFT. If we do have the presence of mind to tap, we are so emotionally wrapped up in those feelings, we struggle to see clearly what is happening.
One of the main reasons we take our problems to friends, family members, therapists, and counselors is to gain some objective perspective. Someone who is not as emotionally involved as we are will be able to help us see the forest from the trees. They are able to help us see past our emotional blind spots.
Unfortunately, we don’t always have an external sounding board to help us gain perspective. When I’m in this situation I take the following steps.
First, I gain a little space and distance form the emotions I’m feeling. Emotions are very like a snowball rolling down a hill. The more we engage and feel the emotions, the more the emotions tend to build. I close my eyes and take a few deep breaths to gain a little space. Sometimes I do a round or two of tapping where I tune into nothing more than what I feel in my body. I notice any strain or pain. I tap this away. I find that when I relax my physical body, I also relax my emotional state, giving me a clearer head to assess what I’m dealing with.
The second step is the most difficult. In this step I separate the facts as I perceive them from the assumptions I am making in light of these facts, and the emotions I feel about these facts. This is very difficult because of the way we process information. The genius of our brain is its ability to take a small number of facts and fill in the rest of the picture. Because of this we are able to quickly assess new situations and respond to them. To do this we make assumptions. This can be problematic if we make wrong assumptions or if we treat our assumptions as facts. Here is an example, to make this easier to understand.
One of my clients, “Linda”, has a very trying relationship with her father. For the first time in months he e-mailed her out of the blue. The e-mail was eighteen words long, asking how she was doing. As Linda described the e-mail she said, “When my father sent me an e-mail attacking me I felt…” Nowhere in the e-mail was there an attack, but Linda had read the e-mail as, “You’re only asking me how I’m doing because you think I’m doing poorly and I need your help. I told you that you couldn’t do this on your own.” In Linda’s mind it was a fact that the e-mail was an attack.
It is very possible in this case that Linda’s assumptions are 100% true. It is possible that Linda’s father had sent her this e-mail in a very passive-aggressive fashion. But we don’t know that for sure.
In this case the only thing we can treat as fact is that her father sent her an e-mail eighteen words long, asking how she is. Everything else is an assumption.
When we take the time to break down a circumstance like this we find that in most cases our emotional response is to the assumptions we’ve made. We are not responding to the facts; we are instead responding to our assumptions about the motivations of the actors who created the facts.
Remember, our minds are built to fill in the gaps to make the circumstance easier to understand. As we can see, this can create problems. To gain clarity we need to separate the facts from the assumptions. As hard as this step is, there is a very simple way to do this.
The assumptions we make when it comes to others are generally about motivation. We take the facts of another’s actions, i.e., sending an e-mail, and we try to read the other person’s mind to assign a motivation as to why they took a certain action.
We get ourselves into emotional trouble when we start assigning motivations to other people’s actions. We have feelings such as hurt, anger and suspicion to protect us. They motivate us to stand up for ourselves or leave. But these emotions take a toll when we have them at times that we don’t need to have them. This happens most often when we assign motivation for other’s actions.
The third step is to start clearing the emotions that have arisen because of the assumptions and motivations we’ve assigned to the circumstance. Here is another example to help illustrate.
Let’s suppose that a husband spends hours cooking a special dinner for his wife. Three hours after their appointed meeting time she is still not home. She hasn’t called and isn’t answering her cell phone. As each moment passes he gets more and more angry because once again she has chosen her career over time for them to be together.
Now it is possible that she had a flat tire on the way home and her cell phone isn’t working. It is also possible that she really does value her career over time together. But it does him no good to get into a lather until he knows the facts. If he can take a few breaths and separate the facts from the assumptions he’s making, he’s more likely to have better emotional balance. He will be able to tap his anger away by looking at multiple points of view.
The common struggle my clients have at a time like this is coming up with the phrases to say. There is a very easy formula.
1) Tap on all of the self-talk that is going on in your head.
As your emotions build, there is a running commentary of what you’re thinking. Tap and say these thoughts out loud.
2) What would you say to the person if they were standing before you right now?
What would you accuse them of? Are they selfish, mean, inconsiderate, using you? Tap on the phrase, “They are so [insert adjective] and it makes me feel [your emotion]”
3) As hard as it is, give them the benefit of the doubt.
Tap on all of the possible reasons that things are happening as they are. Tap on the best possible reason why this is happening. This is called reframing. Assume the best for now. If the facts prove otherwise then you can take the appropriate action, but save your emotional energy until that time. It might look something like this:
I am really angry she didn’t show up on time…I worked really hard on this meal…My work isn’t appreciated…Whenever I do something nice it turns out like this…Her career always comes first…She is so selfish, and it makes me feel worthless…She only cares about herself, and it makes me feel like I’m wasting my time…But I choose to recognize that I don’t know why she’s late…There might be a problem I don’t know about…If she is choosing her career over time together I have the right to be mad and we will need to talk about that…But I give myself permission not to be mad until I know the facts of the circumstance…I love my wife. and I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt until I know the facts.
In summary the process is very simple:
- Take a deep breath, literally and figuratively. Take a step back to get a clear head. It’s going to be very hard to tap on any emotion when you’re so engaged in that emotion it’s all you can think of. Don’t stop counting at ten, count to one hundred or one thousand.
- Once you have created a little space, assess what is really going on. Name the facts of the situation, and identify the assumptions you ‘ve made that you are treating as facts. Look especially for the assumed motivations. We get ourselves in the most trouble when we create motivations for others.
- Tap on how you feel, why you feel that way, and on the other possible reasons and motivations for what’s going on.