A few weeks ago we entered the Year of the Horse in the Chinese calendar. Today we offer an article from the archives about a woman's journey from grief with her horse as her partner. This article was originally published in June 2011 as "Resolving Grief (Displaced as Fear) Helps Relieve Horse Riding Anxiety."
M.E., a woman in her 50s, came to me for help in conquering extreme fear keeping her from enjoying riding the seven-year old Paint mare she had recently acquired. Riding had been M’s hobby for many years, although she had always had some anxiety and tension around it.
M is an RN PhD in the high-stress job of healthcare research. Significantly, she indicated in her intake and our first session that she felt riding was “the only place she could say no” in her life, due to the demands of her work.
She wanted help with the fact that she had bought her dream horse, but was very anxious every time she rode. She was even anxious on the drive out to the barn, which took her almost two hours due to the training center’s recent relocation.
M also had two neck surgeries in the past ten years, which have left her with quite a bit of muscle spasm in her neck, shoulders and back, more pronounced on the left side, and a small amount of weakness in the left hand. This makes her feel physically uneven on her horse. She had also lost her mom within the previous year.
We uncovered the real cause of the fear after only two sessions. It was a surprise to me, and to M as well.
In our third session, M came up with a unique visioning technique that we used to make further progress on her underlying issue. I feel that it might be of great help to others, and I’d like to share the process in the way it unfolded.
I expected we would find that her fears stemmed from early riding problems or accidents, and in fact she related two early incidents that held promise for collapsing her fear. In our first session, I chose to work with the one that had happened when she was 14.
M was riding in summer camp, and was too proud and fearful to let the instructor know that she wasn’t as good a rider as she thought she was. We did a standard Tell the Story Technique, tapping on each incident as it arose. M recalled being increasingly afraid as she and her horse stood in line, waiting to trot to the far side of the riding arena and begin to canter. She gripped the reins tighter and tighter as she waited.
As she went into the canter, her horse bolted and M didn’t know how to stop him. The instructor stopped the horse, and M fortunately stayed mounted.
It was easy to check M’s emotions through her physical symptoms, which went from a shaky feeling inside to tension in the neck as we progressed through tapping. After three rounds, M noticed relaxation in her trapezius area, felt as a spreading warmth.
As we got to the point where the horse took off, the fear spiked to an 8-9 Intensity Level (SUDS) and was felt in the stomach.
As we tapped through this incident, M suddenly commented, “Now I’d do a pulley rein stop” (a maneuver with the reins that will often stop a runaway horse). This indicated a cognitive shift. I incorporated it into the round: “If I were on King today, I’d know how to stop him. But 14 year old M didn’t know how to do a pulley rein stop. She didn’t know what to do.”
We incorporated forgiveness for 14 year old M not knowing what to do into the acceptance portion of our Setup. This brought tears to M’s eyes, so I knew we had made progress on an important aspect of self-blame.
We finished with a choices round, referencing the earlier fear and incorporating “I choose to let go of some of this nervousness” and ending with the top of the head: “I choose to be delighted at how easy it is to let go of some of this nervousness”.
More to Do
M stated she felt more calm, and I had high hopes for her next report. They were dashed with an email from her that even though she’d done some tapping, she had 10+ anxiety on her drive to the barn for her next lesson. In her lesson, at the walk on her mare, she simply got more and more nervous. Clearly, we’d not gotten to the root of her distress in our first session.
At our next session about two weeks later, M reported she was getting new insights on her fears as she continued to tap. I asked what she wanted to work on, and she said her shaky, out of control feeling.
We started with “Even though I feel shaky and out of control on Luna." She then contrasted that with how safe she had felt on her first gelding, so we incorporated that contrast into our next round. Some anger came up that she couldn’t feel that way with Luna.
At that point I asked M how she felt about Jungian or archetypal concepts. She’d done some work with it, so I suggested to her that we consider the following: That her horse was female, named Luna (moon), and that M’s physical problems that left her feeling out of balance on her horse were all on her left side. These are archetypal reference points for the yin, or feminine. Taken together, I felt they hinted at some issues with the archetypal feminine. She agreed with that assessment.
It would shortly become clear just how significant these indicators were.
