What Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) taught me

Published Categorized as emotional literacy, Understanding emotions

Quite a few years ago now, I came across EFT or Emotional Freedom Technique when a friend recommended it to me as the ‘answer to dealing with emotions’. I was intrigued but at the same time wary – like I am of anything that is presented as any kind of ultimate answer. However, I found an expert in it and promptly booked a session to learn it.

You may have encountered EFT – maybe in a TV comedy taking the micky out of hippies! It’s the ‘tapping’ therapy. The idea is, when you feel yourself in the grips of an unenjoyable emotion, you focus on the trigger of the emotion, intensify it with thought and focus and then tap it away. I did this for a while. It sort of worked but it’s hard to tell exactly whether some sort of ‘clearance’ thing was going on by tapping acupuncture points or if I was simply being distracted. But this post isn’t really about EFT, it’s about the unintentional outcome it instigated.

EFT improved my emotional literacy almost overnight. You see, every time an unenjoyable emotion was triggered, rather than being defensive, recoiling or having a negative reaction of any kind, I would literally think, ‘Ooo this is interesting: an emotion.’ And off I would go with the tapping. While I was tapping, of course, I wasn’t interacting with anyone other than myself. It gave me time to reflect upon why the emotion was triggered and what thoughts and assumptions I had made. Often, the thoughts would lead to me giving myself some informal CBT. An example of this process is along the lines of, ‘you have become agitated because they didn’t listen to you, you feel unheard and unimportant, that’s something that is a button for you from your childhood and your response is exaggerated for the situation. They are actually just really busy!’ The whole process would adjust my emotion, thinking and behaviour.

My reason for this post is to point out that this is what emotional literacy requires of us: put a gap between trigger and response and in that gap, work out what’s going on for you, bring into awareness ‘buttons’, and work out the most resourceful response (which can sometimes be nothing)! This process also highlights your personal sensitivities, which is great for self-awareness.

For children, I guess that the distraction of EFT or any other ‘cooling down’ technique, providing a gap between trigger and response is really helpful for greater regulation of emotions. I would assume most children would need help in making greater use of the gap they have managed to make if they were to learn some insights into their responses but I don’t think it would be impossible. For example:

An unenjoyable emotion is triggered:

GAP: If a child manages to create a gap between trigger and response using any method rather than responding in the heat of the moment, this is to be praised!

SPECULATION ABOUT THE TRIGGER: Any further exploration could be presented as you ‘wondering’ if the child became angry because they felt they had not been listened to.

VALIDATION: Not being heard would be frustrating for most people and might make you feel like you were not important

EMPATHY FOR OTHERS INVOLVED (AND REFRAMING): but if you look at the reasons why you were not being listened to, you’ll see that everyone is just really busy and a bit stressed.

RESOURCEFUL RESPONSE: Go and try and tell them what you need to tell them at a time when they are less busy.