Week One

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Fostering Secure Attachment

Inventing a Happy Childhood with EFT


If you’re like many of the participants I talk to at EFT workshops and psychology conferences, you had many challenging experiences in your childhood. Your parents or other caregivers were those you depended on to take care of you. Yet they might have been neglectful or abusive, and left you with many psychological scars. Just because those scars are not as visible as those left by physical harm does not mean they aren’t very real. In this week, we’ll explore the ways in which you feel attached to other human beings. You’ll also read several real-life stories illustrating how our childhood experiences affect the whole course of our lives as adults, unless we heal our old emotional wounds. With EFT, you have a powerful tool to create a new attachment reality.

Multimedia Library

Letting Go Of The Dreams

Week 1 Bonus Call

  • How Childhood Attachment Shapes Adult Relationships
  • Liza: I’m Screaming to be Heard
  • There’s Never Enough Love

Fostering Secure Attachment

Week 1 Video: Deb

  • It's My Job to Make Everyone Happy
  • Everything I've Tried Can't Make Them Happy
  • I Want to Be Close to You, But It's Dangerous Being Close

The Three Attachment Styles

The field of psychology uses the term “attachment” to refer to close bonds between people. An infant in an attached relationship craves the company of her or his caregiver, and experiences distress in the absence of that person. It is clear why human infants evolved to form attached relationships; these relationships keep them close to their caregivers, and increase their chances of survival. In terms of evolutionary biology, those with a genetic predisposition for attachment were more likely to survive than those without it. The more attached individuals then passed that trait to the next generation, and so on, until attachment became a well-established characteristic of human relationships. In the 1960s, psychologist John Bowlby described attachment as “a lasting psychological connectedness between human beings.” Researcher Jaak Panksepp describes a type of fear found in every animal species that rears its young. He calls it “attachment panic.” This fear arises when there is no one to attach to.

In the 1970s, the research of Mary Ainsworth differentiated attachment into three basic categories:

  • Secure Attachment

  • Ambivalent Attachment

  • Avoidant Attachment

The kind of attachment bonds you developed as a child can affect the way you perceive love relationships as an adult. Infants with secure attachment grow into adults who tend toward lasting love relationships, while those with ambivalent attachment fall in and out of love frequently, and those with avoidant attachment perceive love relationships as fleeting and rare. Which of those styles is evident in the following story from the EFT Universe archives?

Growing Up with an Emotionally Unavailable Parent

By Carna Zacharias-Miller

“Melanie,” thirty-four, came to me because she wanted to work on the emotional abandonment by her father. Although she was smart and attractive, none of her relationships with men ever went anywhere. She saw a connection between that fact and the issues with her father. Even before her father gambled away all their money and left the family in poverty when she was nine years old, he had no regard for her feelings. After his divorce from her mother, Melanie was “kicked to the curb.”

He was a man of big promises, and he never delivered. For example, he told Melanie that she could spend the summer with him, and then he casually called it off. So we first tapped on a tsunami of pain, grief, and frustration:

Even though my father always, always let me down…

Even though my father said, “I don’t know what you are talking about” when I reminded him that he had promised me to spend the summer with him…

Even though there is this deep pain in my heart because my father never noticed me, never paid attention to me…

Even though I have been waiting my whole life for my father…

When I asked Melanie for a specific memory, she came up with a scene when she was seven years old: she was standing in her father’s bedroom beside his bed, watching him while he was asleep, “dead to the world.” She was waiting for him to wake up, and there was nothing she could do to get his attention.

Intense feelings of sadness, being lost, and utter defeat came to the surface, trapped in her thighs and pelvis.

(This memory shows that it is not always active abuse or severe trauma that hurt a child. If a static scene—an image—contains the whole painful essence of a relationship, that is enough to cause deep wounding.)

When the emotional intensity came down from a 10 to a 5, I got the intuitive hunch to do a memory enrichment rather than continue tapping, and Melanie loved the idea.

A memory enrichment is an act of creative imagination that changes a painful memory into something beautiful and profoundly satisfying. This is not just turning it into its opposite, but lifting it to a higher, often metaphysical level.

Now Melanie is standing at her father’s bed, but he is waking up. He tells her how happy he is that she is there, and that he can’t wait to play with her. That feels good, but what the little girl really wants is for this to last forever. So a Fairy Godmother shows up, waves her magic wand, and asks the little girl what she wants.

“I want the happiness with my dad to last forever!”

“Granted,” says the Fairy Godmother.

Melanie was very happy with this and exclaimed, “I can actually have what I want! That is so strange.”

In the second session, we worked on a deeper layer of the father issue that had come up during the week: the anger, the rage.

Melanie said, “It was all about making himself comfortable; he never considered other people’s feelings. I wasn’t even allowed to have feelings.” The intensity was at a 10, and a memory came up.

Even though I feel this intense rage and anger, and I am infuriated when I think of my father…

Even though he promised to buy me these special sneakers, he sent me some discount brand…

Even though I am not worth it…

The intensity had dropped to a 6, and I asked her what the remaining anger was about.