Going back to the tapping, I asked her what the shaky and out of control feeling reminded her of. She quickly responded that they were like stage fright. M’s mother was a singer, and she herself had performed all her life. M had purchased Luna about one month before her mother had a fall that sent her to the hospital. Two months later, M’s mom had succumbed to pneumonia. On the day of our session, the first anniversary of her mother’s death was only a few days away.
I asked M to go back in time and tell me about what was going on this time last year. She became tearful, and we tapped the KC point together as she described “frantic trips to the airport; guilt and conflict because I needed to be with her, I had to do my job, and I also wanted to be with my new horse; making decisions; trying to mediate with my three brothers as we were all in the room with Mother as she was dying”.
There was a lot to work with here, so we started with some general, and easier, statements first. We tapped on “Even though I feel guilt and conflict resurfacing from this time last year,” and M added, “I know I did the absolute best I could.”
She got some relief and relaxation from this round, and felt some tingling in her fingers. She felt that it was energy moving, and we tapped on "Even though I've had this grief and conflict since last year, and I have all this balled up energy trying to keep it at bay, I am so glad to feel this energy moving through me, and I can release this energy into Mother Earth." The affirmation of releasing the energy into Mother Earth was M’s contribution to the phrase.
I then asked M to summon a strong memory of feeling conflicted during the past year. She recalled receiving an emergency call from the doctors that her mom was hypoxic (oxygen-starved), necessitating M’s making immediate arrangements to fly to the hospital, give the doctors an instant decision on a do-not-resuscitate order, and communicate the situation to her brothers. During all this, one of her researchers called with a problem that he wanted addressed immediately, objecting when she explained she could not talk with him right then. Through this extreme stress, she over-functioned for everyone magnificently and kept her outward calm, even calling back her colleague from the airport to give him the information he needed.
As M remembered this situation she felt shaky and out of control, with an Intensity Level of 8-9 and tears. We incorporated all this into a tapping statement: “The doctors called, she was hypoxic, I had to make the DNR decision, I had to explain it to my brothers and deal with their feelings, which was just exhausting, I had to make all the arrangements and then my colleague called, and I had to keep taking care of everything even though I felt shaky and out of control…."
Her Intensity Level (SUD) came steadily down over subsequent rounds of tapping, to a level of 2 by the end of the session. I guided her through a relaxing closing tapping, on how natural this grief, guilt and feeling of loss of control was, and that it is safe to allow it to pass out of her gently, to release it, that she did not need it anymore. She smiled at these rounds.
We tapped on the KC as I suggested to her that although she would have some grief at this anniversary, her new tool would allow her to easily pass through it, easily have the phone conversations with her brothers, nephews and nieces she needed to have, and find blessings in those conversations.
At the very end of the session, as she had gathered up her things to go, she got the insight that proved to be the key to her riding anxiety. She realized that it was not fear over riding Luna that made it so difficult for her to drive up to the barn, it was because the Saturday two-hour drive used to be when she would talk to her mother. She surmised “That's what caused the out of control shaky feeling each time.”
Eureka—EFT had delivered to us the root cause of what we originally thought was riding anxiety.
New Insight and Clarity
At our next session about 10 days later, M wanted to work on how her joy and excitement of finding and buying her dream horse were “muddled” with the illness and death of her mom. Tapping between sessions was giving her more insight and clarity all the time.
We started with those Saturday drives. We acknowledged that the fear she felt as she drove to her lesson was a displacement of the grief over the loss of her mother—no longer being able to make that call to her mom as she drove brought the loss of her mother into painful focus sublimated into anxiety about the ride. We tapped on the following phrases:
Even though my drive out to the barn was my talk-to-Mother time, and I can't replace that, I deeply and completely…
Even though I thought I was anxious about riding my horse, and now I believe I am simply anxious because I am missing Mother, I deeply and completely….
Even though I was really anxious about the void in my life, and I chose to displace that into anxiety about Luna, something I could ‘control,’ I recognize that now, and can let it go.
We transitioned into choice statements such as, “Even though nothing can replace that time talking to Mom, I choose to recognize that I am not anxious about riding Luna, but that I'm anxious about missing and grieving my mother. I choose to let it go easily and gently. I choose to use the time to remember and honor her, in place of being anxious.”
I used the device of a container that M could put her anxiety in just for the duration of her drive out, her lesson and drive back from the barn. She described a lovely black lacquered box the size of a card file, and we tapped a few rounds on this.
