Healing from Childhood Trauma: Tapping/EFT
This article presents background and information on childhood trauma, including solutions for healing. I have included personal experiences with Emotional Freedom Techniques as a tool for dealing with trauma triggers.
As a survivor of childhood trauma, and a mother of 3 children who survived childhood trauma before we adopted them, I am on a quest for healing. Childhood trauma has been linked to long lasting psychological and/or physiological effects. The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACES) Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study has shown that childhood experiences, both positive and negative, have a huge impact on future behaviors, health and opportunity. ACEs have been linked to risky health behaviors like smoking and drug use; chronic health conditions like diabetes, hypertension and fibromyalgia; low life potential and early death.
Trauma is defined by Merriam Webster Dictionary as an injury (such as a wound) to living tissue caused by an extrinsic agent. It is also defined as a disordered psychic or behavioral state resulting from severe mental or emotional stress or physical injury; and the final definition is emotional upset. My friend, who is also a therapist defines trauma as an event, situation or circumstance that overwhelms ones present coping capacity.
The word "trauma" has become part of our vocabulary mainly because of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). According to WoundedWarriorHomes.org (a support site for veterans with PTSD) over 540,000 veterans have been diagnosed with PTSD. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs defines trauma as part of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident or sexual assault. What Is PTSD? - PTSD: National Center for PTSD
After a traumatic event it is normal to have upsetting memories, to feel on edge, or have trouble communicating with others, eating or sleeping. Daily activities like going to school or work may be difficult. Most people start to feel better after a few weeks or months, but if it has been longer than that and you continue to have symptoms, you may have PTSD. For some people, symptoms don't occur right after the event, they may start later or come and go over time.
There are four types of PTSD symptoms:
1. Reliving the event/flashbacks, memories, nightmares
2. Avoiding situations that remind you of the event
3. Having more negative beliefs and feelings – you may feel guilt or shame, or that the world is dangerous and you can't trust anyone.
4. Hyperarousal – you may be jittery, or always on high alert. You might have trouble concentrating or sleeping. You might suddenly get angry or irritable, startle easily or act in unhealthy ways (smoking, drinking, driving too fast)
Statistics state as many as one-third of children may experience some form of childhood trauma. I was sexually abused from age 10-16, but lived with the abuser from age 6-18, so my story is one of repeated emotional and physical abuse of a period of at least 10 years. I have been in therapy on and off since I was 19 years old. Engaging in group and individual therapy has made it possible for me to choose a supportive, loving partner and have meaningful connections with friends and family. I still struggle however, with the work world. I have written about my concern that I might be a bully, with descriptions of incivility, and I have also written about being fired – I have talked a lot about the consequences of my reactivity.
Reactivity is defined as the tendency of a substance to undergo chemical reaction, and that is what it feels like when it happens to me – like my body is being changed by chemicals. To be reactive is to act in response to a situation rather than creating or controlling it. Reactivity can also be defined as "behavior that is not internally motivated but manifests in response to a situation or the actions of others." In an article I wrote about bullying, I described a scene in which a new nurse made a medication error, and I responded emotionally, instead of professionally. Over and over in my life I have been told to "control myself" and I have tried, but I continue to be triggered by certain situations.
A trigger is a small device that releases a spring or catch and sets off a mechanism, especially in order to fire a gun. In psychology a trigger is a stimulus such as a smell, sound or sight that triggers feelings of trauma. The brain forms connections between a trigger and feelings. I am triggered by many things. I am discovering that when I feel that I am not in control, when I am confronted with an authority figure, when there is a perceived injustice, or people are "not doing things right", when I am misunderstood, when I think someone thinks I am stupid - I am triggered. It doesn't always happen, but when it does, I feel tingling in my hands and feet, my stomach gets tight, I feel pressure or tension in my chest, and worst of all, my brain feels fuzzy. Logic and professional behaviors fly out the window. I know how I am supposed to respond, but I can't seem to get there. I might react with a tight smile, and carefully controlled words, while inside I am a "hot mess" as we say in the south. Immature thoughts of how stupid other people are might jump into my brain. I might be thinking about how unfair it is that I have to deal with "this crap". I might cry or yell, or both. If I am triggered, I might physically demonstrate my distress, despite my best efforts to keep it hidden. I have been told I would be a terrible poker player – what I feel shows on my face and in my body. I feel shame over this – that I can't "control myself".
Most of us by now have heard the story of Nurse Wubbels. There is a video of her response to increasing levels of aggression from a police officer demanding access to an unconscious patient without proper authorization. Utah nurse Alex Wubbels' arrest violated policies, investigation shows - CNN Nurse Wubbels reaction to the aggressive behavior of the officer was adaptive and appropriate. I don't know if she was triggered, but she responded professionally – without reactivity. I have a hard time imagining how I would have reacted in that situation. Being yelled at by an authority figure might trigger anyone. A maladaptive, reactive response might include yelling back at the officer and saying unpleasant, unprofessional things. We see it daily in our interactions with other humans. One person says something, and another "takes it the wrong way" The trigger doesn't have to be violent, or loud. A trigger is any stimuli that causes upsetting feelings or problematic behaviors. A woman who smelled incense while being assaulted might have a panic attack when she smells incense in a store. Triggers are very personal and different things trigger different people.