Even though I always got the bare minimum, but I needed so much more…

Even though I am deeply disappointed that my father never made any effort to build me up…

Even though this remaining anger is stuck in my neck and shoulders…

Melanie was feeling much better.

At the beginning of the third session, Melanie reported that she had been in a car accident. No injuries, but the car needed minor repair. She had told her father about it in a phone call—and there something surprising happened.

“He was caring and concerned! He has never been like that before. And then—can you believe it?—he just sent me a check for $1,000! I am floored. That was more than the bill for the repair. He never, ever has been generous in the past.”

(I love it when things like that happen. It shows that changing the energy of one person changes the whole energy field around her.)

In the fourth session, we worked on a very painful father memory that Melanie titled “Kicked to the curb.”

Right after the divorce, her father picked her up from school. There was a lady sitting in the front seat, and Melanie crawled into the back. This was obviously “his lady,” but her father had not prepared Melanie for this. Thinking of this scene, intense grief, sadness, and anger came up for Melanie, and she felt it as heaviness in her thighs.

Even though my father just walked away from his family after the divorce, and my heart it torn…

Even though I could sense his love for this woman and he never really loved us, and that hurts so much…

Even though I was no longer daddy’s little girl, he just kicked me to the curb…

After this tapping round, Melanie had a big, though crushing revelation: “My father had no attachment to me! He probably loved me in his own way, but there was no sense of personal responsibility, emotional care, or concern. I have tried to fix myself my whole life so attachment can happen—and I am still doing exactly that with my boyfriends!”

We tapped on the shock and the devastation of this awareness, and how she has attracted “fragments of love” over and over again. At the end, she felt profoundly different. “More feminine, more in my body. Love might just show up. I am enough.” What a breakthrough!

In the fifth session, we worked with another very painful memory: the moment when her father told her he was moving out. She was standing at a bus station with him, and he said casually: “Your dad is going away for a while.” That was it.

Even though I froze in shock when he said that…

Even though there was no preparation, I had no idea what was happening, or why…

Even though I still feel that grief and sadness and anger in my solar plexus…

The intensity went down somewhat, but not much. So I asked Melanie what her feelings were about the words “for a while.” (He had said he was going away for a while.) Melanie had never thought about that, and she reacted strongly to it: “This was cruel, torture. I kept waiting for him to come back, but he never did. And a part of me is still waiting.”

Even though a part of me is still waiting for my father to return…

At the end, Melanie declared that she—or any part of her—was no longer waiting, and that was a huge relief.

As for the boyfriends, Melanie is no longer putting up with “fragments of love.” Recently, she talked on the phone to a “gorgeous looking” man who had caught her attention at an online dating service. He was nice, smart, and charming too. When he said that he just wanted “fun” and not a serious relationship, however, she dropped him. Melanie observed, “I would not have done that in the past. I always tried hard to get them emotionally involved anyway, but it never worked, and I only got hurt. Stepping out of this pattern feels so good.

Notice how Melanie is able to start creating a new attachment reality by walking away from the old one. Without EFT, she might have kept on reenacting her father’s abandonment for the rest of her life. Today, her options have opened up. She can walk away from potential relationships that are flashing danger signals, because she’s no longer attached to her dysfunctional old attachment style!

Here’s another example of attachment issues, this one from EFT Universe Trainer Jenny Johnston, about the interweaving of a current abandonment with an old one.

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Her Husband Unexpectedly Leaving Reprises Her Dad Leaving

By Jenny Johnston, EFT Universe Trainer

Sally, (not her real name), is a forty-eight-year old cook with two adult children who do not live with her. Her husband left her two and a half years ago. This surprised her, her friends, and her family—no one saw it coming. Her father left the family when she was five years old. She lives alone and has a history of drinking a bottle and a half of wine per day and smokes marijuana daily (since her husband left her). She came to me wanting to rid herself of her ex-husband memories, which haunted her daily and made her cry.

I asked Sally what emotions she was feeling at the moment and to rate them on the 0-to-10 scale. She rated abandonment as 10, sadness as 8, and worthlessness as 9.

We began with abandonment (as it was the highest). I explained to her, however, that they were all probably linked and that, as we worked on one, she might find that the others came down in intensity too (the generalization effect). When I asked where she felt “abandonment,” she replied in her head, chest, and shoulders. I asked her to describe what color and shape it had, if it had a color and a shape. She described it as a heavy, dark purple blob.

So we began tapping generally on abandonment by doing a few rounds of EFT. I then asked her to take a deep breath, to rate her abandonment now (8 out of 10) and to tell me what memories had come up for her. She said that she cries every second night, thinking about her ex-husband and when he left her. I asked her what was the strongest memory of abandonment in relation to her husband leaving her (getting more specific). She told me about the specifics of the night he told her he was leaving and that he didn’t love her anymore. I asked her to rate that specific memory; it was at a 10. I asked her to describe that memory to me in detail and to tell me where the crescendo of emotion was (it was when he said that he didn’t love her anymore). I asked her if she was feeling sadness and worthlessness with this memory too and she replied that all three were at 10.

