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EFT on the Pain of Divorce

EFT on the Pain of Divorce

Dear EFT Community,

During one of his workshops Dawson Church worked with a man concerned about the pain his decision to divorce would cause his wife of 28 years. After clearing the charge around a childhood incident, he had a huge cognitive shift.


By Dawson Church

During EFT workshops, I emphasize that clients will talk to EFT practitioners about present-day issues that bother them, but that the presenting issues are almost never the source of their emotional pain. As explained in Tutorial #4, The Importance of Being Specific, it’s essential to look beyond the feelings of the present to the specifics of the past.

Workshop participants often laugh when I say, “The problem is never the problem.” What I mean by that is that today’s presented problem is rarely the real problem.

The present situation only bothers the client because it reactivates neural pathways laid down in the brain in early childhood. If the neural pathway were not present, the current situation would not bother them. Only when a current situation echoes a past one, and the brain’s limbic system finds a “match” between a current event and a past event, does emotional triggering take place.

EFT is a great way to counter-condition that old neural programming, and break the conditioned link between the present distress and the childhood emotional event. One such instance occurred when a client found precisely this kind of link between past and present.

Josh was a 52 year old man who volunteered as a subject at an EFT workshop when I asked for a volunteer with a current emotional issue. He was tall, affluent, thoughtful and well-spoken, and his gentleness was evident as he explained his dilemma. He wanted to get a divorce from his wife, and he was troubled by the emotional pain this would cause her.

Josh explained that he and his wife had been going to weekly couples therapy for the previous 3 years, as they attempted to work on the issues in their 28-year marriage.

Their children were grown and had left home four to five years before, and without a shared focus on childraising, Josh and his wife were thrown together more than they had ever been in the course of their marriage.

They had quickly discovered that they didn’t like each other that much, or perhaps they had grown apart while parenting, without realizing it. Josh was a Buddhist, with a vibrant spiritual practice; his wife had remained a Catholic, and did not support his new spiritual path.

The pain on Josh’s face as he worried about the emotional devastation he suspected a divorce would cause his wife was evident.

But he felt as though he’d given the marriage “his best shot” in couples counseling, and he’d privately decided that a divorce was inevitable. His presenting emotional problem was telling his wife.

I asked how intense his feelings were, on a scale from 0 (peace) to 10 (extreme turmoil). He said they were an 8. I asked, “How do you know they’re an 8?” and he put his hand over his heart, indicating he felt it in his body.

I asked, “What’s the earliest time in your life you ever felt that specific physical feeling in your chest?” and he said that it was when he was 5 years old. I asked what he remembered from that period, and he said, “My dad’s eyes. When he got mad, he would look at us with fury in his eyes.”

“Think of a specific event when your dad’s eyes were particularly furious,” I asked. He described a road trip when he and his brother were in the back seat of the car fighting. His dad told them to stop. They did for a while, but then started again. Josh’s dad then lost his temper and swung his arm around in a big arc, and clobbered both boys in the face.

I asked how strong his feelings were as he recalled the incident, and he said 10. I had him silently do the Movie Technique in his mind, tapping on the EFT points as he did. We started with a neutral point in his movie, when the family, mom, dad, and his brother, were getting into the car. Little Josh was excited and looking forward to the ride.

I had him visualize the next part of the story, asking how he felt when he fought with his brother. “We were always fighting,” he said, “It didn’t mean anything. I’m still a 0.” He took the movie further, to when his dad turned around and told the boys to stop. Josh visualized his dad’s eyes, and his intensity level went up to a 6. We tapped till it was down to a 2.

I then asked Josh to rewind to the neutral point at the start of the movie, and begin again. He got to the point of seeing his dad’s eyes, and was down to a 1, so he kept on going with the movie. When he reached the part where his dad hit him, he went up to a 4 for the sting of his father’s hand on his face, and we tapped till that was a 2.

I asked about his dad’s eyes during the blow, and he went back up to a 6. We tapped on his dad’s eyes again, and he went down to a 3. I asked then about the blow, and it had reduced to a 1. More testing showed that his dad’s eyes was now a 1.

We rewound again to the neutral place, and he then told the story out loud.

I asked Josh to stop whenever he felt intensity, so that we could clean out all the aspects of the trauma. He did a couple of rounds of tapping till he could tell the whole story at a 1 or 0. He let out a big sigh of relief at the end of the last re-telling. I asked him for his intensity around his dad’s eyes at other times in his childhood, and he said that his father had been a good dad and usually controlled his temper, but on that occasion, Josh and his brother had provoked him beyond his limits.

He said he loved his father very much and he remembered how much his father loved him, and how much love poured through his father’s eyes.

I listen carefully for these cognitive shifts during the course of a session.

While much of the success of traditional talk therapy hinges on the skill of the therapist in identifying possible cognitive reframes that might assist with emotional resolution, I find that in EFT these reframes usually arise spontaneously from within the client’s experience. In this case, Josh had spontaneously undergone a cognitive shift from dad’s angry eyes to dad’s loving eyes.

I said to Josh, “Tell me about your wife.” He said, very slowly, “I love so many things about my wife. She’s my best friend, and we have so many good times together now that the kids are gone.”

The rest of the workshop participants let out a collective gasp of astonishment. Here was a man who came up to work on the issue of telling his wife he wanted a divorce, and after tapping on a specific childhood event, he was now telling us all how much he loved his wife! “What about getting a divorce?” I asked him.

“I have 28 years invested in this marriage,” he said, “and we can’t go there without putting a lot more effort into making it work.” I asked about his number in his chest when thinking about his wife, and he reported nothing but warm feelings for her.

The whole class was deeply moved watching the evolution of Josh’s feelings.

The demonstration was a good example of finding specific events, of using the Movie Technique and Tell the Story Technique, and of tapping on different aspects of the problem. Josh went from an 8 in his chest around telling his wife about a divorce to “warm feelings” in the same area–without ever once tapping on the current worries about his wife, his marriage, or a divorce.

Just tapping on an early event with a similar emotional template was enough to collapse the emotional intensity of the current presenting event.

The problem is rarely the problem, and counter-conditioning the real problem of the childhood memories with EFT is often enough to dissipate the emotional charge of the present problem. Healing the past often heals the present too.