Triggers and Set Points

In the most recent issue of Energy Psychology (vol 8, no 2), Dawson Church, PhD, presents research that identifies the link between our triggers – those events that signal our defense mechanisms including the autonomic “fight/flight/freeze” response and bring them into play – and the “set points” that make those triggers more or less easily activated.

Our set points for almost any emotion or cluster of emotions are learned and shaped by deep experience and continual reinforcement. And what starts as a behavioral adaption becomes translated into an automatic biological/neurological function. Church draws an analogy between the presets on your radio in the car; each of those stations have a particular level at which they are activated. Under stress certain stress points become obvious. And they vary from person to person.

For example, the same event is received very differently by different persons. A lamp unexpectedly falls over and crashes to the floor and one person is mildly interested, the next irritated, and the next diving under the chair. Their set points are located very differently and automatically so. Over time the set points become habitual. Some people have very low set points for sadness, anger and fear and they are triggered easily while others have much higher set points and it takes much more intensity to affect them. The same can be said of pain and what is experienced with or without great suffering; people have different set points for the experience of pain.

Initially set points served as part of the evolutionary survival instinct. They keep us alive. But when activated too easily in settings that are not representing real threat they become maladaptive.

Thankfully, it is possible to reset these set point presets. This is where energy psychology comes in. The practice of tapping on meridians – the body’s energy points – while imagining or experiencing triggers actually soothes and helps reset the triggering intensity. In clinical trials EFT and EMDR have been shown to have high effectiveness in decreasing Beta brain waves and increasing Alpha waves. Of special importance is the way that coupling tapping or eye desensitization with verbalizing, imagining and experiencing those triggers soothes the amygdala, seat of the fight and flight response which releases cortisol into our system to mobilize our defenses. Persistent and constant cortisol presence is destructive to the brain, resulting in decaying quality of life. Tapping on body meridians while exposing troubling images, memories and emotions reverses the stress response and resets the set points.

The good news is that set points can be changed. We can actually shift our habitual set points from terrible emotions to the set points of greater relaxation, peace and happiness. It is what the great spiritual traditions have taught and practiced for centuries. Now we call it mindfulness. But in the past it was simply called prayer, contemplation or meditation. Coupled with the ritualized behavior of tapping which stimulates the meridians of our natural energy network healing is more possible than ever before.

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How Does EFT Approach Disassociation?

Disassociation is the phenomenon of a personality that splits off from itself, most usually separating from unresolvable conflicts or painful emotions. It is a coping mechanism that often results in a flat affect, the feeling of being out of touch with one’s feelings and body. When asked “How are you feeling?” the person who is disassociated is usually unaware and has accompanying sensations of numbness and looking in at life from the outside.

EFT coupled with somatic approaches connects with submerged emotions; tapping on the meridians stimulates the flow of energy and the repetitive nature of the tapping allows for subconscious and repressed material to surface much more easily and with a sense of safety. Continued tapping on the emotions that arise helps to drain off the raw emotion which resides in the consciousness/body and block the natural flow of energy.

As a paradox, when working with Matrix Reimprinting one attempts to remain disassociated from the earlier subconscious self (the ECHO) in order to listen to, assist, support and help it to release a variety of persistent emotions.

EFT and other somatic approaches are often more effective than cognitive/behavioral talk therapy. Why? Because disassociation is a function of the rational ego state of the mind which is itself the locale of resistance. Limiting oneself to cognitive approaches generally slows the process down without addressing the real root of disassociation. It may in fact reinforce it.

The Matrix is not just a movie

I have just received certification as a Matrix Reimprinting Practitioner. Matrix is an advanced specialty of EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques). Matrix work involves going into the subconscious, past memories and energetic selves where we may resolve that which still operates beneath the surface of our awareness. Through a variety of techniques we clear the painful and troubling emotions and thoughts affiliated with past trauma. It is a wonderful extension of and accompaniment to EFT.

Strung Out

Nothing stands in isolation, and that is especially true of trauma.

Most usually current traumas are preceded by early forms of the same thing; there is a progression of occurrences and the emotions/thoughts that have been attached to them. If we address and clear the present struggle its more complete resolution is most usually found as we follow the energy to the early places. Once visiting, clearing and reframing those energetic aspects that are alive and functioning in our subconscious the present challenge frequently resolves very quickly.

 

It’s the body (not only the mind)

Two outstanding books that address trauma parallel one another:
Touch by Michael Changaris (Life Rhythm, 2015) and Waking the Tiger by Peter Levine (North Atlantic Books, 1997). They both assume that the body is the key to understanding psychic pain as well as the pathway to its healing.

For Changaris there is a direct neurobiological link with touch and that explains everything from developmental delays to techniques of healing. Therapeutic interventions most often utilized include touch of various kinds in different settings. For Levine trauma is body-based and healing comes through an awareness of sensations related to the trauma.

However important cognitive therapies are our emotional selves live in and express themselves through our bodies. Our interaction with body – listening to it as well as physically touching it – gets to the root of emotional suffering much more quickly without re-traumatizing the person.