As I asked her to describe where each of these feelings were in her body and their color, it was not surprising to find that they were all in the head, chest, heart, and shoulders and were a similar color. So we tapped a few rounds on these feelings, shapes, colors, and emotions in the body and then went into the specifics of the Movie Technique and that memory of when her husband left, telling her that he didn’t love her anymore.

I asked her to take a deep breath, drink some water, and then describe abandonment, sadness, and worthlessness in her body now and rate it again in relation to her husband leaving and saying that he didn’t love her anymore. She was smiling a little and said that abandonment, sadness, and worthlessness were now down to 5 when she thought about her husband, but now she was feeling abandoned, sad, and worthless from her dad leaving when she was five. I asked her to rate these feelings in relation to her dad and the memory of him leaving and they were all back up to 8. We began tapping on the Watch the Movie memory of her Dad leaving and her feelings of being abandoned and how her mum had for years told them that their Dad abandoned them, tapping on the memories, colors, and feelings in her tummy. The feelings of abandonment, sadness, and worthlessness were now down to 4.

Sally was smiling now. I asked her to say out loud, “My dad abandoned me.” She said it and then said, “My dad left me because he loved me and I feel no abandonment or sadness or worthlessness. In fact, I forgive him for leaving and I’m grateful for the great life we were able to have because he had gone.”

I then asked her to tune into her husband leaving and to rate feelings of abandonment, sadness, and worthlessness. She said that she couldn’t feel any of them. I asked her to say out loud, “My husband left me and he said that he didn’t love me.” She did so, smiled, and said that he left me and that’s all. Her sadness was at a 1, she said, but that was all.

We did a further few rounds on looking forward to an exciting life now that she was clear to have love in her life again. Her ex-husband had provided a clearing for her to have love now. She tapped that she was grateful for the love that they had shared in the past and for the two great children they had had together, and that now she was free to look forward to someone new coming into her life, just as a really great new dad had come into her life after her dad had left.

After these last few rounds of tapping, she was yawning and couldn’t get the smile off her face. I suggested homework for her: if, before our next session in a week, other memories or feelings came up (I described peeling the onion layers and the concept of aspects), she could tap on the feelings and memories.

Notice how when Sally’s feelings around her dad leaving went down to a 1, her feeling about her husband dropped too, even without her tapping directly on those memories. That’s how strongly our adult experiences echo our childhood ones. Clinical EFT practitioners trained at EFT Universe focus whenever possible on the childhood memories rather than the adult ones, knowing that clearing early traumas usually clears everything piled on top.

Your love relationships are basic adult attachment relationships. You are likely to demonstrate your childhood attachment styles in your adult relationships. Securely attached adults tend to be trusting and to share their feelings freely. Ambivalently attached adults might be reluctant to get into intimate relationships and, when in them, worry that their partner might go away. They also typically experience great distress when relationships end. Avoidantly attached adults typically don’t share their feelings, invest little in relationships, and let them go easily.

Repairing Old Attachment Wounds with EFT

You probably recognize yourself in one of those three attachment styles. What can you do if your childhood experiences fostered avoidant or ambivalent attachment and are affecting your love relationships today?

You are not condemned to act out your distress forever! You’ve had many experiences with people other than your caregivers since your childhood, and these might have modified your attachment style. You might have made conscious choices to change dysfunctional relationship behaviors. EFT can greatly facilitate those changes.

Pulling the Weeds, Making Room for the Flowers

I have two close friends, Millie and Harold, who are in their fifties. The way they treat each other is an inspiration to all those around them. They are kind, attentive, and playful. They have fun in their relationship, and go out of their way to be good to each other. One of their adult children says that watching them is like watching a “niceness competition,” as each of them says and does nicer and nicer things to the other.

Both of them were married before, but their marriages weren’t so nice. In her previous marriage, Millie was much the same kind of relationship partner she is today. Yet her previous husband, Jimmy, was depressed and angry. He blamed Millie for many of their problems. She would arrange for them to attend personal growth seminars and read inspirational books, but his usual pronouncement was “That stuff doesn’t work for me.” After twenty-three years of marriage, they got a divorce. Millie blamed herself, even though she’d done everything she could for the relationship, while Jimmy did little. After they divorced, Jimmy didn’t even try to form another long-term relationship, and began visiting prostitutes. He declined further into depression.

Harold’s previous marriage suffered a similar trajectory. His wife, Blanche, started the marriage full of enthusiasm and inspiration. She was a spiritual teacher, and thrilled by Harold’s sensitivity, kindness, and spirituality. Blanche told him, “You’re by far the most wonderful man I’ve ever met. I never want to take you for granted. Please tell me if I ever forget.”

