EFT foundation series: part 1 - the science
EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques), which is also often called “Tapping” due to the fact that you tap on different parts of your body during the process, is a remarkable mind-body method. At the most basic level, it allows you to release the emotional intensity of troublesome things in your life (past, present and future). This often allows for the healing and transformation at a root level of many of the struggles we face.
There is an ever growing body of research showing that EFT can play a significant role in reducing or completely resolving a wide variety of problems. This contains over 100 scientific papers in peer review medical and psychology journals. These include dozens of randomised controlled trials, outcome studies, and review articles from places such as Harvard Medical School, Purdue University, Stanford University, University of Arizona, and many other top institutions (not to mention the even greater number of anecdotal stories from ordinary people using EFT in their own lives).
EFT can help you with an astonishingly wide variety of problems, anything from relationships, health, work, money, spirituality and more. This can take the form of managing pain, resolving the emotional aspects of illness and disease, speeding up the healing process, handling food cravings, helping with weight loss, improving athletic performance, improving focus, learning more effectively, thinking more clearly at work, resolving triggers you might have when around co-workers, your boss, your family or anyone else, becoming more confident and comfortable in your skin, making better decisions, having a deeper connection with spirit, meditating with more ease, helping you reach your goals, changing subconscious beliefs, managing (and sometimes completely overcoming) anxiety, depression, PTSD and other traumas, and that’s just to mention a few of the potential benefits.
One of the sayings about EFT is to “try it on everything”. Whether the problem is a small petty nuisance or something that is so big it feels impossible and completely overwhelming, try EFT. This is because, if you have a problem of any kind, or you want some outcome, there is almost always going to be some stress, block or perceived limit associated with it. And what the science and the stories from everyday people are showing, is that this stress, this emotional intensity, these limiting beliefs, play a much greater role than we tend to think, and they can be resolved or changed when we have an effective tool such as EFT.
While there are countless remarkable stories and studies of how EFT has helped people overcome all kinds of challenges, and it’s worth trying it on anything you might be facing, it’s important to recognise that this is not a cure all. The stories we hear tend to be of the most extraordinary accounts (though extraordinary does seem to happen very often with Tapping). For example, when we hear a study that showed it helped 90% of patients with a particular problem, we need to recognise that that means 10% of people found it didn’t help (or they needed more work to get results). And that’s often in situations where a highly trained professional is guiding someone else through the process.
So if you find you’re not getting the results you hear others get from Tapping, I would submit that it doesn’t mean you’re broken or beyond help, or that things work for everyone except you. It may mean you need a little more patience, persistence, practice or skill. Sometimes you may also need the help of a trained practitioner, and sometimes even then, it could be that it’s not right for you in the particular situation you’re facing and something else would be of greater help.
The stress response
Reducing stress is the common thread in how EFT can help with such a wide variety of problems, so it’s worth understanding our stress response.
Imagine being amongst our hunter gatherer ancestors in the wild when all of a sudden you see a tiger. A part of your brain called the amygdala detects that threat at lightning speed and engages all your resources for the best chance of survival. In most cases this means either fighting the tiger or running away. This is known as the “fight-or- flight” response (there are more nuances to the “fight-or-flight” response, but this is a good base understanding).
In this situation you get a rush of adrenaline, your heart races and your focus narrows. Your immune system shuts down and blood is directed away from the part of your brain you use for logic, and creativity, away from your digestive system and reproductive system and into your limbs. This is because if you're being chased by a tiger, that’s not the time to have a flash of inspiration, it’s not the time to envision the future, dream big or appreciate the beautiful landscape, it’s not the time to solve that problem that’s been nagging at you or ensure you’re digesting your lunch well. It’s a time to run, fight and have lightning instincts.
This “fight-or-flight” response has been marvellous for our survival as a species. However in the modern world it now often works against us. We no longer face life or death situations like we did in the past. However, the part of our brain that looks out for danger to keep us safe is still there, and it cannot tell the difference between a real objective threat (such as a tiger), and an imagined threat that’s in our head (such as needing to answer an angry email or paying your bills). While things like bills that need to be paid when you’re low on money can still be threatening to your way of life, it’s very different from the kind of danger of getting your throat ripped out. You can be lying in the sun, completely relaxed on your holiday, and all it takes is thinking of something stressful and you can feel your body tense up.
The stress response was designed to help us quickly get out of danger and then return back to a balanced state of being. Yet in today’s world, our stress response is often active all day long. This erodes our health and zaps our energy. This is because if you’re experiencing stress all day long, your body is responding almost as though you’re running from a tiger all day long. Our bodies were never designed for that.
How does our brain know what’s dangerous?
There’s a part of our brain called the limbic system which encodes negative experiences with an emotional charge. It compares what’s around us, with the things that have happened to us in our lives to see what is dangerous and what isn’t. So for example, if you had a bully at school who had brown hair and blue eyes, and today your boss has brown hair and blue eyes, your amygdala may perceive your boss as a threat and thus you start to feel stress. You may not even know why you’re experiencing stress, all you’re conscious of is that when you’re around your boss, you don’t feel safe, or comfortable, or at ease.
