The cause of all negative emotions is a disruption in the body's energy system.
When we humans experience trauma, it often doesn't end with the original traumatic event. And, when trauma is ongoing or recurring, especially in children, it can alter our brain function for the long haul.
PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) is the term that has been given to the group of symptoms that plagues those who have suffered trauma. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms include:
- Recurrent, unwanted distressing memories of the traumatic event
- Reliving the traumatic event as if it were happening again (flashbacks)
- Upsetting dreams or nightmares about the traumatic event
- Severe emotional distress or physical reactions to something that reminds you of the traumatic event
- Negative thoughts about themselves and/or others
- Hopelessness about the future
- Memory problems, including not remembering important aspects of the traumatic event
- Difficulty maintaining close relationships
- Feeling detached from family and friends
- Lack of interest in activities they once enjoyed
- Difficulty experiencing positive emotions
- Feeling emotionally numb
- Being easily startled or frightened
- Always being on guard for danger
- Self-destructive behavior, such as drinking too much or driving too fast
- Trouble sleeping
- Trouble concentrating
- Irritability, angry outbursts or aggressive behavior
- Overwhelming guilt or shame2
Certainly not a pleasant way to move through life!
Historically, trauma victims engaged in talk therapy with a psychologist, psychiatrist or counselor. Anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medications have also been used with some success.
But, what I would like to explore here is a fairly new methodology for treating these often debilitating symptoms. It's called The Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) or simply tapping, and it has proven much more powerful and effective than the above methods. It can also be done on your own, without having to see a professional.
One of the most important recent discoveries about the mechanism of trauma is that it causes a disruption in the ENERGY SYSTEM of the body. Subsequently, when something in the environment triggers a memory of the traumatic event, the energy disruption is once again activated. That means, in traditional talk therapy where the event is discussed without any treatment of the associated energy disruption, the person is actually re-traumatized with no resolution, essentially making the problem WORSE, not better!
Luckily, for those who have experienced trauma, and who suffer the symptoms of PTSD, Gary Craig developed the method of EFT and published his findings in the late 1990s. His research into the matter was largely based on the work of Roger Callahan and Thought Field Therapy (now considered a type of ENERGY PSYCHOLOGY).
Let's take a look briefly at three main parts of the brain that are effected (often permanently) by PTSD.
First is the AMYGDALA. This EMOTIONAL MEMORY CENTER resides in the limbic portion of the brain. It's where strong emotions like fear and pleasure are processed. The amygdala is what kicks us into the flight or flight response when we are in danger. That causes a cascade of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline to be released into the bloodstream.
The amygdala retains a memory bank of all the surrounding sensory information around dangerous or traumatic events. The purpose of this retention is so the brain and body can quickly react if the threat should arise again in the future.
So, what happens with the amygdala in PTSD victims is that it gets activated, and then sets into motion the fight or flight response when any of the surrounding sensory input reminds them of the original traumatic event. For example, say I was eating a jelly donut, listening to Mozart, and had just sprayed lavender perfume when I was hit head-on by a city bus and trapped in the car for an extended period of time. Moving forward, any and all those sensory stimuli (the smell/taste of jelly donuts, the scent of lavender, the music of Mozart, the sight of a city bus, or the experience of being confined in a small space) may elicit the fight or flight response, even if there's no danger afoot.
Totally illogical, right? Here's why: When the amygdala is activated, it overrides the logical, rational processes of the frontal lobes, and specifically the VENTROMEDIAL PREFRONTAL CORTEX. This diminishes our ability to think clearly.
And the amygdala is enlarged in PTSD victims because of its overstimulation. So that means it's in a state of perpetual overdrive.
Another part of the brain that is suppressed when the amygdala kicks into gear is the HIPPOCAMPUS, which assigns times and dates to memories. You can thank your hippocampus for being able to remember that the first time you rode a bicycle was on your 5th birthday.
So, while the amygdala is enlarged for those with PTSD, both the hippocampus and the vmPFC are smaller than normal. This is why people who have suffered recurring childhood trauma often have no memory of many of their past experiences, and may also have difficulty thinking clearly when they are stressed.
While it may seem pretty dismal so far, there is great hope for recovery from PTSD with systems like EFT that address the ROOT of the problem, which is the energy disruption. See the diagram below1:
How does EFT accomplish this goal? Here's what its developer, Gary Craig says:
EFT combines the physical benefits of acupuncture with the cognitive benefits of conventional therapy for a much faster, more complete treatment of emotional issues, and the physical and performance issues that often result.
Here's how it works:
- First, familiarize yourself with the tapping points, which are termination points for some of the acupuncture meridians. They are:
- KC (Karate Chop) point, on the side of the hand below the pinky finger (either hand)
- TOH (Top of Head) point
- EB (Eye Brow) point (either side)
- SE (Side of Eye) point, on the outside corner of the eye (either eye)
- UE (Under the Eye) point, on the bone under the eye (either eye)
- UN (Under the Nose) point, between the nose and the upper lip
- Ch (Chin) point, between the chin and the lower lip
- CB (Collar Bone) point, at the junction where the breast bone, the collar bond and the first rib meet (either side)
- UA (Under Arm) point, about 4 inches below the armpit (either side)
2. Next identify the issue. It could be physical, like a stomach ache, or emotional, like anxiety.
3. Assess the intensity of the issue on a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 is the least intense and 10 is the most intense.
4. Come up with the phrase you will use when you do the tapping exercise by simply filling in the blank for the following sentence: EVEN THOUGH _____________________, I deeply and completely accept myself. for example, you could say: Even though I feel anxious..., or even though I have a stomach ache... or even though I'm having a creative block..., or even though I'm angry at my sister for embarrassing me... I DEEPLY AND COMPLETELY ACCEPT MYSELF. Incidentally, the thing you fill in the blank with is the thing that elicits the energy disruption, so it's whatever causes you to feel the negative emotion you want to overcome.
5. Now, while tapping the KC point continuously with one or two fingers, say the phrase in the previous step several times. I have seen some instructions that say to state the phrase as many as seven times. I would say do it as many or as few time as you feel comfortable with.
6. Continuing with the sequence in the order listed above, tapping on each point continuously while re-stating the phrase. Again, you can say the phrase as many times as you like for each point. I like doing three per point.
7. Now assess the intensity of the issue again. Has it become less intense? If not, you can try again, as many times as you like.
It's as simple as that!
The idea is that by tapping, you send an energetic message directly to your amygdala that everything is okay, thus putting a halt to its illogical overreaction and restoring your mind to a state of calm acceptance.
There have been several studies showing the efficacy of this technique because of its effect on the amygdala and the associated fight or flight response. It is even possible that, with regular use of tapping, the hippocampus and vmPFC could become healthier and more functional in individuals where they had atrophied due to PTSD.