A Venn Diagram of Healing
It was at this point that M shared another very crucial insight, and proposed a beautifully elegant way of visualizing and working with her emotions.
She explained that she had not even had time to assimilate the fact of owning, much less riding, Luna before she was caught up in the maelstrom of her mom's fall and subsequent decline. She had felt guilty that she was not spending time with Luna, and guilty when she was with her mother for wanting to be with Luna. Happiness, guilt, and regret were all mixed in M's emotional field, encompassing her new horse and her mother.
When I asked M if she could give the feelings an Intensity Level (SUDs) level, she offered her own version instead. She said that she saw these two things, the happiness and the grief, as a Venn diagram. (Venn diagrams are overlapping circles that are used to represent relationships between qualities, or elements, and the properties they do or do not share.)
The circle that represented her happiness over Luna was luminous pink, and the circle that represented the grief over her mom was sad midnight blue. These circles overlapped by about 80%, which represented the amount of M's distress. She had tapped on this herself and succeeded in getting the area of overlap down to 60-70%.
She wanted to be able to separate these circles and appreciate them each for what they were, and she described the desired color for the circle representing her mom: rich, dark sapphire blue velvet, similar to a dress her mother had worn in an opera production.
Thanks to M's ability to represent her emotional state in a vivid visual metaphor, we had a terrific multi-layered image to work with. We focused on the color and texture in the overlapped area, and tapped on that as it changed with each round.
In the first round, the overlap was a dark, muddy, shit-colored center that M was trapped in, like muck holding her down. (Remember how coarse language can release stuck emotion.)
We began tapping, “Even though this beautiful pink circle that's Luna and the midnight blue circle that's Mom are muddled into an awful, mucky shit brown, and I feel trapped and bogged down in it, I deeply and completely…”
We tapped on allowing the circles to gently move apart and when they did, M would be released. After several rounds with small variations, I asked M to close her eyes and visualize the Venn diagram again. I did so as well, and the color in the middle seemed substantially lighter. Hoping that it wasn’t just projection on my part, I asked M what she saw. She said that the color in the middle was lighter and more like a clay or spackle. Note how M spoke in terms of both color and texture in describing the diagram's middle, boggy part.
I called her attention to the significance of these two things coming together in time, and M said she had not thought of that before, but that it felt important to her.
We continued tapping on the circles moving apart and testing until she said the portion in the middle was even lighter. It now seemed like bread dough, pale but glutinous; the circles were moving apart but forming doughy “strings” that kept the circles joined, she said.
I closed the session with a round acknowledging the significance of these two occurrences coming in the same time-space in her life, even though they occupy different feeling-spaces. We tapped for letting that significance come gently to M, leaving her wiser, more grounded, and more joyful when she receives the import of it.
M said she felt much more relaxed and both hands and feet were tingling. I asked about her neck, and she said it had been much better since our first session, less stiff and painful. She felt the tapping was helping the neck, and was finding it easier also to do all the things that helped her take care of her neck.
Once again, I appreciated the way EFT brings insights to those who use it. The insights fill in the missing rungs in our ladder, allowing us to climb where we want to go: out of our misery, and to greater heights of accomplishment and satisfaction.
I also admired my client for her creative manner of sharing her sensations, visual images, and emotions. The Venn diagram is M's contribution to my toolkit, and I plan to try it with other clients.
Often it's hard for clients to name an Intensity Level (SUD number) or to give a new number when it goes up or down, but the percentage overlap of the Venn circles gives us the same indicator. It also gives us an option for working on interconnected aspects in a relational, rather than linear way, as each circle can represent an aspect.
About two weeks later I received a joyful email from M. She had ridden her horse, they moved along smoothly together, and she was happy and confident. The drive out had been easy as well. M continues to use her tapping on many areas of her life, and I enjoy our work together.
Ange Dickson Finn is an EFT International Accredited Certified Advanced EFT Practitioner. She is based in the Houston, Texas, and works with clients over the phone and via Skype. Ange has helped clients with issues including physical pain, health and well-being, work-related stress, equestrian sports and relationships. Visit her on the web at www.TapIntoYourself.com or www.RideWithoutFear.com.
From the EFTfree Archives, which are now a part of EFT International .
Originally published on Feb 9, 2014.