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Sneaking Up on the Problem in EFT Tapping

Sneaking Up on the Problem in EFT Tapping

Dear EFT Community,

EFT is normally gentle in that it usually improves emotional issues without the pain of dragging one through old memories. In some cases, however, the client brings such intensity with them that it is best to “sneak up on the problem” to minimize any pain. This is an important part of mastery of the EFT process and EFT Master Patricia Carrington, PhD, sheds professional light on this concept.

-EFT Universe

Part 1 of 3: From the General to the Specific
Part 2 of 3: Divide and Conquer
Part 3 of 3: Using Positive Affirmations in EFT in a Non-threatening Fashion

By Patricia Carrington, Ph.D.

Part 1 of 3: From the General to the Specific

One of the distinguishing features of EFT is its gentle nature when used correctly. This is In sharp contrast to the harshness of such behavioral techniques as Exposure Therapy or Flooding, which expose a person to unbearably intense levels of the very thing that they fear in an attempt to numb them, or immune them, to their feared “object”. The latter techniques are all too often of little use at best, and at worst can severely retraumatize a vulnerable person.

By contrast, EFT intentionally seeks to minimize anxiety while at the same time helping the person to neutralize disturbing experiences so that these become manageable and hopefully no longer exert a negative effect upon the person.

EFT’s original founder consistently worked hard to minimize the risk of creating trauma through the EFT process, and for the most part he has succeeded splendidly in this. One thing he advises to minimize risk it so use the Tearless Trauma technique, a method whereby the person working on an overwhelming trauma in their life is advised not to “get into” and relive that trauma, but is encouraged to actively not think much about it as they repeat the EFT tapping sequence, and in particular not to re-experience it. They are asked to disassociate from the memory until their intensity level, when “guessed at” (but not actually experienced) has come way down.  Only then is the person encouraged to think about the traumatic experience, if they want to.

This is an extremely effective method that I have often used with clients. I have found that it greatly minimizes the risk of seriously upsetting the person I am working with during the process.

Today, however, I want to talk about another EFT technique called, “Sneaking up on the problem in EFT.” It is a close relative to the Tearless Trauma technique and has the same goal .. to minimize the amount of distress the person might go through when doing EFT. The way this method works is to have the person be very general (nonspecific, almost vague in fact) in the way they refer to the trauma within their EFT Statement.

You will notice that doing this seems to contradict advice to be extremely specific when doing EFT.

It is not a contradiction however. The specificity is intended to make the memory of the anticipated problem more real and thereby assist the process of EFT. However, when there is a devastating personal experience that one doesn’t want a client to relive, or which you yourself don’t want to relive, then “sneaking up on the problem” is an excellent approach.

For example, I have often used the general phrase, “this terrible thing happened”, when a trauma was so severe that I had to protect my client from the intensity of their memory. I first began to use this phrase following the 9/11 tragedy, when there were many people in such a state of shock at that time that they could hardly bear tapping on that trauma at all because of the fear of bringing back terrible images and feelings.

In order to avoid too much distress, I would regularly have the person tap on:

“Even though that terrible thing happened, I deeply and completely accept myself.”

Rather than asking them to talk about or tap on the specifics of a particular traumatic experience they had suffered during that disaster.

This phrase was often all the person could take at this point, but even that general rather abstract phrase had a powerful effect upon people who had been severely traumatized. Several rounds of tapping on these quite indefinite words would usually calm them down to a point where they could begin to be more specific in their next rounds of tapping.

The next step was to have the person introduce more specific language into their EFT statements, such as:

“Even though 9/11 was devastating, I deeply and completely accept myself.”

This would be a big step for them because this new phrase is more specific than the first general statement in more than one respect. The date of the tragedy and its official “name” are now used and these triggers resonate in all our minds and often call forth that clearly identified traumatic event.

In addition, a strong emotion is implied by the word “devastating” â”’ the event has therefore become more real

The next stage of the EFT treatment, only permitted after the person feels calmer and more at ease (relatively speaking) with the phrase they have been tapping on, is to try touching on a specific sensory memory of the event, one that was particularly traumatizing to the person, as in:

“Even though I heard that terrible sound!”

The person might, for example, have been walking in downtown Manhattan at the moment that the plane crashed into the first building. If they were now ready for the recall of this powerful sensory experience, one which shook them to their core, they could then try tapping directly on it.

If, after several rounds of tapping on this, their Intensity Level had come down considerably, then even more specificity could be introduced. For example, they might now be able to say something like:

“Even though I was terrified by the sound, I deeply and completely accept myself.”

This helps them admit fully the feeling of panic they had experienced.

The admission of a state of overwhelming panic and terror could now occur because the person had been prepared, through using the first more generalized tapping sequences, to recall that terrible emotion and actually re-experience it. It would now no longer be as strong an emotion as before their previous tapping.

I have been able to take clients from an experience of unspeakable horror at the thought of a certain event to a point where they were able to face this event with relative ease, all by systematically “sneaking up on” the problem. I have never regretted moving slowly through the EFT process in this way when necessary. It can make all the difference when we are dealing with an extremely traumatic event.

