EFT/Tapping is a wonderful self-help tool. You can use it to soothe difficult emotions and ease painful memories.
It’s so good, you imagine that if you just tapped on the symptoms of your problem, relief would be quick to follow.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to work that way.
A quick search on the internet will find a multitude of tapping scripts or tap-along videos for your problem. However, while tapping along can soothe the distress at the time, those old feelings can come back later.
It’s as if tapping on the symptoms is like hacking away at the leaves of a tree. If the trunk of the tree is untouched the leaves can grow back with ease. If we don’t work on the trunk and the roots then we could make slow progress.
Let’s imagine someone called Annie.
Annie is now in her thirties and has had the uneasy feeling that she is not wanted for as long as she can remember.
Although she is in a long-term relationship with a loving partner, she often imagines that she is about to lose him to someone who is ‘better’ than she is. In spite of his obvious love for her, she finds it hard to accept that he does love her and that it will last.
She strives to conceal her reservations and be pleasing to him. She puts him first to ensure she keeps his affections.
But, even when things are going well, she feels a deep-seated unease about her relationship and how long it will last.
Let us imagine she discovers tapping and how quickly she can soothe uncomfortable emotional states. She’s seen enough YouTube videos and read enough articles to hope that it might be possible to tap her way out of her distress.
Unfortunately, it turns out that the tap-alongs and the tapping scripts that seem to fit her situation only give temporary relief. Sometimes they seem to make things worse by putting her in touch with some painful emotions she would rather not feel.
To know why the ‘tap-along’ approach is not helping we need to step back from the symptoms and look for the root causes.
Let’s go back in time to Annie’s childhood.
At first glance, it looks like a good childhood in a normal loving home. Annie was the first child of a couple who desperately wanted a boy. Their initial disappointment of getting a girl soon passed and her parents looked after her and loved her.
When Annie was four, her mother became pregnant with her second child, a son. Annie’s parents were delighted to get the boy they had hoped for.
When her brother was born Annie stopped being the centre of attention. The boy was the apple of his parent’s eye, he was swaddled and coddled and Annie lost her place in the spotlight.
After a while, Annie began to realise that the spotlight wouldn’t be coming back to her and she wasn’t even going to be able to share it with her brother.
Her parents doted on her brother, he got all the attention, he got what he wanted. Annie was sidelined, she was looked after and managed to get by on the crumbs of her parent’s love and attention.
All children need attention, so Annie began to look for ways to get what she needed. On the surface, she tried to be good to make her mum and dad love her again, underneath she was angry at them and her brother.
With a child’s keen sense of what is fair and not fair, she resented all the love and attention her brother got. She soon found out it wasn’t safe to communicate this to her parents. Expressing that anger and resentment led to scolding, shaming and even less attention. She learned to keep those feelings to herself.
Over time Annie began to feel more alone, fearful of complete abandonment, neglected, angry and resentful. Because she couldn’t express it she hid those feelings from her parents and even from herself.
She began to think that she was not wanted, that even when she was wanted it could be taken away at a moment’s notice. She concluded that other people got the love and attention and she had to make do with the crumbs. She became adept at spotting her parent’s displeasure with her and worked hard to make sure that didn’t happen.
These thoughts, feelings and perceptions became internalised as a young part of herself that was exquisitely tuned into the dangers of rejection and abandonment. As Annie grew up, this part of her stayed frozen in her distress trying her best to be wanted.
That younger part was frozen in time. The younger self is held fast in the stress and distress of that situation. She only knows how to act in the way that she does and has no access to the resources she needed to be able to cope in a better way.
What is a ‘younger self’?
That depends on who you ask.
Different schools of therapy use different terminology. Younger parts are sometimes known as sub-personalities, ego-states, ECHOs, schemas, etc. The descriptions of these parts of ourselves will also differ depending on who you ask.
For our purposes we can say that Annie’s four year-old ‘younger self’ includes:
- Stress and distress The painful emotional cocktail of the young Annie who felt abandoned is the ‘feeling signature’ of that younger self. Those painful emotions are also the glue that keeps the younger Annie suffering and in place. Those emotions are resistant to change.
- Behaviours The young Annie can only do what she could do at the time. When you are four you don’t have a lot of life experience to call on, Annie could only cope with her situation with what she could do at that age. Our young minds adopt these behaviours as the best way to handle the situation at that time. These behaviours persist over time as ‘the only’ way to deal with these situations. These patterns of behaviour are resistant to change.
