Tabletops and Table Legs
One way of conceptualizing the difference between general problems and specific events is the analogy of tables and legs. General problems are the tabletops, while events are the table legs. Examples of general problems are procrastination, low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, disappointment, and lack of self-confidence. There are many others.
Though clients may come to us driven by a desire to solve a tabletop-type problem, as EFT practitioners we look for the table legs.
The legs are the events that gave rise to the tabletop. For instance, a client might have a tabletop of a lack of self-worth. You dig for specific events and discover that her father put her down for being good at school, believing that a woman’s place is in the home and academic performance is irrelevant. When she showed him her second-grade report card, he said, “When you’re barefoot and pregnant, that won’t matter.” She remembers many similar incidents. Her mother became competitive with her when she reached puberty, and when she put on a skirt and makeup for her first date, her mother said, “Wipe that stuff off. You look like a slut.” The client remembers nothing other than being put down for being precocious and beautiful. All these incidents combined to create the tabletop of low self-esteem. But the tabletop did not spring to life fully formed. It was built gradually, the culmination of dozens or even hundreds of specific events. The client is aware that she has low self-esteem and is seeking counseling for the problem but has not traced it back to the individual events that gave rise to the problem.
If you tap on the tabletop, your success will be limited. Just as the tabletop was created by individual events, it must be collapsed by removing the emotional charge from those events.
A client might see this as a daunting challenge at first. If there are hundreds of events, do you have to tap on each and every one?
This is where EFT’s generalization effect comes into play. Once you’ve removed the emotional charge from a few of the major legs through tapping, you destabilize the whole table and the top comes crashing down. You don’t need to tap on every event, just enough events to collapse the tabletop.
Here’s an example, with perfectionism as the tabletop. The table legs consist of six events. The first one is at age 4, when the client’s older sister saw her coloring outside the lines and mocked her. Three more events occurred, at ages 6, 7, and 14. The last event happened at age 22, when she had a terrible argument with her husband and he called her a nitpicker. Three of the six events are a 10-out-of-10 intensity on the SUD scale, which helps explain why they cumulatively resulted in a habit of perfectionism. The client also has various core beliefs reinforcing her tabletop, such as “I’m never enough,” “I always get punished no matter how hard I try,” and “Murphy’s Law: If anything can go wrong, it will.” She believes all three statements very strongly.
We tap with the client on the first two events, and her SUD level goes to 0 for both. We check in again and the other events have now all dropped in intensity by 2 points. We tap on the third memory, her SUD score goes to 0 and, without tapping, goes to a 1 for the remaining three memories. We didn’t have to tap on all six events. After we’ve tapped on only three, we ask the client how big her problem of perfectionism is, and she exclaims, “I’m perfect just the way I am, warts and all. I enjoy my life even if I never change.” This indicates a cognitive shift, a reframe of how she perceives the world. Once we’ve tapped on some events, her intensity goes down for all the remaining events, and some go to 0 without tapping at all.
You test your work further by assuring her, “You’ll always get punished no matter how hard you try.” She disagrees with you vigorously, even though she held firmly to this core belief at the start of the session. She tells you that other people appreciate her and what she does and usually praise her rather than punish her. This shows that her core beliefs shifted when enough legs were knocked from under the tabletop.