As trauma survivors and EFT practitioners, we often hear the question ‘When is this going to end?’ The answer is complicated. When we are in the dorsal vagal state configured in the moment by big T traumas, we can't scream or fight off those who hurt us. We can't summon the energy to escape, or name the complexity of feelings, sensations, images, and stories that big T traumas root in our viscera. When we shut down, the body’s systems and their protective interconnectivity protect us. They do this by storing traumatic reactivity in our flesh. There it remains until we are emotionally and psychologically prepared to consciously explore our traumatic legacy.
When describing trauma’s many after-effects, I like to use the word legacy. Traumatic reactivity, emotional flooding, and flashbacks may feel like curses. They are also invitations to grow beyond the worst that has happened to us. Each moment of sudden, unexpected reactivity signals that we are on the heroic journey all healing requires. No matter how young we are when trauma strikes, our maturing bodies not only carry wounds, they also carry invitations to heal these wounds through our growing resourcefulness and maturity. For me, this heroic journey has taken the shape of an upward spiral. It's one I do my best to navigate consciously to meet my trauma legacy with greater skill, kindness, and optimism.
I didn’t always feel my trauma’s after-effects were an invitation to learn more about myself and the world. In fact, until I found EFT, I simply endured traumatic reactivity caused by early trauma because I’d normalized it over decades. Sleeplessness, food restrictions, outsized startle reactions, terror in unstructured social situations. Worst of all, the toxic belief that I was unlovable and deserved to be isolated, persisted well into middle age.
Healing and the Body
I spent years wondering why these trauma symptoms could suddenly eclipse my usual feelings of competence and contentment. I'd tried formal cognitive behavioural therapy, informal Jungian studies, therapeutic community dancing, and the pursuit of stories that proved traumas large and small could be healed in surprising ways. I discovered the value of including my body when meeting the reactivity that is the voice of early and adult trauma. Oddly enough, in its later, deeper stages, the healing work which my somatic reactivity invited me to explore defied my ability to articulate it. This is something that perplexed me as a writer.
Words and Tapping
After an institutionalized quarantine when I was a toddler, that lasted seven months and included caging to enforce bed rest, words and stories began to soothe my nervous system. Despite the knowledge I gained over decades about this type of trauma, through family and literary stories and through the research of John Bowlby, Mary Ainsworth, Marion Woodman, and many others, eventually words alone failed me.
It was only when I included tapping on my body that the power of words returned to me. Tapping while speaking the truth of my thoughts, emotions, and beliefs brought immediate relief. This somatic, cognitive, and emotional partnership also inspired insights. My healing journey had brought rewards which I'd previously overlooked. EFT gave me a way to communicate with my personal crime site, my body. Talk therapy taught me to place my early trauma within the context of attachment theory. And dance provided a safe place for emotional release within a safe dance circle. Despite these powerful healing experiences, deeper layers of grief, outrage, and, worst of all, shame, remained unhealed. It was only when I communicated with my body through EFT’s combination of intention, words, emotions, and touch that my deepest dorsal freezing began to thaw.
I journal every day. It's a habit I recommend to everyone who is frustrated by the time trauma takes to heal. I believe writing always involves the resourced, adult self. The adult is an essential companion to the younger self at times when they require tender attention and deep compassion. When we ask ‘When is this going to end?’ our unhealed younger selves interpret the question as blame. In my own case, EFT and journal work unearthed a layer of shame that fed the toxic belief that I was unlovable and deserved to be isolated. I grew to understand that my impatience made those younger, unhealed Janes feel shamed for carrying old wounds. I reimagined my journey spiraling ever upward and with all the time I needed to heal.
The Upwards Spiral
For me this upward spiral represents two vital and dynamic powers at work in my psyche and soma. First, the spiral’s upward trajectory reminds me of my intention to heal. It expands my understanding of trauma healing’s many moving parts. The second reminder this image offers is its igniting dot. For me, the dot signifies an explosion of misery and, paradoxically, an equal explosion of the joy that flows from lovingly acknowledging and welcoming our traumatic legacy as the guidance we need to heal.
When we or our clients are caught in the ‘when is this going to end’ loop, it's helpful to sit quietly, breathe deeply, and imagine oxygen and intention flowing into every cell. Then, with our gentlest voice, we can begin tapping, saying, “I’m so sorry if you feel bullied. We have all the time you need. I am here to learn what you have to teach me.”
This simple invitation may trigger sudden, cleansing tears or spark memories. In their vividness, they may bring to light specific incidents we’ve been unable to access until this moment of healing. Tenderly receiving whatever surfaces increases our at-homeness within our own skin. EFT, words, and tender receptivity may not diminish the healing work we have to do, but they ensure trauma’s upward healing spiral is a source of joyous energy as well. And, as we quickly learn when we commit to healing, joy is something we all need if we are to move through our pain into peace.
Jane Buchan is an Accredited Certified EFT Master Trainer.