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EFT and masterful set up phrases

Theodore Herazy

When first learning to do Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), a very common question that arises is, "What word(s) should I use for the set up phrase" What should I say?”

Since I estimate that 90% of the people I work with from around the country have already used EFT by themselves or while working with another EFT practitioner, this is always a confusing matter that limits a person’s sense of comfort in doing EFT. When I started doing EFT over 10 years ago I had the same question myself.

The fact is, there are a number of important aspects to keep in mind when creating an effective set up phrase. Before explaining how a set up phrase is best designed, it is necessary to discuss a key principle of Emotional Freedom Technique that will make this point much easier to understand.

When first reading Gary Craig’s classic “Emotional Freedom Technique Manual,” we learn that the set up phrase should be as specific as possible; this point is repeated several times in his manual for emphasis. While this is indeed true, the question arises, “Exactly about what should the set up phrase be specific?” Most commonly I have seen that people who have difficulty making progress with EFT are using a set up phrase that only describes their problem as a concept, and it does not describe their direct experience of the problem when it first occurred.

This point is made more apparent when you consider that the EFT discovery statement is:

"The cause of all negative emotions is a disturbance in our body's energy system."

The purpose of the set up phrase is to assist in the process of activating the energy disturbance that occurred during a particular time of stress, so it can be neutralized during the EFT tapping session. To do this, it is essential to directly and clearly feel what happened during the event when that energy disruption initially took place. This is done by experiencing again as much of the emotional feeling and thoughts that occurred at that time.

For example, I had someone contact me recently and say that she had been unsuccessfully tapping on a problem of not feeling loved. When I asked this person how she was approaching this problem, the answer was, “Oh, I am being very specific, I am saying, ‘Even though I do not feel loved, I deeply and completely accept myself.’”

While there is nothing essentially wrong with this set up phrase, the idea of feeling “unloved” is a purely mental concept. Saying that a person feels unloved does not say exactly what is felt. It is an abstract mental concept that will change from one person to the next. “Feeling unloved” does not explain or help you to define what it feels like to feel unloved. Gary Craig has a great way of getting over this hurdle by saying something like this to a person who says their problem is “feeling unloved.” He will say, “Now let’s just say I am from Mars, and I want to know what you are feeling when you say you feel unloved. What would I experience inside if I felt unloved? If I wanted to feel unloved like you do, how would I do it?” This causes most people a great challenge to explain in detail the experience they have lived with for so many years. It is far more difficult than simply saying the words, without thinking about and expressing how the actual experience is felt when it first occurred or when a person is reminded of it.

The most direct way to feel, understand and express the experience is to attempt to put into words what is felt inside the body and the mind when the feeling of being unloved arises. It might be a feeling of being young and helpless as a child who is neglected or left alone. Then this raises the need to go back to a time when this was actually experienced and use that experience directly in a set up phrase. This could be accompanied by the fear of not having anyone to provide protection and comfort. The body sensation at that time could be described as something like a tightness in the throat or stomach, a trembling of the lips, wanting to simply sit down and cry, having butterflies in my brain” or whatever comes out at that moment.

For this to be even more effective it is required that the set up phrase address what experience of the unloved feeling is specifically about. What was going on when you recall feeling unloved? What causes it usually, or only, now? Do you feel unloved when a stranger does not do a favor for you, or only if your spouse does not do the favor? Do you recall an earlier time in which you felt that deep level of being unloved? What are the triggers that start this unloved feeling? When these thoughts are deliberated, the deeper experiences and bodily sensations associated with the unloved feeling have a chance to come to the surface. It is simply a matter of lightly thinking, but deeply feeling, about these memories. With gentle and persistent review of what comes to mind, it is most common to finally get in touch with forgotten feelings and memories associated with the initial situation that started the feeling of being unloved.

From this kind of exercise, a person can discover some interesting memories that give rise to possible set-up phrases like:

"Even though I felt alone and thought I would die when I got lost in the grocery store by all those scary looking pineapples…"

“Even though I did not understand why my father could not come home for my birthday party during a snow storm…”

“Even though I thought it was my fault that my parents got a divorce and I thought it was because I was wetting the bed, and they did not want to be together because I was bad…”

Of course, each of these set-up phrases have to be worked with, explored, taken apart and review from different perspectives, they are far more likely to yield results, than “…I was unloved…”
Useful and effective descriptions of the experience of the starting problem often will tend to include bodily sensations, emotions and thoughts/beliefs related to the emotions. Don’t try to make sense out of them, just take them as they are described. Be mindful that often these thoughts and memories originate at an early age during a moment of overwhelming stress.

Sometimes there are no words that can be found to describe the feeling. This is not a problem. Just make up a word or phrase that will make perfect sense and have deep emotional meaning to the person who has the problem.

Examples, as taken from the three above set up phrases could be something like:

"Even though I hated feeling those scary “pineapple shakes” in my tummy, and like my lungs forgot to come up for air…”

“Even though I feel the birthday cake blues in my head when I think about…”

“Even though I was sure my father was being taken away from me because I was a wet-boy, and I hated being a wet-boy because that is what he called me each morning…"

Great EFT results come to those who take the time to go a little deeper and ask a few simple questions to get to the root cause of feelings that very often do not appear on the surface.


Dr. Theodore Herazy is a prolific writer on a wide variety of Alternative Medicine topics; he has authored hundreds of articles and two books in the area of men's health and nutrition. He primarily has used EFT on a daily basis to treat his patients for the last 10 years, and is considered an expert in the field of energy psychology. Visit http://www.EFTbyTelephone.com for additional information on many EFT topics and information about doing EFT by phone.

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