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As I deepen my dance with EFT personally and professionally, I am struck by the benefits of movement on our healing journeys. Energies begin to shift and flow when we do something as simple as take a deep breath, stretch, or walk a short distance. However, because the memories of trauma are stored in every cell of our bodies as well as in our energy field/aura, conscious movement, something we do with the intention of shifting energies, is much more effective than a random breath now and again. For many trauma survivors, movement’s effectiveness is terrifying precisely because it can free memories we feel unprepared to process and ultimately integrate. Our fear of the unknown, often experienced as free floating anxiety, keeps us locked, quite literally, in rigid physical positions that become our habitual way of defending against feeling. Happily, EFT can help us to develop a gentle movement routine to release memories gradually and without the traumatizing energies we first experienced.
The Terrors of Moving During and After Trauma
The human fight or flight response to trauma is well known in our culture. Lashing out has become the norm on social media platforms, and many people follow twitter feeds and Facebook posts simply to maintain the adrenaline rush that accompanies the attack mode. Several current cultural icons have evolved a swaggering online presence, modeling for our impressionable children and adolescents ostensibly “cool” ways to be in the world that actually cripple human growth. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the media’s relentless presentation of sound bites to emphasize the cartoon-style, quick-draw of the frontier mentality. Bullies abound in content and presentation, prompting many gentle citizens to turn off electronics in disgust. This “turning off” response demonstrates the flight aspect of the fight or flight response to threat. A third response is the topic of this blog: The Freeze Response.
In recent studies on rape, including Jon Krakower’s powerful Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a Small College Town (see his NPR interview at http://www.npr.org/2015/04/19/400185648/jon-krakauer-tells-a-depressingly-typical-story-of-college-town-rapes) many rape victims are charged with crying wolf because they do not scream, fight, or run away during sexual assaults. The mechanism involved in this apparent and mistakenly interpreted consent to sex is the third of the possible responses to traumatic threat: The Freeze Response. Police officers in the 80s in Toronto, my home at the time, advised women to avoid more harm by cooperating and “going along” with rapists. Since then, the advice to fight is far more common, but many trauma victims simply cannot fight because their terror immobilizes them.
Nightmares of Voicelessness and Paralysis
Many of us have had nightmares in which we feel under threat and unable to cry for help. This is the freeze response in action. Often connected to earlier, unresolved traumatic events, these nightmares are an invitation to tap on the terror of being frozen in the face of terrifying threat. After such a nightmare, it is useful to tap on our feelings of helplessness and, oddly enough, on our anger at ourselves for being vulnerable (more about this later). Such a tapping sequence might be expressed in a script similar to the following, one that uses your own words to describe your specific feelings:
On the karate chop point: Even though I wanted to scream but couldn’t and I’m mad at myself for my silence, I deeply and completely love myself; even though I wanted to fight but I couldn’t and I’m angry at myself for my paralysis, I deeply and completely love myself; even though I tried to run away but I couldn’t and I’m angry at myself that I didn’t, I deeply and completely love myself and accept where I am on my healing journey.
Tapping through the points: I should have screamed, and I’m angry at myself because I didn’t; I should have fought back, and I’m angry because I didn’t; I should have run away and I’m angry at myself because I didn’t; I’m disgusted with myself for not fighting back; I don’t want anyone to think I wanted this to happen; I was paralyzed; I couldn’t do anything to save myself; I’m so mad at myself for my helplessness in this situation.
This focus will take the edge off both conscious and unconscious feelings of anger about being vulnerable. It is vitally important to tap a forgiveness round after the above, one that might sound like the following, again, using your own words and feelings to describe what’s happening for you:
Tapping through the points: I forgive myself for freezing; this is one of the natural human responses to terror; I was terrified and I froze; I was so terrified I couldn’t move or scream; I hate that I froze, but I’m human, and humans sometimes freeze during attack; I don’t want to live my life encased in protective armor; I want to be out there living the life I choose to live; yes, terrible things happen, but I can learn skills to resolve trauma, intended and unintended; I forgive myself for being vulnerable; I love my vulnerability because it connects me with others; I refuse to allow something that happened in the past to limit my joy and enthusiasm in the present; I am healing; I am embracing my vulnerability; I completely forgive myself for my humanness, including freezing when I am being attacked; I embrace my vulnerability and my connections to self and others; I am so grateful to be fully human, even if that means sometimes freezing and being vulnerable.
Why Conscious Movement Supports Healing After Freezing During Trauma
Terror keeps the breath shallow and the body locked into rigid patterns that actually imprison energies and cause distortions in thinking, feeling, and cell growth. EFT supports a program of conscious movement by helping to slowly release trauma frozen in the body. Speaking gently with the body during this process of trauma release through controlled movement is vital to befriending all parts of ourselves, including the feelings of vulnerability and anger that follow freezing during attack. Something as simple as rotating the wrists and then tapping through the points “I free all the energies trapped in my wrists when I wanted to fight but I couldn’t” will help in the present and may even limit the development of arthritis in the future.
