The Role of Shock in Keeping Us Stuck
By Naomi Janzen, Certified EFT Practitioner and Trainer
For a while now I’ve been using two metaphors that seem to resonate with tapping clients and students. One is what I have seen referred to as “the spinning wheel of death.” If you use a Mac, it’s that multicolored little pie icon that spins eternally when the computer is stuck somewhere just short of frozen. That point in a process where you’ve clicked some button and the computer goes to work on whatever command you gave it….and the spinning wheel indicates “okay, just give me a moment here” and that moment turns into… an eternity. Your computer is, for all intents and purposes, unusable until you perform a hard reboot by turning it off and back on.
For people without Macs (though I am sure there is a PC equivalent), the metaphor I use involves an anaconda snake trying to eat a cow and getting stuck with the cow half swallowed. Without manual intervention, that cow isn’t coming back out and yet the snake isn’t big enough to finish the job of swallowing the cow because it’s just too big! As with the tech analogy, everything stops. Forward progress is impossible and there’s no elegant way to back up.
What these two examples have in common is they illustrate a process being interrupted by something TOO BIG. Something that the process can’t cope with. The Mac had too many programs running simultaneously and the snake’s ability to unhinge its jaw exceeded its throat’s potential to expand. Result: stuck.
This same phenomenon is at work in the human mind/body when something happens that overwhelms our capacity to process or digest the event. Most commonly, it’s because whatever happened took place when we were small and hadn’t developed the emotional maturity, self-confidence, or coping strategies we needed to make sense of it. If you’re 4 when you drop your ball and it rolls into the road and gets run over, the grief, guilt, fear, commotion, shock, and regret might just be too big for your young psyche to process.
Additionally, adults can experience events so overwhelmingly bad that no amount of emotional maturity, life experience, or philosophical perspective can help us handle it. Examples would be a violent crime or the occurence of a natural disaster or the sudden breakout of war, but the event can also be a bankruptcy or a divorce or the death of a loved one. When it comes to what it takes to get us stuck, unable to move through something, like everything else, it depends on our individual and unique psychological makeup. A person whose only experience of violence is rough sports could conceivably struggle to make sense of being randomly mugged while on vacation. Their worldview just doesn’t have anywhere to put what happened. It just doesn’t fit anywhere in their understanding of their Self and what is supposed to happen to them.
Being stuck can manifest in obvious ways and in subtle ways. The person might be functioning well on many levels, but that childhood experience with the ball rolling into the road is stuck on a replaying loop deep in their unconscious mind and when a current situation triggers it–like when a careless parking job results in a big paint scrape on the side of a new car–the person regresses instantly to that 4-year-old reaction and feels all the same grief, guilt, fear, commotion, shock, and regret (and might have the tantrum to prove it). Or the stuck event might be on the surface, not buried at all, and the person isn’t so functional—like the person who was mugged and can no longer leave the house, much less ever consider traveling again.
There is another commonality I’ve noticed from working on thousands of such events with clients: shock.
Another way to think of shock is that it occurs when our expectations have been violated. The child whose ball rolled into the street didn’t expect the sight of a car tire squashing it. The person who got mugged had been enjoying their fun adventure only a second before and wasn’t prepared in any way for things to change so abruptly.
We associate words like “sudden” and “unexpected” and “without warning” with the experience of shock. The speed of an occurrence as well as the improbability of it happening are factors. When something happens too quickly for us to make sense of it or it’s simply not something we ever imagined could happen to us, the result is the same: shock.
Of the four ingredients we often find in events that have become stuck in our unconscious minds, including a sense of overwhelm, a feeling of isolation, and the perceived threat to our safety, violation of our expectations is the one I increasingly work on first. This aspect, often experienced wordlessly, mouth open, with a sense of the mind continuously reaching, grasping, trying to comprehend and unable to do so, can keep the other aspects from clearing until it is addressed and collapsed with EFT. Often felt as more of a physical sensation than a cognitive one for this reason, it has a primitive quality to it. Perhaps that’s why it can be such a powerful aspect in terms of holding the other aspects hostage. The more primitive something is, the more embodied it is, the less the thinking mind can control it with reason, the more power it has.
And I don’t usually have to dig or wait long. Often, in a client’s first description of an event (in cases where talking about it won’t retraumatize them), one of the aforementioned words associated with shock will come up. Alternatively, there will be a moment where the client struggles to find any words to describe the experience, using hand gestures and miming the look of shock with their facial expression.
I’ll ask them then if shock is what they are trying to convey. Most times, they’ll nod vigorously, relieved that they can stop trying to articulate what they can’t articulate and say “Yes!” At that point, I’ll tell them not to worry about finding words and to focus on that feeling they are trying to describe–and we tap on that. Simply tapping while tuning in to the feeling of trying to comprehend or the feeling of the surprise of what happened is often all it takes to eventually collapse the shock aspect, allowing the other aspects to be cleared more easily and more quickly. If I were tapping with a Mac, I’d have it tune in to the spinning wheel of doom. If I were tapping with the anaconda, I’d have it tune in to the feeling of the cow stuck half in—half out of its mouth.
So now, even when a client doesn’t mention shock or bring it up voluntarily, I will ask if that element was there in the event in some way. Nine times out of 10 the answer is yes and the client is surprised by how strong a yes it is when they hadn’t even been aware of it until I asked. I do want to note here that though this kind of leading the client can be dangerous and I advise against it in almost any other instance, it is my belief and experience that tapping on a feeling of surprise, incomprehension, wordless trying to understand, suddenness, or unexpectedness can’t hurt if it’s not really there. The client might, in that case, report getting over it very quickly and indicate that they are ready to move on with other aspects in the session. If it is there, the benefits of bringing it up to work on are substantial.