Eighteen months into the marriage, Blanche began to change. She started criticizing Harold and making negative comments about whatever he said. In response, he was very careful to be as positive as possible, yet her criticisms increased, even as he did less and less to warrant it. By the two-year mark, the pattern was set. Harold talked to Blanche frankly one day, and said that he did feel taken for granted, but Blanche was silent and resented the feedback. Harold suggested they take a relationship class together, which made Blanche feel criticized. Each time he’d suggest they read a book like one of the ones I mention at the bottom of this page, or go to therapy, she would respond negatively. They remained together for many years only because they had children. Harold kept trying to be positive, but after fifteen years, he threw in the towel and divorced Blanche.

Blanche, who is a beautiful woman, soon began dating again and had her pick of fabulous men. She remarried, but all her friends were surprised by the man she chose, Richard. He was loud, insincere, mean, insensitive, and critical. Some of her friends boycotted the wedding, horrified at her choice. How could she go from kind, gentle Harold to Richard?

Why does kindness work so well for Millie and Harold in their present marriage, when it worked so poorly for them in their previous marriages? Why did their ex-spouses make destructive choices after all the kindness they received? The answer has to do with the dark side of every situation, the part Carl Jung called “the Shadow.” It’s also essential that you remain aware of the shadow side of kindness. The risks of personal growth can be subtle and surprising.

If you choose a partner with problems, those problems may actually grow and expand even as yours diminish. Unless people work on their issues, a relationship with a kind and forgiving partner can actually foster the growth of those issues. Love and kindness are like fertilizer. Whatever they touch will grow. If you’re married to someone whose consciousness is full of flowers, the flowers will grow. But if it’s full of weeds, the weeds will grow, and start to take over the whole garden. That’s what happened in Harold and Millie’s earlier relationships. They kept adding the fertilizer of niceness to their partners, only to see their destructive tendencies expand. The nicer Harold was to Blanche, the greater freedom she had to be negative. Marrying Richard can be seen as a step that Blanche took to solve her problem behavior. Richard’s meanness was the opposite of fertilizer; it was like weed killer. On a deep subconscious level, Blanche may have married Richard to keep her weeds in check. She became a nicer person when married to a meaner one.

If you’re not in a relationship, and you’re meeting new people, it’s vital that you pay attention to their personality characteristics. “Love is blind,” the old saying goes, and you might be blinded by a potential partner’s appearance or accomplishments. Behind those is a personality you might be living with for decades. Discovering who that is, and making sure you really want to be attached to it, is important to your happiness. Just because you’re reading this book and are firmly on the path of personal growth does not mean your partner is. Because you’re willing to look for solutions doesn’t mean your partner is.

As Millie found out in her previous marriage, your earnest attempts to make the relationship better might actually give your partner the space to do less. The same principle is at work when it comes to house cleaning. One person usually does more of the cleaning than the other. We could label this fictitious couple Tidy and Messy. Unless they stay awake to the issue, an imbalance can occur. At first, they both cleaned equally. Gradually, because Tidy cleans more, Messy discovers that he has to clean less. They slide further along the continuum, until eventually Tidy is doing all the cleaning, and Messy is doing none. Messy can make all the messes he wants, confident that Tidy will pick up the pieces.

Exactly the same pattern occurs in personal growth. People who tolerate weeds growing in their consciousness, harboring resentment, anger, blame, and similar emotions in their minds, are like Messy. They have an untidy tangle of negative emotions inside. People who work on their issues are like Tidy. They certainly have their share of weeds, but they pull these out whenever they notice them. In that space in consciousness, flowers bloom. Their minds become a fragrant garden of kind, positive thoughts. When Messy and Tidy get married, they create a shared consciousness. Tidy is now focused not just on pulling her own weeds, but the weeds in the shared marriage garden as well. Her job gets bigger. Messy now has a bigger circle of consciousness in which he can make a mess. With Tidy doing the hard work of weeding, Messy has less incentive to improve. Messy’s problems might grow so big they take over the whole relationship.

This pattern, exacerbated by the passage of years, is how Millie and Harold found themselves, before they divorced their earlier spouses, in marriages that were so unsupportive. Their best efforts actually made things worse. That’s the dark side of personal growth. The lesson here for you and me is this: Whenever possible, pick partners on an emotional and spiritual level similar to yours.

Amir Levine, a psychiatrist at Columbia University and author of the book Attached,maintains that the simplest way to determine if a potential partner’s attachment style is compatible with yours is to state your needs in a clear and nonthreatening way early in the relationship. If the other person demonstrates respect for your feelings and interest in meeting your needs, you’re probably on the right track. If he or she brushes you off as self-indulgent, or makes your needs insignificant, you probably want to move on.

That’s why Millie and Harold are so happy today. Their “niceness competition” is pouring plenty of sunlight and fertilizer into the relationship. Since they’ve both seeded so many flowers, the relationship garden that blooms all around them is gorgeous. They’re also healthier than they were in their previous marriages. There are many studies showing that couples who form a securely attached bond affect each other’s physiology. Their heart rates, blood pressure, breathing rhythms, and hormone levels become linked.

