"Tapping" Is A Quick Way To Squash Stress — But Avoid These 3 Mistakes
Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), or tapping, is an increasingly popular self-help, self-regulation tool that can be used to ease stress and anxiousness and overcome triggering events from the past and present. It's a simple practice that involves gently tapping on acupressure points on our body while recalling a stressful event, thought, physical sensation, or belief. (For a more in-depth explanation of how to do the technique, refer to this primer.)
While tapping can yield great results if used properly, there are three main mistakes that I see beginner tappers tend to make that can hinder progress. Here's how to overcome each one:
Mistake #1: You use only positive statements.
One mistake novice tappers make is tapping on positive statements rather than starting with negative statements (i.e., focusing on resolving an issue first).
For example, I've seen people just tap on positive statements or affirmations such as "I choose to feel calm" or "I remove any obstacles from my inner peace" or switching to such statements after just one round of tapping on a problem.
While experienced EFT practitioners do use positive statements, they tend to do so toward the end of a session, when the client has already worked through the issue that was bothering them and is ready to move on to the positive.
But why? What happened to the power of positive thinking? As I like to say to my clients, tapping on the positive before fully addressing an issue is like putting a Band-Aid on a wound without cleaning it first. Our culture does tend to emphasize positive thinking, which sometimes can lead to denial or suppression of our actual feelings.
We are often told to "dust it off" and move on only to have some of those repressed feelings haunt us days, months, or years down the road. We don't oftentimes give ourselves permission or the opportunity to acknowledge and process negative emotions.
EFT can help us focus on those negative emotions and experiences in a safe way, without retraumatizing us or getting us stuck there. Because we are tuning in to the negative while we are tapping, we are giving our brain conflicting signals. We might be activating our stress response by recalling a negative thought or event, but at the same time, we are neutralizing that response by sending calming signals to our amygdala via tapping. This helps us neutralize the emotional charge of a negative thought or event so that next time we recall it, we get less triggered.
Once we have processed those negative emotions, we can then add some positive statements into our tapping, to anchor that positive shift. Of course, if you have experienced severe or complex trauma, delving into negative emotions on your own can be tricky. In such circumstances, it is always advisable to work with a trauma-informed EFT practitioner or mental health professional who can safely guide you along.
Mistake #2: You're not specific enough.
Other novice tappers might start off with a "problem" or negative statement but still fail to achieve great results. This could be because they are not being specific enough.
The more specific we are in defining our issue and getting in touch with what is bothering us, the better EFT works. Many beginner tappers start by tapping generally on their "problem," such as feeling stressed or anxious. Some people do this by looking up EFT videos related to their issue and tapping along to those videos. In such cases, the setup statement may look something like this: "Even though I am stressed, I accept myself and how I feel," while the reminder phrases might be "all this stress," "I am stressed out," etc.
While this is a good approach to learn the tapping points and will probably help you feel a little better afterward, it probably won't fully resolve your issue or bring your level of distress down significantly.
Whenever possible, we want to find specific events to tap on rather than tapping on a generality. For example, feeling stressed is a sensation that many people have in common. But beneath your stress, there's probably one event (or a collection of events) that's unique to you.
Before you start tapping, ask yourself: Why am I feeling so stressed? What exactly happened to contribute to this feeling? Is there a particular part of this event/situation that is more emotionally charged for me? Once you have identified the specific event or situation that has contributed to your "problem,"' you can then start tapping on that.
For example, the setup statement might look something like this: "Even though I am so stressed because I messed up on my work presentation yesterday, I accept how I feel." The reminder phrases could be even more specific: "I screwed up," "the entire company was watching," "I was not prepared," "I feel terrible," "I froze," "I let my team down," etc. The more in-tune we are with our specific issues and emotions, and the more personalized our tapping, the better results we will experience.
Mistake #3: You only work with recent triggers.
Many beginner tappers use EFT as a way to feel better in the moment or to clear away triggering events that happened during their day. While this is a great use of EFT, if you find yourself tapping on something and not feeling better or thinking that you've cleared it only to have a similar situation trigger you again later, then you might need to dig a little deeper.
Some issues we face are multilayered and require some investigative work on our part. For example, say we had a conflict with our partner, which caused us to feel angry and resentful. We use EFT at the end of the day to work on that event and reduce the intensity of those feelings but find we are not making much progress, despite being very specific, following the basic technique properly, and tuning into our feelings. In this case, our feelings might be connected to similar events we have experienced in the past, going as far back as our childhood.
Some questions to ask to dig a little deeper could be: "When was the last time I felt this way?" or "When was the first time I felt this way?" or "What does this event remind me of?" In many cases, other events will pop up in our memory that are connected to these feelings we are experiencing. And if these events are still emotionally charged when we think about them, then that is a sign that we need to address them.
Again, it is always advisable to consult with a certified EFT practitioner or mental health professional if you have experienced childhood trauma or are not making progress tapping on your own.
The bottom line.
If you have tried EFT, and it has not quite worked for you, these might be some reasons to explain it. Being mindful of these pitfalls can help you take your practice to the next level. Give it another try!
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