Imagine you are driving down a road.
It’s a wide road and you are the only car on the road.
This road is very strange.
On one side there is a raging forest fire that reaches right up to the edge, on the other there is a deep cold lake covered by a thin layer of ice.
Your car is also very strange.
You can turn the wheel to steer the car, but it also has a special feature where the wheel will turn itself when you feel emotional distress. It will turn left or right (you’re never sure which) and, the stronger the distress, the further the wheel will turn.
You have to drive along this road. You have no choice.
As you are driving, your emotions are coming and going as you think, remember or imagine. Every time there is a distressing feeling, your car turns to right or left. You have to correct it and bring it back to the centre of the road between the fire and the ice.
The Wider The Road The Safer You Are
If you had a good childhood and grew up with resilience and able to cope with your experiences, your road will be very wide. Maybe so wide you can barely see the fire and the ice. Having distressing feelings is manageable. They are not too strong, and you can easily steer the car back to the centre line.
If you had a difficult childhood, or you experienced trauma in later life, your road may not have been built as wide. Because your distress may be strong, the car turns more fiercely. You have less room and time to get back to the centre-line before crashing into the fire or falling into the icy water.
If you had a very traumatic childhood or massive trauma later in life, your road may be very narrow indeed. Perhaps not much wider than the car itself. You can feel the heat of the fire on one side, and the chill of the ice on the other. Your distress is intense, and the steering wheel turns hard to pull you off the road. It takes a lot of strength and determination to follow the road.
This is very scary driving. There is very little safe space to steer and your steering has a life of its own. Keeping on the centre-line takes all your effort and strength. Sometimes it becomes impossible to do by yourself.
So what’s this got to do with tapping?
In this story, the road is your inner life. You drive it, continuously trying to cope with the bumps and potholes, as the miles of your life roll by.
The width of the road is your zone of tolerance. If you are in your zone of tolerance, you feel safe. You can experience your life, and cope with its joys and sorrows. Even if it’s difficult, you are still emotionally safe.
The fire is what happens when we run off the road. Our nervous system can’t cope and freaks out. This is the zone of hyper-arousal. It’s the land of fight, flight and overwhelm, where feelings cannot be contained. You can come back from the zone of hyper-arousal, but it’s not a fun place to be.
The icy lake is what happens when we run off the road and our nervous system shuts down. This is the zone of hypo-arousal. It’s the land of freeze and numbing out. You can come back from the zone of hypo-arousal, but it’s not a fun place to be either.
We develop our zone of tolerance in our early life from our care givers. If they do a good job, we have a wide zone of tolerance, where we can feel what we feel and deal with it effectively.
If we experienced childhood trauma, abuse or neglect (or trauma in later life) our zone of tolerance is narrower, maybe much narrower, and we struggle with our emotions.
Tapping is a fabulous tool for easing distress
When it’s applied well, the results can be striking.
If you have tapped on your own distress, you may have noticed that sometimes the strength of the feeling went up as you started to tap. When you tune in, feelings become more vivid and you feel them more strongly. Then the tapping works to soothe them.
If you have a reasonable zone of tolerance, this is no big deal. You can accommodate the distress and allow it to be released. We can be safe and handle it, our emotions are well regulated.
If you have a very narrow zone of tolerance, this is a very big deal. If you feel your distress more strongly, you can be pulled into the fire (hyper-arousal) or ice (hypo-arousal). Being dis-regulated in this way is very bad news, and a very scary place to be.
Tapping Can Be Bad For You
Back to the very unhappy driver on the very narrow road between the wildfire and the icy lake.
It’s obvious they are very distressed, and it’s easy to assume that tapping will help them feel better.
The danger is that, when they start tapping, the strong emotions they are struggling to control will become stronger. Then they will be pulled even more into the fire or the ice.
This is not the healing experience you may have wanted for them.
It could get worse, if the ‘driver’ is so unhappy that they have been considering suicide. Suffering even more distress might be enough to help them decide to end the drive completely and forever.
Making It Safe To Tap
So, how do you help the deeply troubled driver on the narrow road between the fire and ice?
By doing everything you can to make them safe (physically and emotionally).
You need to help them get to, and stay within, their zone of tolerance.
This can be very delicate work and requires lots of skill, experience and patience.
Over time their road may get wider and safer, and then tapping could be carefully applied to help relieve the underlying causes of all that suffering.
When it is done well, releasing trauma is one of the ways you can widen the road, and give a person much more inner safety and room to manoeuvre.
With tapping, as with so many other things, the more danger the client is in, the more carefully the practitioner has to tread.