These secure attachments help us handle stress. One study showed that women who held the hands of their husbands when receiving a mild electric shock had a lower stress response than those who held the hand of a stranger. Good marriages tend to improve the blood pressure of couples, while bad marriages drive it in the other direction. One of my goals in teaching EFT to people all over the world is to help them tap away the weeds, and give the flowers in the garden of their relationships a chance to grow, and secure attachments to form.

One of my close friends is clinical psychologist David Feinstein, PhD. David is the author of several books, includingPersonal Mythology, a great guide to releasing your old dysfunctional habits, which he coauthored with Stanley Krippner, PhD. David tells the following story about a problem he was having in his marriage.

My Wife, the Organization, and the Bully

by David Feinstein, PhD

I recently came to a point where I was stuck on a personal issue, and my way through it illustrates the use of mindfulness with EFT. What emerged was an early experience that was driving a dysfunctional response pattern, though I had no idea how the two could be related.

My wife, Donna Eden, and I have, on occasion, been teaching a seminar called “The Energies of Love” since 1980, and our publisher wanted us to write a book on the topic. We know, however, of several couples who have written books on couples work whose marriages dissolved shortly after their book was published and had become successful. Besides the embarrassment that would be involved, we did not want to tempt the relationship gods. We were wary about the arrogance of holding ourselves out as a couple who had “figured it out.”

And sure enough, as soon as we were seriously discussing the book with our publisher, our relationship took a serious downhill turn. Our organization happened to be exploding at the time, growing exponentially. We were both under tremendous stress, and we weren’t seeing eye-to-eye on many of the critical decisions we were making that would shape the future of our organization and our life’s work.

To make it worse, the energetic styles we relied on when under stress, one of the topics of our proposed book, seemed to be getting so exaggerated that is was hard to reach one another. Donna is highly expressive emotionally while I want to crawl into my emotional cave and regroup at times of distress. So she would feel unmet and discounted, and this would, of course, escalate her sense of distress. Realizing I could not escape, I tried to center myself for each hot topic we would encounter, but I began to respond in a way that I could hardly believe was me. Without the sanctuary of my cave, and with Donna being very animated about her opinions and upset, I would blow up. I would begin to scream at her, swear at her, and generally escalate a situation that was already too escalated.

After each incident, I would will myself not to get triggered the next time. I would tap. I could get it down to about a 3 or 4, and that perhaps helped a bit. I would then enter the next encounter centered, clear, and confident but, within five minutes, find myself screaming again and slamming doors.

What an ominous atmosphere for writing our magnum opus on relationships! One day after it had happened for about the fifteenth time in three months, I went out to the hot tub of the condominium where we were staying. Fortunately, no one else was there.

I set my intention on noticing the texture of my experience at the time of these explosions and right before them. With that in place, I simply followed my breathing and noticed what emerged. At first was a lot of inner chatter, self-justifications, self-judgments, anger at Donna, seeing Donna’s sweet countenance having turned fierce in hurt and frustration, fear of being discovered to be a fraud, images of the headline in our energy e-letter announcing the divorce of the self-proclaimed relationship virtuosos. I just noticed each and let it go. Back to the breath.

Then a very vague image emerged. But I could place it. It was the bus stop where I was left off every day after school during first grade. Me and another boy were the only two left off there. Unfortunately for me, he was the class bully, a heavyset but very strong boy who went by the name of Pudgy. I remember that his father was a police officer and he was the toughest kid and the best fighter in our class. I, on the other hand, was tall, skinny, highly uncoordinated, painfully shy, and socially awkward—the perfect target for bullies of far less stature than Pudgy. So it wasn’t a big rush for him to beat me up. I usually got away with only a punch to my stomach or jaw, just enough to make me cry. Once he was satisfied that he had done enough damage to reaffirm his bully status, he would turn away and walk home.

But on the day that came up in my vision, something unusual had happened in school. The teacher was mad at the class for being unruly. We didn’t get recess. But she had to deal with us needing a bathroom break, so she had all the boys line up in one line, all the girls in another, and marched us to the boys’ and girls’ lavatories. But first she gave a warning that if even one of us spoke, the entire class would have to put their heads down for thirty minutes afterward, a most unwelcome punishment for children with growing, restless bodies. If we retained perfect silence during the bathroom break, she would instead read us a story we were all eager to hear. After I finished at the urinal, I walked up to the sink to wash my hands and another boy walked up to it at the same time. I stepped back and invited him to go first. At that unfortunate moment, the teacher happened to look into the boys’ bathroom, saw me talking, and that was that. The whole class spent the next half hour with our collective heads on our folded arms on our little desks. The teacher did not announce the name of the culprit, but she said it was someone she never would have suspected. Of course, by the end of the school day, everyone knew it was me. I could not have been more humiliated or felt more ostracized.