- Beliefs Annie came to some conclusions about life as a result of that experience. She concluded that she was not wanted, could easily be abandoned, and that other people were more important than she is. The conclusions that the younger self comes to, her beliefs and thoughts, are held in place by the stress and distress of the original situation. Those beliefs are resistant to change.
- Perceptions We learn to survive by paying attention to what is important. Young Annie became sensitive to the possibility of abandonment or neglect, she paid close attention to the verbal and nonverbal signals of the other people in her life so she could maximise her chances of getting some love and attention. Those filters of perception are resistant to change.
This younger self is ‘frozen in time’ she is stuck in her stress and distress at the age she formed. She isn’t able to grow and develop and Annie grows up and matures. She can’t take advantage of the new skills, understandings and resources Annie may develop later. However, old Annie gets the younger Annie who fears abandonment and tries hard to be wanted will always be four.
This process could be quite invisible. A casual onlooker might just see a happy family, a loving couple with a confident and relaxed son and a quiet slightly withdrawn daughter.
Now let’s fast forward to the present.
Although she is in a happy relationship and is well liked by her friends, Annie’s four-year-old self is still vigilant and fearful of abandonment.
Her adult self feels uneasy and has no idea why. Without reason, she fears that her partner will find somebody better and desert her. She knows this isn’t true but the part of her that is afraid of abandonment won’t (or can’t) listen to reason.
She knows she tries too hard to please, even if it gets annoying to the people she is close to. She can’t help it, at some level the fear of displeasing them terrifies her, she has to keep them happy.
She sometimes feels unreasonable anger when her partner or friends appear to be paying more attention to someone else. But she can’t express this and feels ashamed that she is, in her own eyes, being so stupid.
Annie feels that her mature adult self has been hijacked by her younger self who is reliving the long gone past.
However much she taps for the anger and resentment it seems to come back. When she taps on feeling not wanted the feeling seems to go for a while and then return as if she had never tapped in the first place.
If the YouTube videos, tap-alongs and scripts aren’t working, what is she to do?
Rather than working on the symptoms, she has to find some way to find and change the root causes of her distress.
Fortunately, there are many different tapping approaches that could help Annie release the effects of the past experiences.
In standard EFT the practitioner would look for early life experiences where these beliefs and feelings originated. Identifying those experiences and tapping on the memories could undo Annie’s difficult emotions and limiting beliefs.
In Matrix Reimprinting the practitioner would seek to identify the ‘ECHO’s of that younger self, created in stressful moments. By ‘tapping on’ and soothing these ‘ECHOs’ they can re-imprint, or rewrite, the memories of those experiences to change their current meanings and impacts.
In Identity Healing the practitioner ‘finds’ the younger self, that part of Annie that is experiencing and running her distress, soothes that younger self and gives her the resources she needs to change. Once freed from the stress and distress, and given what she needs that younger self is invited to grow and evolve, taking advantage of all Annie’s wisdom and experience gained since she was four.
All these approaches seek to heal the early difficulties of her life so that Annie can live from her resourceful adult self rather than being hijacked by a younger self.
If this sounds more complicated than following a tap-along video or a tapping script, you are right, it is!
However, the benefits of this work if well done are life changing and profound.
In the real world, it’s even more complicated. In this article, Annie has only been troubled by one younger self. However, most of us are wandering around with many younger selves, struggling to help us survive.
We are walking kaleidoscopes of our younger selves, contained in our adult selves. Some of those younger selves are desperate to be healed.
How can you tell if your problem is the expression of a younger self?
If you have a longstanding emotional difficulty and you are wondering if it has deep roots, you might like to try this experiment.
In your imagination, put yourself in that situation where you do what you do, think what you think or feel what you feel that is a problem for you.
When you get the ‘feel’ of the problem ask yourself this question.
“How old is the ‘me’ who is having this problem?”
(The answer to the question should be an intuitive answer, not the logical answer. If you have to think about or theorise about the ‘right’ answer to this question that answer isn’t going to be useful.)
If the answer you get is (a lot) younger than you are now then you may need to delve deeper than a script or video can take you to resolve that problem, you may also need the help of a skilled practitioner.