How can I make such a claim? Scientific research suggests an “autoimmune personality (AI)” and a “cancer personality.” For many this is not a welcome development because those currently manifesting these conditions feel blamed and lash out at the suggestion that “we wanted this to happen.” However, raising the question of personality and wellness invites the foremost ingredient necessary for healing: curiosity. Asking “Why am I having such a strong reaction to the suggestion that I may have an AI personality,” especially if done with an EFT practice firmly in place and a journal and pen close by, may be the beginning of the most fruitful healing work imaginable. (For a medical perspective on the personality’s influence on wellness, see http://issues.yesmagazine.org/good-health/culture.html#culture1).
Begin With Okay-ness
As we age, we often expect to be finished with early traumas or even more recent ones, the latter almost as soon as they’ve happened. I have heard the “Been there, done that” explanation for not wanting to revisit any trauma at all more times than I can count. I understand this. It is painful to revisit frightening experiences that remind us of our vulnerability. However, survivors of trauma discover that these events will find a way to express their need for healing in one way or another. Sometimes we are persistently angry or even explosive with others, sometimes we can’t sleep, sometimes we eat compulsively, sometimes we obliterate the pain of unhealed trauma with legal and illegal drugs, and sometimes we develop a condition that speaks our terror and rage through pain and even the threat of death.
Because EFT is such a benign and gentle approach to healing, we can always begin with a simple “I am okay the way I am,” round of tapping. Then, once we’ve taken the edge off our reactive feelings of being blamed for our condition, we can do a round of “I feel safe to make friends with this pain” – or fear, or anger, or specific physical condition. Once we’ve made this gentle connection, the body’s wisdom takes over, most frequently by feeling the urge to move. Walking, dancing, and singing are great ways to get energies moving so that our natural physical orientation to wellness is no longer tamped down by terror and/or anger. Tapping on “I’m okay; it’s good to be okay; no matter what, I’m okay; it’s okay to move now” during a conscious movement session is a great place to begin.
A Personal Word on Arthritis and Unexpressed Anger at the Self
Arthritis may be one of the most painful physical expressions of unacknowledged and unexpressed rage. I’ll use my own mother as an example to illustrate this hypothesis. When she was fourteen, she was molested by an orthodontist. While in his chair, she froze during sexual advances that included touching her breasts and what she called to her dying day, “her privates.” Mortified, she kept this secret for seventy years, telling me only after I shared with her a similar experience.
What traumatized my mother as much as being inappropriately touched by her dentist was her failure to fight him off or at least report him; she feared that if she told anyone, the process of having her overbite corrected would end, something she couldn’t face because she was terribly embarrassed by her “bucked” teeth. For decades she carried a double shame. The first was because this trusted professional touched her in the first place, the second, that she didn’t resist or expose him. I asked how it had affected her, and she said it made her “dangerous.” When I asked her to explain, she said that when she thought about this man she felt her hands didn’t belong to her, that they could detach from her body and kill the orthodontist. As she made this confession, she held up her hands, her wrists and finger joints so swollen with painful arthritis that she had to bathe them in cold water several times an hour.
I learned EFT after my mother’s passing and once I did, tapped on my grief and her anger and shame, not only during her conversation with me, but throughout her life. She was an artist who lost her joy in life when her hands made it too painful to create. Her experience made a vivid impression on me. We had been sharing secrets for most of my adult life, and yet she hadn’t felt safe enough to tell me about the orthodontist until she was very close to the end. I have had many insights as I contemplate her experience, the most important the unmistakable evidence that the body expresses what the mind and heart cannot. I am utterly convinced that having a movement practice to consciously and reverently release anger, fear, and shame on a regular basis is a vital support to our well being.
In the next post , I’ll share a personal experience with conscious movement after traumatic events because sometimes, hearing another person’s story is the very thing we need to believe in our own return to wellness. One more thing. I have been working on my own healing since the early 80s, but it is only since learning EFT that I feel fully empowered to befriend the worst of my prenatal, childhood, and adult experiences. Please don’t forget: if you are overwhelmed by this blog post or your own healing process, reach out. Lots of EFT coaches do this deep work. And I am just an email away.
Until next time
Jane Buchan, MA, AAMET Advanced Practitioner, email@example.com, 802-533-9277
Jane is a Learning Coach specializing in neutralizing cultural age, gender, and race constructs to support learners of every age. To engage her coaching services, please contact Jane by phone (802) 533-9277 or email, firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to put Coaching Query in the subject line.