This is Part 1 of a 3 part series on why being specific is so important when using EFT Tapping by Alina Frank and Craig Weiner.
Reason 1: Memories are recorded as emotionally laden events in the brain
Our attitudes, beliefs and behaviors are all in place for good reasons. The reasons may not always make sense to our current lives, but they made good sense at some point in our past as they were adaptive to the circumstances we lived through. Otherwise, it is unlikely that they would have a place in our lives. Whether one is limited by a fear of speaking ones truth, a feeling of unworthiness, a belief that men are not trustworthy…whether one is repeatedly tardy or procrastination is an ongoing problem…despite their inconvenience, they remain in place because they were hardwired into your brain/body based upon specific experiences you lived through, whether you recall them consciously or not.
Dr. Stephen Porges, the developer of the Polyvagal Theory, speaks of it in this way: “At times, behaviors that are initially adaptive may become maladaptive…this would occur if an acute behavior that initially enhanced survival or minimized distress during threat is chronically recruited (repeated) even when there is no threat…such a behavior would be maladaptive, since it would not optimize survival and may compromise physiological function and amplify distress.”
It is in the specific moments when our biological quest for safety gets hijacked by an experience that our physiology immediately changes, mediated through the unconscious detection of threat known as neuroception. These specific instances of emotionally intense experiences of fear, helplessness and danger cause our systems to go into a state of dysregulation, whether it is a reactive fight/flight or freeze response. Such emotionally imbued events are stored implicitly in long term brain/body storage mechanisms. Even what are recalled as ongoing situations that “always happened that way” or “that’s just how it always was in my household” are still recorded as singular, though repeated experiences. The gentle and safe exploration of these specific memories are the key to integration and resolution. Yes they merge and yes they become wired together as associated memories and can be experienced as a singular felt sense in the body. Working safely and gently with a person to discover these memories are critical and often require the help of a skillful practitioner. At their foundation, the adult attitudes that show up as “the world is an unsafe place” or “people are always out for themselves” are built upon the singular experiences of our past. Thankfully, research continues to validate the neuroplastic nature of our brains which allows us the possibility of transforming the way we recall these experiences and modify and update the meanings that we have given them that may no longer be true for us
Reason 2: Research supports the targeting specific emotional memories for creating transformational change.
The ongoing research into memory reconsolidation has been very informative with regards to our understanding of how to most effectively work with updating, altering and transforming the way in which we recall and feel about our past. The Nobel Prize winning work of Nadel has completely changed the way we look at how long term memories are remembered and experienced. More recently, Bruce Ecker, author of Unlocking the Emotional Brain has authored a paper that is gaining significant recognition in the neuroscientific research circles and offers direct relevance to the world of EFT tapping and creating non-pharmaceutical induced, therapeutically transformative changing of beliefs, behaviors and physiology.
Bruce has offered a step by step approach that has three essential requirements in order to take an engrained “hardwired” schema and transform it into a new behavioral change. This process is one that is commonly employed within EFT and Matrix Reimprinting, though of course is used in a wide variety of effective therapeutic interventions. It is the first step that is especially relevant to this article. The first required step is to bring into conscious attention, a specific targeted memory. This simply means that you recall and focus on a specific memory or event that you wish to work on. The two other steps that I will mention and not go into depth with, is the creation of a mismatching or juxtaposition or opposite experience in which both the old understanding/meaning/interpretation of the event and the newly revised one…well, both cannot be true. Lastly there is the required repetition of that contradictory experience. Again, the key element for this discussion is that by focusing on and paying attention to the details of the experience, the felt sense including the associated emotions and physical sensations as well as the thoughts and meanings given to that event, that there is a neuroplastic window of approximately 4-5 hours in which this old memory and its associated meaning can be altered and updated. In other words the negative events of our past can be transformed, but the specificity of the memory is an essential element of this process.
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Porges, Stephen W., 2017, The Pocket Guide to The Polyvagal Theory; the Transformative Power of Feeling Safe, WW Norton and Company, New York.
Ecker, B. (2017, December 6). Clinical Translation of Memory Reconsolidation Research: Therapeutic Methodology for Transformational Change by Erasing Implicit Emotional Learnings Driving Symptom Production. Retrieved from http://www.psyarxiv.com/zrq2m