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The Generalization Effect

The generalization effect is a phenomenon you’ll notice as you make progress with EFT. As you resolve the emotional sting of specific events, other events with a similar emotional signature also decrease in intensity.

One participant at an EFT workshop had been beaten by his father many times during his childhood. His SUD level on the beatings was a 10. When asked to recall the worst beating he’d ever suffered, he recounted that when he was 8 years old, his father had hit him so hard he had broken the boy’s jaw. The man and the EFT trainer tapped together on that terrible beating, and after working on all the aspects, the man’s SUD dropped to a 0. When asked for a SUD score on all the beatings, his face softened and he said, “My dad got beat by his dad much worse than he beat me. My dad actually did a pretty good job considering how badly he was raised.” This man’s SUD level on all the beatings dropped considerably after he tapped down the intensity of this one beating.

That’s an example of EFT’s generalization effect. When you knock down an important domino, all the other dominos can fall.

This is very reassuring to clients who suffered from many instances of childhood abuse, the way this workshop participant had. You don’t need to work through every single horrible incident. Often, simply collapsing the emotional intensity behind one incident is sufficient to collapse the intensity around similar incidents.

The reason our brains work this way is because of a group of neurons in the emotional center of the brain, the limbic system, called the hippocampus. The hippocampus has the job of comparing one event to the other. Suppose that, as a 5-year-old child in Catholic school, you get beaten by a nun. Forty years later, you can’t figure out why you feel uneasy around women wearing outfits that are black and white. The reason for your adult aversion to a black-and-white combination is that the hippocampus associates the colors of the nun’s habit with the pain of the beating.

This was a brilliant evolutionary innovation for your ancestors. Perhaps these early humans were attacked by a tiger hiding in the long grass. The tiger’s stripes mimicked the patterns of the grass, yet there was something different there. Learning to spot a pattern, judge the differences, and react with fear saved your alert ancestors. They gave birth to their children, who also learned, just a little bit better, how to respond to threats. After thousands of generations, you have a hippocampus at the center of your brain that is genetically engineered to evaluate every message flooding in from your senses and pick out those associated with the possibility of danger. You see the woman wearing the black-and-white cocktail dress at a party, your hippocampus associates these colors with the nun who beat you, and you have an emotional response.

Yet the opposite is also true. Assume for a moment you’re a man who is very shy when confronted with women at cocktail parties. He feels a rush of fear whenever he thinks about talking to an attractive woman dressed in black. After working with an EFT coach on his memories of getting beaten by the nun in Catholic school, he suddenly finds himself able to talk easily to women at parties. Once the man’s hippocampus breaks the connection between beatings and a black dress, it knows, for future reference, that the two phenomena are no longer connected.

This is the explanation the latest brain science gives us for the generalization effect. It’s been noted in EFT for many years, and it’s very comforting for those who’ve suffered many adverse experiences. You may need to tap on some of them, but you won’t have to tap on all of them before the whole group is neutralized. Sometimes, like the man who was beaten repeatedly as a child, if you tap on a big one, the generalization effect reduces the emotional intensity of all similar experiences.