It also gave occasion for Pudgy to give me an extra-vigorous beating that day. And that was the scene that emerged out of the initial vague image of the bus stop. I was surprised it came up right then, in part because I had decades earlier dealt with my relationship with Pudgy ad nauseam in psychodynamic talk therapy. I felt done with it, processed, complete. I particularly didn’t, at first, see any relationship between this memory and my arguments with Donna. But even as I kept bringing my awareness back to my breath, I had opened a portal that kept presenting different aspects of the memory and then connections to my current problem.

While no one would ever see Donna as a bully, as we got out of harmony with the pressures on us, the complex demands of the organization, and the curse of having agreed to hold our relationship up as a model, we became about as acrimonious as we’d ever been in our thirty-three years together. I felt I was giving my heart and soul to the organization and Donna’s disagreement and judgment of my best efforts felt as unfair as becoming the class villain for having simply told another boy he could use the sink first. The sense of unfairness and injustice was the invisible link between what I was playing out with Donna and what was still unhealed in my psyche. By tapping on that, it lost its power, and I’ve not been hooked in one of those discussions since. This had a domino effect. Now Donna could express her frustrations and be heard rather than fought, allowing genuine problem-solving to occur, and we were soon back on track with one another.

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The Problem Is Never the Problem

Notice how David found the roots of his present-day problem with his wife in a childhood experiences with a bully. If he’d focused on solving the problem with his wife, he would have been directing his efforts at the wrong target. One of my favorite sayings is “The problem is never the problem.” In EFT workshops, I usually ignore the problem that a participant wants to work on, and go straight back to that person’s childhood. People are typically puzzled by my ignoring what seems, to them, to be a big and important adult problem. Yet we usually find that once we’ve used EFT to resolve the childhood distress, the emotional intensity of the adult problem deflates like a popped balloon.

David also needed to tap on a specific event. In The Basic Recipe found in chapter 2 of The EFT Manual (not required for this course), Gary Craig emphasized how important it is to use EFT on specific incidents, not generalities. An example of a generality is “I’m unlovable.” You won’t get very far with EFT using this in your Setup Statement, as in “Even though I feel so unlovable, I deeply and completely accept myself.” You need to find the root causes of the belief that you’re unlovable.

An example of the kind of specific event that might have contributed to the feeling of being unlovable comes from a psychotherapist who attended one of my workshops, whom I’ll call Monica. Monica worked with one of EFT Universe’s expert trainers, Jan Steele. Her global issue was “perfectionism,” but there were many childhood and adult incidents that had built and solidified that pattern. Here’s how Monica described one of these events, the intensity of which she rated as a 10 out of 10:

“I remember an incident that happened when I was four years old. I had received a big book of fairy tales for Christmas, and I loved doing art projects. I decided to color the book. I went into the bathroom, and laid out my watercolors. I began coloring in the pictures, having a grand old time. My mother came in and scolded me. I remember the horrified expression on her face. ‘We don’t deface books!’ she yelled. She was a librarian. She had always been so nice to me; I was totally shocked. She grabbed the book away from me, washed off the paint, and sent me to my room as punishment. I remember the look of horror on her face. I felt I was defective; I couldn’t do anything right.”

* * *

Jan tapped with Monica on the look on her mother’s face, on the shock she felt when her mother yelled at her, and on other aspects of the incident. They tapped on “Mother’s horrified face.” Then, spontaneously, Monica said, “Mother’s silly face,” as EFT worked its magic. She began to laugh and said, “My mother really messed up that time. I think she knew it too.” The intensity dropped to 0 on all aspects of the incident.

These examples illustrate why it’s so important to work on specific memories with EFT. When emotional traumas are encoded in our brains, they’re engraved as specific events. So while we might go and see a therapist for a general issue, for example, “performance anxiety,” the issue did not start out as a general problem with performance anxiety. The performance anxiety arose from an aggregate of specific events, and only after they’d all accumulated, could we identify and name the general problem.

Jeanette, who suffered from performance anxiety, described several events. One was performing solos in music tech class at the age of eleven. “There was one girl who looked so smug,” Jeanette said. “She knew she was the best singer. She’d look at me while I was performing, and I knew her look meant ‘You know I’m the best.'”

“Was it only solos?” I asked. She said yes. When they sang together as a group in choir, no one could hear the individual voices. But when they sang solos in music tech, all eyes were upon her.

In another incident, Jeanette had to give a talk about her summer vacation in front of the class in first grade. She prepared for days in advance and wrote careful notes. When the day arrived, she opened her backpack, only to discover that she’d left her notes at home. She was very nervous, and even though the speech went well, the event left a lasting emotional impression.

Jeanette described another event around the age of nine. She’d been asked to sing in the church choir, and went to rehearsals to practice with the group. She enjoyed the singing and the companionship of the rehearsals. At long last, the great day dawned when they had to sing in front of the congregation. When they assembled in the choir room just before the service, the choirmaster discovered that most of the sets of music sheets were missing. So each group of three choir members had to share a sheet of music. Jeanette was too far away from the friend holding the sheet to be able to see it properly and felt great stress, even though the performance went “fairly well.”