Is there a solution? Can those of us who are triggered, find a way to control or prevent the reactive response? In The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma (2014) author Bessel Van Der Kolk HOME states that "Even though the trauma is a thing of the past, the emotional brain keeps generating sensations that make the sufferer feel scared and helpless" (Van Der Kolk, 2014, p. 210). He goes on to state, "recovery from trauma involves learning how to restore a sense of visceral safety, and reclaiming a loving relationship with one's self, one's entire organism". The book talks about how traumatic stress rearranges the brain's wiring and how these areas can be retrained through various therapies. Some of the techniques that are recommended include:
· Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing
· Communal Rhythms and Synchrony (rhythm, chanting, movement)
· Touch (bodywork like massage)
· Taking action (taking a self-defense course, learning)
· Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – repeated exposure to the stimulus without bad things happening, gradually leading to less distress.
Van Der Kolk even goes so far as to state that talk therapy may not be the most effective therapy for childhood trauma, and may actually make the problem worse. Therapists have this faith that talk can resolve any trauma, but it's not that simple. Traumatic events are hard to describe. If you have been hurt, naming it helps. Getting perspective on your terror and shame and sharing it with others can reestablish the feeling that you are a member of the human race, however repeatedly revisiting the trauma can reinforce the physiologic response.
In my quest to discover if I can conquer my triggers, my first stop was with Rachel Durchslag, who is certified in Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), also known as "tapping". EFT was attractive to me because it is a "self-help" technique that can be done anywhere at any time. EFT proponents claim that EFT tapping can reduce the emotional impact of memories that trigger emotional distress. Once the distress is reduced or removed, the body can rebalance itself and experience healing. EFT is based on cognitive and exposure therapy and combines acupressure in the form of fingertip tapping on 12 acupuncture or meridian points (see video). EFT is best known through Gary Craig's EFT handbook, published in the late 90's. The hard science on EFT shows "no benefit as a therapy beyond the placebo effect". Clinical psychologists characterize it as pseudoscience. That being said, I am willing to step outside of my scientific comfort zone to see if it works for me. Plus, Chinese medicine has been around for thousands of years, and who am I to let a little Western Medicine stop me from trying something that has no demonstrable side effects other than my wallet being a bit lighter?
During an EFT session, the person focuses on a specific issue while tapping on the body's energy meridians: side of the hand, top of the head, side eyebrow, under the eye, below the nose, below the mouth, clavicle and under the arm. The participant rates the emotional intensity of their reaction and repeats an orienting affirmation while tapping the specific points on the body. The emotional intensity is then rescored.
I did my first and only EFT session last fall, right after I got fired (read more about that on my blog). Rachel led me through a visualization of a night when my stepfather came into my bedroom. We tapped through it, and visualized a different outcome. What if my mother had come in, stopped it and removed my stepfather from the home? How would that have felt? We also visualized each person who had contributed to the abuse by not knowing about it, or by not stopping it. In the visualization, I had a pile of rocks in front of me that symbolized all the hurt and pain I carry around with me. I then imagined all the people who contributed to that hurt standing round me in a circle. Rachel had me visualize giving each person in the circle a rock until the pile was gone. Rachel asked me, "what do you want them to do with the rocks?" and I responded, "they all just disappear in a puff of smoke – turn to powder…except for the rocks my stepfather has…I want him to eat them." I then visualized shoving the rocks down his throat as he gagged. I felt so powerful during that visualization, and I felt free. Rachel and I made plans that if I wanted another session, to call her, but I didn't feel the need to meet with her again. When I called her for the interview this fall, I thanked her for the help she gave me, and asked if I could video a tapping session.
I want to share EFT with you because I felt so much relief from it. I have been using it for the past year, and I feel like it helps. It is a tool I can use, and I can do it on the sly as well. I can tap under my arm on my bra line without anyone knowing, or I can tap below my chin without any suspicion that I am doing therapy. I am trying to make it a habit, and to share my results with others. There are many resources for how to tap that cost nothing. You can go to youtube and type "tapping" in the search bar and see videos of how to lead yourself through a session. You can watch the video of Rachel leading me through a session. Check out the resource page for the podcast of the interview I did with Rachel Healing from Trauma: Tapping/EFT with Rachel Durschlag - Safety First Nursing -all the links are listed there.
I wonder what successes you have had with dealing with trauma? What therapies have you experienced that supported your healing or the healing of a patient? Let's get a dialogue started about mental health solutions. I am trying EMDR next and will be writing and doing a podcast and video about EMDR in the next few weeks, so be on the lookout! Please let me know what you think of EFT, and if you have tried it. I would love to hear suggestions for future articles on mental health and healing from trauma.
Last edit by Brian S. on Nov 3, '17
Kristi Miller, MSN, RN, CPPS, HNB-BC is a doctoral candidate and mother of 4 who blogs, podcasts and creates videos about patient safety topics.
Joined: Jun '11; Posts: 61; Likes: 150
Nurse Entrepreneur; from US
Specialty: 11 year(s) of experience in Oncology, Home Health, Holistic NursingNov 4, '17This is a fantastic article, I wish I had know this years ago. Thank you for writing this article and I plan on reading the book you were talking about by Bessel.