By Dawson Church
One of the most frequent problems you’ll run into as an EFT practitioner is a client who cannot recall many (or any) childhood memories.
They may have a vague feeling that “bad things happened” but be unable to describe them. The EFT Manual recommends you identify specific events to work on, but what do you do when you can’t find any? You might even have this problem personally.
Clinical EFT has several approaches you can take in these cases. Here are 8 you can experiment with:
1. Make up a story.
Have the client simply invent a story, and tap on it. The reason this is effective is that imaginary stories have to come from somewhere, and the elements a client selects reside in his or her consciousness. So the made-up story is inevitably going to contain elements of actual situations.
2. Tap on a disturbing scene from a movie.
People are triggered by completely different movie scenes. Some people will be triggered by love scenes. Others by characters in a movie shouting at each other. Some will be triggered by scenes involving blood, or death. Some might even be triggered by seemingly innocuous scenes. I watched a movie in which Bruce Willis plays a bankrupt cop. He can’t afford the $40,000 required for his daughter’s fancy wedding – but his ex-wife’s new husband is rich, and can.
Why did the movie trigger me?
Because the whole focus of this great wedding was the money; in the movie we never even saw the groom or heard his name! I hated the movie because it perpetuated the cultural myth of “happily ever after,” and I’ve counseled so many couples in distress who have been misled by that myth. Below that, I probably have some unhealed childhood wounds that need attention.
But that movie hasn’t triggered anyone else I’ve talked to about it so far. That’s how individual our responses are. Find a movie that triggers your client, and work with that.
3. Work on physical sensations.
These will often guide you to events, and they may be proxies for events. One of the most disturbing images I’ve ever seen is a video of a sonogram that my friend, biologist Bruce Lipton often plays during his presentations. It shows a fetus resting peacefully in the womb. The mother and father start yelling at each other, and the fetus jumps as though it’s being hit.
Stress hormones like cortisol also cross the placental barrier so if your mother was stressed, you received the full biochemical impact even before you were born.
You’re not going to remember specific events from the womb, or from early childhood, but you might well have physical sensations. You can give these a SUD level and tap on them. You can also describe them minutely, for instance, “This boiling black ball of pitch in the pit of my stomach, with red flashes shooting out from the middle.” These images may make no sense to your conscious mind, but they arise from deep in the unconscious, and are a guide to pre-verbal distress.
4. Use dreams.
I once worked with a therapist we’ll call “Ginnie” whose problem was that she had no childhood memories at all. But she had a recurring nightmare. In the dream, she was with her real-life husband and young son. They were fleeing a disaster in a ship, and they landed safely on shore with other refugees. She offered her services to the administrator running the refugee camp, since she was a trained psychotherapist, and the camp was full of traumatized people fleeing the disaster. The administrator – a female doctor in white scrubs – dismissed her contemptuously, believing she had nothing to offer.
Ginnie and I tapped together till her SUD levels for the dream came down to a 0. Then I asked her again about her childhood. Hesitantly she said that she remembered a time when she was a little girl, and her parents left her in the care of a babysitter. She couldn’t recall specifics, so we tapped on “something bad happened.”
Ginnie then recovered another memory fragment: when the babysitter’s boyfriend came over, “something very bad happened.” She gradually began to put together pieces of the event, but it was tapping on the dream that created enough safety for her subconscious mind to surface an actual event.
For a comprehensive guide to using EFT for dreams, see the excellent reference book by Bob and Lynne Hoss on the Dream to Freedom Technique. This is one of the Clinical EFT books we commissioned because it’s so excellent, and you will get many provocative ideas as well as detailed case histories showing how to apply them in practice.
5. Make up words that might be appropriate.
In the above example, I used the words “something bad happened.” I had no clue what that event was. You may be clueless, your client too. Yet something bad definitely happened, making this general statement appropriate for the circumstances.
If you go to a live EFT workshop, and see me working with people who have no memories, you’ll hear me use words like “the bad thing…the terrible event…it shouldn’t have happened…it should never have happened to me…I didn’t deserve that…no child deserves to have that happen…” and similar reminder phrases as we tap.
You can see in the client’s eyes that they’re in touch with their emotions, despite the lack of specifics. Sometimes their eyes fill with terror, or anger, or grief. Without ever uncovering an event, you’re able to dive to great emotional depths with this simple Clinical EFT technique.
6. Use the 9 Gamut technique.
It’s surprisingly effective when a client feels bad but can’t link it to a specific event.
I worked with a couple named Naomi and Derek on one of the live coaching calls for our Tapping Deep Intimacy relationship skills program. They were planning to move in together, but had many fears and reservations about doing so. I guessed there were childhood events beneath those fears, but in her session Naomi couldn’t specify them. We used the 9 Gamut for a long time, very slowly. She was surprised to discover great swathes of distress melting during that phase of the session.
7. Tap on emotions themselves.
Sometimes we have free-floating emotions not linked to any event. One client I’ve worked with over the years sometimes becomes anxious. When I ask her why, she’ll cast around in her mind for a problem, but her life is so great there really isn’t much to select from that could be considered bad. She simply has free-floating anxiety.
Roger Callahan, the developer of Thought Field Therapy from which EFT was derived, believed that there were “thought fields” that caused emotional distress. The field might exist independent of an event. While I recommend you try hard to find a specific event, if that fails you can tap on the emotion itself.
8. Tap on an evocative phrase.
It’s easy to find a phrase that triggers strong emotion, but isn’t linked to a single event. Some of those you’ll see me use often are:
I don’t belong
The world is not a safe place
I don’t deserve
There’s never enough
You can’t trust anyone
These are all negative core beliefs. They usually arise from a series of events. I usually look first for the events, but if I can’t find any despite my detective work, I fall back on the beliefs themselves. This is particularly useful in conjunction with the 9 Gamut technique.
We’d like to hear from you about any cases in which you’re successful using the work-arounds described above. Please email us your EFT success stories through this link.