When I asked Jeanette to rate the intensity of her anxiety as she imagined singing or speaking in front of a group now, her number was a 0 out of 10. “The actual performance, when you’re up there and it’s happening, doesn’t bother me at all,” she said. “It’s the time leading up to it that sends me into a panic.”

Emotional Tags in the Brain

That’s the way emotional memories are encoded into the brain, incident by incident. When strong emotion is attached to a memory, it’s like a red tag the brain attaches to that type of event. The tag says “important, potentially dangerous.”

There’s a very good reason why our brains evolved in this way. When our distant ancestors were confronted by threats such as predators or hostile attackers, those that responded fastest lived, while the slow responders died. Imagine a Paleolithic tribesman whose clan was attacked while walking through a canyon. Let’s call him Conan. There was plentiful water from the river that had carved the canyon, as well as abundant fruit and game in the area. But a hostile group attacked the tribe from the bluffs above the canyon, and the tribe was lucky to stay alive. Now every time Conan approaches a canyon, he scans the rock walls above to see if there are any potential enemies lurking there. His brain has attached a red tag to the shape of a canyon, and this brain tag keeps him safe.

While the brain might also tag pleasant events, like eating the fruit, it pays much more attention to negative events, and encodes them very strongly in our memory banks. If Conan noticed that purple fruit tasted better than green fruit, that information was also valuable to his brain. But he could fail to notice the difference and still live. If he failed to notice the hostile attackers, however, he died. That’s why the brain gives precedence to emotionally charged negative memories.

My friend psychologist Rick Hanson, PhD, author of Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom, has a famous saying: “Our brains are like Teflon for positive experiences, and Velcro for negative ones.” That characteristic of the brain is what allowed humans to pass their genes to the next generation, and survive. The reason you’re alive today is that each generation of your ancestors honed their ability to detect threats, and you’re the evolutionary pinnacle of that skill.

David and Jeannette weren’t facing a caveman with a spear. Yet the same neurological mechanism was at work, attaching red tags to negative experiences. Such a tag might have been attached to Jeanette’s first-grade speech experience. When a similar incident occurred when she was nine, another tag was attached. More tags were attached every time the “best” singer looked at Jeanette during music tech class. Eventually, all these similar experiences showed up as a pattern called “performance anxiety.” Psychologists call the collective outcome of these separate events a “conditioned response.” When Jeanette is about to give a performance, she now has a panic attack, a conditioned response to all her previous bad experiences.

Her brain tagged the memories one by one, not as a group. EFT reverses the process, by removing the red tags one by one, rather than trying to treat the whole diagnosis of “performance anxiety.” Just as the problem was created by conditioning, event by event, it can be uncreated by counterconditioning each event. EFT works to countercondition traumatic memories in the same way that the adverse experiences were conditioned in the first place. That’s why it’s such a successful treatment for emotional trauma.

When we use EFT to erase the emotional impact of these childhood memories, they stop having their effect on our present life. That’s what I mean when I say that you can create a happy childhood for yourself, and do it retroactively. You cannot change the events that happened in your childhood, but you can certainly remove their emotional sting.

Having a Happy Childhood, Starting Today

Using this method of counterconditioning, you can work through all the tragic events of your childhood, one by one. Even though there may be two or three hundred negative memories, if you tap on two or three each day, you’ll have tapped them all away in a few months. Once you’ve counterconditioned the whole batch, you might well view your childhood in a whole new way.

I did this myself. My parents were missionaries, and we moved house often. My mother said that, in twenty years of marriage, they moved house twenty-two times. That meant that I rarely finished a school year in the same school, or even in the same country. Each time we moved, I had to start adjusting to a new set of faces, social rules, and expectations. Long before my little brain figured out how to navigate the new maze, we moved again and I’d start all over. This was in the 1960s and the “new kid” in school was invariably picked on, not welcomed. So I was trying to learn the rules in a hostile environment. I had a difficult time making friends, increasingly withdrew into books and hobbies, and virtually gave up on trying to connect with other people.

One of my earliest memories is walking toward kindergarten on a snowy winter day. The family had just moved from missionary work at a church in Cape Town, South Africa to the town of Colorado Springs, Colorado, where my father was receiving professional training. The teachers considered my British accent a speech impediment and so I was placed in remedial speech classes, which induced severe dyslexia and an actual speech impediment that hampered me much of my adult life. My family was poor, so I was dressed in cast-off clothing from the “missionary barrel” in church—clothes that were too small or too dreadful for the children of other congregants to wear.

As I walked to kindergarten that day, I watched my boots drag in the snow, staring at the long tracks they made in the white powder. Each dark track in the white snow seemed like a black lake of doom. Every cell in my body was filled with dread at the harsh treatment I was likely to receive at school. I had the wrong clothes, the wrong accent, the wrong lunchbox, and the wrong culture. My mother had several mental health challenges, and my father was too busy with church affairs to have much time left over for the family, so I was on my own.