In the second article in this series I will talk about another facet of the “Sneaking up on the problem” approach —— a way in which we can break up a traumatic response into tiny segments that are much easier to deal with by EFT.

Part 2 of 3: Divide and Conquer

In this series we are looking at ways in which trauma can be reduced by EFT to very manageable proportions, or eliminated altogether, without in any way re-traumatizing a person.

In the first article of this series I discussed the important recommendation that when there has been an extremely severe trauma such as a disaster or personal attack, that one “sneak up on the problem” by starting off with EFT statements that are purposely very general in nature so that the vivid details are not imagined at first.

Only when the person has become more at ease with the issue can more and more specific and emotionally loaded words and phrases be introduced into the EFT statements.

This technique is of course related to the Tearless Trauma Technique which also aims at reducing possible retraumatization of a person during EFT.

Today I’m going to talk about another method which I’ve often used to help someone face a severely traumatizing experience gradually, step-by-step, when doing EFT. I find it extremely valuable. Here’s how it works:

First, I help the person to break up the memory of their traumatic experience into very small pieces. Each of these pieces may be time related in that the first one may occur before the trauma begins, or they can involve a relatively neutral detail of the traumatic scene itself. After the intensity of the first small, relatively neutral detail has been tapped down and the person’s distress about it sufficiently lessened, we then move on to the next point in time, or to the next small detail of the scene, until it too has been reduced markedly in intensity.

This way the person becomes gradually immunized to the more shocking aspects of the trauma and gathers enough strength to handle the more devastating moments of the experience.

In order to show you how this works out in practice, let me give you an example of a client of mine who lost her beloved sister in an accident in which a car swerved off the curb, mortally wounding her sister who died a few hours later, and then drove away —— it was a hit and run driver.

My client, “Diane”, had been so deeply affected by this tragedy that occurred two years previously, that during that entire time she had been, in effect, emotionally numb and strangely unable to cry for her adored her sister.

The whole incident, and her entire life from that point on, seemed “unreal” to her because she had disassociated from the trauma so completely. After two years had passed she finally decided that she was ready to seek work with EFT to clear the issue, and she consulted me to help her, knowing that I had helped other members of her family to deal with this same tragedy.

We started by tapping on the general issue of “Even though this terrible thing happened”, a way of “sneaking up on the problem”, then I asked her to recall exactly where she had been when she received the initial phone call telling her that her sister had been in an accident. She said she had been in a coffee shop with a friend, but before she had a chance to tell me about the phone call I stopped her and asked her to describe instead what the coffee shop had looked like on that day.; She quickly said, “I don’t want to think about it.”

I then told her not to think about the incident at all but to concentrate on a relatively neutral detail of the coffee shop. She was to imagine what the tabletop looked like in front of her, how her cup of coffee looked sitting on it, and see in her mind the sandwich on its plate.

She tapped on:

“Even though this terrible thing happened that day, I remember having coffee and a sandwich before the call.”

I had asked her to do this because I wanted her to be aware that there was a “before”, a time that had been relatively neutral and normal before she had heard the terrible news.

When she had tapped down her intensity around being in the coffee shop, and could calmly visualize sitting at the table with her friend, we then went on to the next detail.

I asked her to imagine the sound of the cell phone ringing in her handbag. 

It frightened her to think about it but she tapped on:

“Even though I heard it ring, I choose to remember that I handled that day well.”

When she had reduced her intensity around the sound of the phone I then asked her to remember her brother’s voice at the other end saying to her “Diane, something bad has happened.”

It took several rounds of tapping to bring her reaction to his words down to manageable proportions, but she was able to do so by tapping on:

“Even though he said something bad had happened, I deeply and completely accept myself.”

We then went on to tap on detail after detail —— driving her car out of the parking lot and heading toward the hospital; being stopped at the tunnel by an officer who told her she had gone through a light; having him listen to her plea that her sister was in great danger and letting her to continue; arriving at the hospital and her shock when she saw the faces of the nurses when she told them the name of her sister —— she could see the doom in their eyes.

This first session of EFT ended with Diane remembering going up to the hospital room where her family members were assembled. She couldn’t handle any more memories at this point so we scheduled another session two days later, to give her a chance to assimilate what she had already faced.

After four sessions, during which she unearthed memory after memory surrounding the incident and her relationship with her sister, Diane had moved to a point where she could now experience her outrage at what had happened to her sister, her feeling of desertion when her sister had suddenly disappeared from her life, and all the other deep emotions she had been hiding from herself for two years.; At that point, an emotional healing occurred.

She felt she was “herself” again after these strange years, now she was able to mourn her sister in a normal, appropriate manner, and the tears she shed at last were healing.

Diane had come through this terrible memory and reached an acceptance of what had happened because she had been able to use EFT in a step by step fashion that allowed her to neutralize the impact of each detail of her memory before moving on to the next. I am certain that there would have been no possibility of her having been able to face such powerful feelings had we not crept up on this whole problem, gradually, in a step by step fashion.