EFT utilizes exposure therapy and cognitive restructuring. But it does so while simultaneously tapping on the energy centers of the body, activating the body’s innate power to clear trauma and replace it with the unimpeded flow of energy.

 

Compulsive Handwashing

Ritualized Handwashing often becomes compulsive as it functions as a magical personal spell against perceived contagions. A sense of control is provided by a behavior that functions as a sedative for anxiety. Since different aspects of the perceiving mind are at odds with one another – one aspect repeating the compulsion and another at the same time knowing that it is fictitious and magical, EFT tapping on those opposiites reveals and exposes the polarities. Clearing and identifying the anxiety, ritual and sensation in the body often results in freedom from the self-enforced captivity.

 

Borrowing Benefits

Imagine the strange, entangled world of Quantum physics at work:

Just this week a group of people sat with me in a tapping circle. Each person secretly wrote a concern on a piece of paper and then sat on it. As we worked with one person’s publicly shared concern, everyone tapping along, each person took stock of the intensity they were experiencing with their own concern. After we tapped down the intensity of the willing participant we asked for intensity levels of the others in the circle, those who had not publicly shared their concerns. Bingo! The levels all dropped, some to zero. Why? How?

You could chalk it up to some group hypnosis, maybe a trance state induced in the same way as a drum circle does – except our bodies are the drums. Maybe so. Or perhaps it is the power of suggestion and the most suggestible received the most indirect benefit. Maybe so again.

Or the answer is more directly and invisibly related to shared energy. Why else do people gather together in prayer and meditation and yoga groups? You could and can do it alone. It is because of the shared energy. There is a qualitative difference between a solitary and communal experience. And in our circle of concern, sharing and practicing synchronized tapping on energy meridians, our energy systems entangled, and the benefits and shifts in one person’s consciousness was shared by others.

Tapping on Opposites

All of us have contradictory thoughts that coexist within our minds and cognitive structures. We often hold two opposite ideas simultaneously and that internal conflict leaves us confused and anxious.

For example, a person may at the same time long for approval from others and also know that ultimate approval comes from a sense of inner belonging, what some would call a sense of being loved by God. By tapping on these opposites we not only expose the contradicting cognitive structures but more importantly the emotions attached to them.

Once the opposites are exposed and the tapping activates our energy to sedate the limbic system, we feel much calmer, more accepting of our internal contradictions. We develop a clarity about them and then, at the best, move back toward the origins of the convictions. These are most usually tied to narratives from our past experience that we have internalized; the stories have defined us. Clearing a story of its emotional charge allows us to view our own stories in a more objective way, as an observer who recognizes having chapters in a biography. This work reduces the sense of conflict realized in opposites that used to upset and unsettle us.

Exaggerate on the way to Freedom

Since the root of much of our captivity has to do with trapped emotions and restricted energy flow our primary goal is always to identify and name those aspects as we tap. That combination of repetitively exposing the emotions while engaging in the rhythmic act of tapping is what releases the confined emotions.

Many times the best way to release the emotions is to verbally exaggerate them. Exaggeration is good. Not only does the excess get to root but the overreach of exaggeration sometimes reveals the opposite, the silliness, even absurdity of certain thoughts connected to emotions.

In ancient cultures that made a practice of casting out spirits they frequently named the complex that possessed a person while chanting, drumming or using repetitive motions. This often induced a trance state in which the energy overcame the energy reversal. In the modern era many of the same combinations remain highly effective: naming, repetition, rhythmic tapping and, yes, exaggeration.

EFT for Headaches Due to Nerve Damage in C3

Though many headaches derive from mechanical difficulties, i.e., pinched nerves from a slipped disc, they also source from anxiety, worry, sustained stress, chemical imbalances and repressed emotions from past trauma. There is tremendous fear that headaches will never remit and that all efforts to reduce them will fail. This is especially difficult for those with long-term debilitating headache activity. There is pain and then there is suffering about the pain.

EFT addresses many aspects simultaneously. Physical relaxation is often the result of tapping which immediately impacts tension oriented headaches. The rhythmic tapping stimulates energy flow and often precipitates a kind of meditative state. Naming the specific pain while tapping defuses the emotional power of pain and the fear that it will prevail.

The beginning point is always the most direct and simplest, tapping on the pain itself – the location, the perceived size, density, color, temperature. Generally the pain changes location and as we “chase” it around the body it begins to dissipate. Connecting the pain with an emotion is often the key to clearing it.

Just recently I tapped with an eighty year old woman who was having persistent headaches due to nerve damage in C3. Those who tried to help her prescribed muscle relaxants and anti-anxiety meds, The result did not diminish her pain but only made her groggy. After only three rounds of EFT she said, “It’s gone. How did that work? Will it come back?” After we worked on developing her own self-tapping regimen for later she proceeded with cheerfulness and a renewed serenity. And she began to incrementally reduce her medication dosage.