Most of the rest of my school career was similarly challenging. By about ten years old, I didn’t bother trying to make friends anymore. I checked out a book from the library each day, and usually read it that same day, then went back for another. Though I gained a prodigious vocabulary and general knowledge, my social skills were minimal. Most of my childhood memories were nightmares like the worries associated with the patterns my boots left in the snow.

I decided, a few years back, that I was going to change my childhood! Rather than telling another person this tragic story, I would tap on it, and then tell a happy story! So if you talk to me nowadays, I will tell you how often my family moved. Then I will recount how it gave me experience of many different cultures, and the ability to relate to various types of people. I like my new story more than my old one and, true or not, it makes me happier and less stressed. Nowadays I love working with people. I teach EFT to thousands of people each year, and thoroughly enjoy relating to the diverse EFT community.

Let’s now find some of the red tag events in your brain, and practice EFT with them, to see if we can change your emotional intensity around them.

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Week 1 Skill: Living Your Present Free of Your Past

Exercise: Rewriting Your Childhood Scripts

Write down three ways you get triggered in relationships. For instance, you might get upset when your partner leaves a mess in the kitchen, mislays the car keys, or is late for an appointment. Write down three categories of event that are likely to trigger you.

Now complete the following process with each of these events.

Imagine the event vividly. Feel the feeling that this event evokes in your body. Write down where in your body you feel it and also write down your SUD level. (As a reminder, your SUD level is your rating of the intensity of your feeling on the 0-to-10 scale called the SUD scale; SUD stands for Subjective Units of Distress.)

Now remember the first time in your life you ever felt that particular feeling in your body. How old were you? What has happening around you at the time? Pick an event that is strongly associated with that physical sensation.

You can even imagine you possess a magic time machine. It transports you back to the first time you felt that way in your body. You regress year after year till you reach the very earliest experience that produced that physical feeling. That’s when you stop and write down the event.

Event 1 name:

Body location:

Starting SUD:

One-sentence description of the event:

Let’s now do EFT on the event. Turn to the instructions here and tap through the Basic Recipe. Keep going till your SUD number becomes low. After that, return to this page, and write down your ending SUD.

Ending SUD:

Once you’re at a low number for the first of these events, use EFT on the second one, then the third. You’ll notice I’m only asking you to write a brief description, not an essay about the event. The reason for this is that your body is very smart, and it’s able to tune into the red tag using only a few words. It isn’t necessary to explain the whole thing.

Now start on the second event.

Event 2 name:

Body location:

Starting SUD:

One-sentence description of the event:

Turn to the instructions here and tap through the Basic Recipe. Keep going till your SUD number becomes low. After that, return to this page, and write down your ending SUD.

Ending SUD:

Event 3 name:

Body location:

Starting SUD:

One-sentence description of the event:

Turn to the instructions here and tap through the Basic Recipe. Keep going till your SUD number becomes low. After that, return to this page, and write down your ending SUD.

Ending SUD:

This Week’s Homework

Assignment: Immediate Tapping for Emotional Triggers

Whenever you find yourself triggered by one of the three relationship annoyances you listed earlier, start tapping right away. Don’t bother with Setup Statements or trying to find the right words. Just focus on the feeling and tap through the points. If you’re particularly adventurous, you might even seek out the kind of problem that typically triggers you. For example, you might go and stand in the messy kitchen and tap.

Write down your experience with the following format in your personal journal.

  • Event
  • Starting SUD
  • Ending SUD

You’ll probably find that by the end of the week, if you’ve used EFT a few dozen times, you’re no longer triggered by those three annoyances. If you hadn’t done EFT, you might have continued to stress about these problems the rest of your life. With EFT, you’ve liberated yourself from repetitive problems that would otherwise have kept bothering you year after year. We’re just beginning our journey with EFT, and you’ll find many more breakthroughs in the pages ahead.

Further Resources

Books on Attachment

Bowlby, John. “Attachment“, 3 vols. New York: Basic Books, 1969.

Johnson, Susan M.Attachment Theory: A Guide for Healing Couple Relationships” In W. Steven Rholes & Jeffry A. Simpson (Eds.), Adult Attachment: Theory, Research, and Clinical Implication, pp. 367 – 387. New York: Guilford, 2004.

Karen, Robert. Becoming Attached: First Relationships and How They Shape Our Capacity to Love. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Levine, Amir, and Rachel S. F. Heller. Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find—and Keep—Love. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2010.

Mikulincer, Mario, and Phillip R. Shaver. Attachment in Adulthood: Structure, Dynamics, and Change. New York: Guilford, 2007.

Siegel, Daniel J. The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are, 2d ed. New York, Guildford, 2012.

Solomon, Marion, and Stan Tatkin. Love and War in Intimate Relationships. New York: Norton, 2011.

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