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Articles & Ideas

Being Specific

How to apply EFT when there are no clear, specific memories to tap on

Important Note: This article was written prior to 2010 and is now outdated. Please use my newest advancement, Optimal EFT. It is more efficient, more powerful and clearly explained in my free e-book, The Unseen Therapist™.  Best wishes, Gary

Hi Everyone,

Listen in as Stefan Gonick makes distinctions between capital "T" traumas and a small "t" traumas. He explains these concepts and properly points out that accumulated "t" traumas can be more difficult to treat than "T" traumas. Treating them is certainly do-able, however, and Stefan shows us how.

Hugs, Gary

By Stefan Gonick

When I was originally trained in EMDR, before learning EFT, the teacher made a very interesting and useful comparison between what he called capital "T" trauma and small "t" trauma. "T" trauma is what we normally think of as trauma. It involves a single, overwhelmingly painful experience. Childhood examples would include an episode of sexual or physical abuse. Adult examples would be things like rape, mugging, auto accident, or battle experience. A "T" trauma results in a lasting impact on the person that affects his/her feelings and beliefs about him/herself and makes the person very reactive when encountering anything that is reminiscent of the traumatic experience.

Small "t" trauma, on the other hand, was described as consisting of a series of upsetting experiences during childhood with a consistent theme. While upsetting, none of the individual incidents were traumatic in and of themselves, but these experiences were repeated enough times that the cumulative effect was as impactful as a single "T" trauma.

We have all experienced these kinds of "t" traumas growing up, and they are, in fact, the basis of most of our issues. An example will help clarify what I'm talking about. Let's say that "John" grew up with a mother who frequently let him know that whatever he did was not good enough. For example, if he came home with a test score of 95%, his mother would say, "Why didn't you get 100?" The first time this kind of thing happened it was upsetting but not traumatic and he would have recovered from it with no problem. However, after many experiences like this, the cumulative effect would be as powerful as a "T" trauma. He could develop strong feelings of shame and of not being "good enough." He could come to expect negative reactions from others, regardless of how well he did unless he was perfect. He might become afraid to try things or might become someone obsessively striving for the approval that he never got. He could also become highly reactive to the slightest hint of criticism.

Ironically, capital "T" traumas are simpler to work with than small "t" traumas. Unless there are suppressed memories involved, "T" traumatic memories are usually easy to remember, with easily accessible feelings. We even have a variety of techniques for minimizing the pain when working with them, such as "chasing the pain," "sneaking up on the memory," the "tell the story technique," and the "tearless trauma technique." EFT works extremely well when dealing with a clear specific memory with easily accessed feelings associated with it.

"t" traumas, on the other hand, can be more complicated to work with. It is very common for clients to say that they cannot remember a single specific memory related to the issue. They can remember the general scenario or theme of what happened, but they can't remember a specific memory. It is also fairly often the case that they have a hard time getting in touch with much, if any, feeling associated with the general "memories." They will report the nature of what happened with little affect. So, the question becomes, how does one apply EFT when there are no clear, specific memories to tap on?

The key to EFT being effective is the person's ability to tune into the energy disturbance associated with an issue. The challenge with "t" traumatic memories is that this can be hard to do since there are no individual memories, and the generalized memories tend to be vague and hard to tune in to. We've gotten used to those experiences as being part of our "normal" lives and learned to bury the pain associated them. The trick, then, is to find some way to get at the energy disturbance underlying those vague memories.

A past article on this site suggested "making up a memory" when a specific memory cannot be found. The idea is to make up a memory or scenario that fits the general theme of the "t" traumatic experiences. This is a good starting point, but I have found that it is often not sufficient to really tune into the energy disturbance and be effective.

What has worked for me is to find some key element of the memories that contains the greatest charge. There was usually a painful phrase that was spoken in these scenes. And, more importantly than the words spoken, there was a certain facial expression and/or tone of voice that was used. It was the tone of voice, facial expression and/or body language of the parent that most conveyed the feeling of disapproval, rejection, blame, contempt and so on in the memory. It is, therefore, those elements that contain the most charge and give the most access to the underlying energy disturbance.

Rather than trying to recreate the whole scene, I will work with my client to uncover the specific painful statement with it's accompanying facial expression, tone of voice and body language. Often the person won't have too much trouble remembering "that look" from the parent and will start to feel his/her emotional reaction to it. We will then use that statement, spoken in the present tense, tone of voice, facial expression and body language as the "problem phrase" to tap on. I will encourage the client to say the statement out loud while striving to imitate the parent's tone of voice, facial expression and body language. The specific act of really embodying the parent's message (imitating the tone of voice, facial expression and body language) will usually help the person get quite in touch with the buried feelings associated with those memories, and, therefore, the energy disturbance. We are then in a position to effectively tap on those feelings and heal the issue.

For instance, in the example above, a remembered phrase was "why didn't you get a 100?" The set-up would then be:

Even though "why didn't you get a 100?" (said with his mother's tone of voice and facial expression), I deeply and completely love and accept myself.

We would then say "why didn't you a get a 100" at each tapping point striving to use the mother's tone of voice, facial expression and body language. This keeps the person tuned into the energy disturbance and allows us to clear it.

Using key phrases with their accompanying tone of voice, facial expression and body language allows us to get at the hard to access energy disturbance of "t" traumas when no specific memories can be recalled and allows us to heal this challenging and common situation.

Hugs to all,

Stefan Gonick




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