This means that our unresolved past experiences can make us miss-perceive the world we live in today. It means we may be seeing danger where there isn’t any. It’s not our fault, it’s our system trying to protect us and keep us alive. It’s designed to look out for danger. That’s our stress response working the way it’s supposed to. It’s just that the world around us has changed so fast and that mechanism hasn’t had time to adapt to respond in a helpful way in this modern world. And as you’ve probably already found out, simply telling yourself that you’re OK, that your throat isn’t about to get ripped out by a tiger, that your boss isn’t going to kung fu you to the ground, that your emails aren’t actually going to kill you, often doesn’t get to the underlying distress you experience. That’s where Tapping comes in.
How EFT works
In EFT, we consciously bring something distressing to mind. Rather than trying to think positively, we acknowledge the reality of what’s going on and how we feel. This activates the stress response. At the same time, we lightly tap on acupressure points on the body. (Acupressure is like acupuncture except that rather than inserting needles, you lightly tap or rub those same points using your fingertips). Tapping on these points sends a calming signal to the amygdala (the part of our brain that sounds the “danger” alarm). This means that as we keep tapping, the distress we feel about a particular thing gradually decreases as the amygdala keeps receiving a calming signal. This then reconditions our brain and body. What was once a source of stress now holds no emotional intensity. Our past experience can now be a source of wisdom. We can now think intelligently and respond in kind. Our immune system, digestive system etc are no longer as compromised and so our body can heal and repair, digest food better etc.
When done skilfully, the change is generally lasting.
This is different from doing yoga or meditation (though these are all wonderful practices) because you're releasing stress specifically around what is bothering you, and you’re getting to the core of why it’s bothering you. You may have had the experience of going to a yoga class and feeling wonderful afterwards (amongst many other benefits), but the moment you think about a stressful situation, your whole body reacts. This is where tapping specifically on that situation can be a game changer.
Rather than trying to relax your mind and body, Tapping allows you to go directly to the source of stress and release it at the level of your nervous system and subconscious mind. This then allows you to naturally relax not because you’re trying to, but because the source of stress is no longer there.
The science of acupuncture
While EFT draws from modern psychology (such as using exposure therapy by bringing a problem to mind), it also draws from Chinese acupuncture. While acupuncture is relatively well respected, the thinking behind it is a little different to most western perspectives, so it's worth having a basic understanding of this thinking and the science that now supports it.
The principle behind the ancient system of Chinese acupuncture is that we all have energy flowing through our bodies. This energy flows along pathways called "meridians". When that energy is blocked or flowing in the wrong direction, we develop symptoms. Inserting a needle or applying pressure on certain points along these energy pathways has the end result of getting that energy flowing naturally. Thus, your body can come back to a more natural and healthy state.
This principle is also seen in the bigger picture of Tapping, in that rather than trying to use more effort to make something happen or achieve a goal, we remove the blocks that are in the way, so that we can more naturally move forward in the right direction.
Not only has acupuncture been around for thousands of years, but modern science is now also showing a growing list of symptoms for which it is effective and the mechanism behind how it works. For example, the notion of energy flowing through the body is often thought of as woo woo. At first scientists couldn’t find any physical structure within the body to conduct this energy, so it was largely dismissed. However, the discovery of minute tubular structures called “Bonghan ducts” have been found to be the physical channels of the meridian system.
Advances in technology have also shown that tapping on acupressure points creates what is known as a piezoelectric effect. This means that the pressure you apply on acupressure points has an electrical response. This response travels through the body, to the brain. When you turn on your stove and you hear that clicking sound, that’s piezoelectricity. The sound is caused by a metal pin striking a ceramic plate. It has been found that acupoints are about 1,000 times more sensitive to electrical currents than the surrounding tissue. Science has also found that when stimulating acupoints, certain neurochemicals are released in the body (such as endorphins and serotonin) which are not released when non-acupoints are stimulated.
A final note
Focusing on the problem as is done in Tapping (as opposed to thinking positively) can be a bit daunting. After all, we spend most of our lives trying to avoid negative things and experience positive things. We're told to "not dwell on the past" to "move on" and "focus on what you can be grateful for”. But the reality is, the problem is there. And by facing it, you can dissolve it. There’s a certain power that can come from that which I hope you will experience. (And there are techniques within EFT which allow you to resolve distressing situations in a gentle way, where you don’t have to face the biggest and ugliest things head on). When you experience this yourself, you may start to want to face your demons, to go into the darkness, into the things that are scary, the things that are holding you back, because you know that that is where the gems lie.
“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek”
The EFT manual 3rd edition by Dawson Church
The genie in your genes: epigenetic medicine and the new biology of intention by Dawson Church
EFT Universe research
ACEP (association for comprehensive energy psychology) research