This is an extremely important way of dealing with trauma. I call it the Divide and Conquer technique. In my mind, it should be part of the repertoire of anyone who might ever face a trauma, their own or that of another person.

Part 3 of 3: Using Positive Affirmations in EFT in a Non-threatening Fashion

In this series so far I have been talking about sneaking up on the negative portions of an EFT statement so that it won’t be too threatening to a traumatized person.

The fact is, however, that even the positive part of an EFT statement, the part that represents an affirmation —— whether this be the traditional self-acceptance phrase, “I deeply and completely accept myself”, or a Choices phrase such as “I choose to be calm and confident” —— can be too much for a person to handle if they are unable to envision the positive that is offered to them without experiencing anxiety or a sense of disbelief.

It is therefore sometimes necessary to “sneak up on” the positive phrase in an EFT statement, as well as on the negative phrase.

Suppose, for example, that the person finds that the default self acceptance phrase is too difficult for them to handle because they can’t imagine “deeply and profoundly” accepting themselves. For such a person this phrase may appear downright foolish, or threatening, or embarrassing.

Aside from encouraging this person to go ahead and use the phrase anyway even if it seems unbelievable or silly, and see what happens (certainly helpful in some cases) another way to handle the threat that self-acceptance may pose is to help the person move gradually towards that goal by going step by step.

Here is one way that might work out:

The person might start out by saying:

“Even though I (states problem), I might be able to accept myself anyway.”

This is more believable a statement for many people than an outright clear-cut self-acceptance statement.

After tapping for several rounds using this milder version of the default self-acceptance phrase, they might then try using a somewhat stronger phrase such as:

“Even though (states problem), I might accept myself a little bit.”


“Even though (states problem), I would like to deeply and completely accept myself.”

There are other variations that can be used to introduce the self-acceptance phrase gradually to a person as well. My point is that allowing the person (or yourself) to be more tentative with this phrase can make often make it more palatable.

As their intensity level goes down and the person becomes more comfortable with the problem, they may then be able to use the stronger statement — in fact, they may at some point actually be able to envision accepting themselves “deeply and completely” because they were introduced to this idea more gradually.

The same gradated, step-by-step approach can be used with any positive phrase in an EFT statement, such as an EFT Choices statement, because it will tend to be non-threatening, An incremental Choice, used before you are  ready to install a really strong positive affirmation, can often by-pass the resistance created by secret fears of actually obtaining the Choice you think you desire.

The fact is that no matter how desirable a Choice may be from a practical standpoint, you may not he ready for it.

The Choice you think you want may be too strong, or too sudden, or possibly trigger too many “Tailenders” for you to handle comfortably. Tailenders are the hidden objections (negative affirmations in their own right) that can so often counteract our best worded affirmations.

A gradated Choice moves you gradually toward your goal. Because of its non-threatening nature, it can often bypass any hidden resistance to change.

For example, a gradated Choice for a hidden fear of abundance might be:

“Even though I don’t like the idea of being thought of as ‘rich’, I choose to begin to see wealth in an entirely new light.”

Notice the phrase “begin to”, it can make the whole idea of changing more palatable.


“Even though I don’t like the idea of being thought of as ‘rich’, I choose to begin to think about the advantages of having people think I am rich.”


“Even though I don’t like the idea of being thought of as ‘rich’, I choose to have a glimpse of a new view of wealth that would make being rich comfortable for me.”

Notice the gradualness of the phrase “have a glimpse”.

Such moderately stated step-by-step Choices as these are less threatening and therefore more likely to lead to a recognition of new possibilities.

Another example of the use of gradated Choices might be for a person who was so threatened by changing careers that they could not imagine using a Choices phrase such as:

“Even though I’m frightened by the concept of changing careers, I choose to find a new career that is just right for me.”

While this Choices phrase might work well for a lot of people, for others it might activate an inner voice that would whisper, “Oh yeah? Do you think you’re going to find the answer now when you know you’ve tried hundreds of times and failed to come up with an idea that’s workable? Remember the last time you thought you had found the perfect career and how you fell on your face and it just didn’t work out.” etc.

However, if this same person were to use a gradated Choice this might help them creep up on their career issue gradually and therefore not cause resistance or inner skepticism.

One such gradated Choice might be:

“Even though I’m threatened by the idea of changing careers, I choose to realize that there might be another way of looking at career change that would feel really good.”

Notice the tentative words such as “might” and the suggestion that one might change one’s way of looking at the whole matter —— this phrasing does not push the person too fast or too soon into a positive attitude they may not be ready for.


“Even though I’m threatened by the idea of changing careers, I begin to see some possibilities for a new career.”

Notice the words “begin” and “some” here” — both serve to soften the idea of a change of attitude.

A general rule of thumb is: If a particular EFT statement seems too impossible or too threatening or too out of character to you, then create a statement that approaches your goal in small increments, in a step-by-step fashion. I have seen this work wonders to change even very deep-seated attitudes!