“I thought it was my fault” – why it is so hard to talk about sexual abuse. And how EFT can help. Part 2.
The first step for me to help Denise was to use EFT to send some calming signals to her brain, to settle the physiological symptoms she was experiencing as she was starting to open up a little bit about what happened to her when she was a child.
We needed to let her body know with the resource of tapping, and my skills and experience in helping people with these kinds of issues, that even though it was very difficult for her to start to talk about what happened, that “right here, right now, I know I am safe”.
Denise seemed to like repeating those words when I said them. It is a reminder phrase to let the whole mind body system know that although we are going back into a place in time when she did not feel safe at all, that she is now in her forties, in a safe place in her life now, choosing to do this work with me, to get help for herself in the present time.
Denise initially reported really feeling nauseated, with many butterflies in her tummy, like she was “in big trouble”. She also had a tightness in her chest developing, which made it hard for her to breathe. There was a “hot red ball” making itself known in her throat, so it felt hard to talk, and hard to swallow. I encouraged her to sip water in the breaks between rounds as we tapped.
Denise was taken aback at how much her body was “communicating” with all these strange bodily sensations, and she recalled the one time that she did go to a counsellor to talk about the sexual abuse, when she was pregnant with her first child. And this was exactly what happened. Her body sort of clammed up, and she became so upset and overwhelmed by these feelings, that she could not even tell the counsellor why she was there.
She felt so embarrassed, and felt awkward for the counsellor who did not seem to know what to do with her. “I literally could not speak, all I could do was cry. I felt so stupid”. She found it hard to explain to her partner what had happened in the session, and why she didn’t want to go back. She felt she failed him by not getting help.
I reassured Denise that these bodily sensations and feelings are all very normal when doing this kind of work, and that it is positive that her body is letting us know where the trauma is “living” so to speak, or where the energy is stuck. And how important it is to use the body as a resource, through tapping, to process the trauma which is experienced by the body.
I explained that all of these kinds of symptoms are very common for people who have experienced sexual abuse in childhood, as the body remembers the physical and psychological trauma of being powerless, scared and alone, as a child in such a situation, not able to tell anyone what was happening.
The emotion Denise described was Fear, even thinking about talking about the abuse. It was 9/10 on the SUDS (Subjective Unit of Distress Scale). “I was not allowed to tell anyone” she said. “I was terrified that anyone would find out what I had been doing. And I still feel like that. Like something really bad will happen because I am telling you about this”.
I wrote all of this up on the white board.
I chose the “Movie Title” technique at this point, which I had previously explained to Denise will help to take the edge of these bodily sensations. Denise chose the movie title “Don’t Tell Anyone” to represent this time in her life. And rated the intensity of that title as 9/10 as well.
In order to feel “safe”, Denise said she would want to be very far away from that movie screen now, and she described seeing her young self on the movie screen, in a dark room with “Ben”, and then seeing the door quietly shut. The words were in big black bold letters “DON’T TELL ANYONE”. She said they felt intimidating to look at.
We did another round of “tap and breathe” just to take the edge off, and then worked through the movie title, using just a few words, not focusing at all on the feelings in the body.
Denise’s SUDS came down in a nice predictable pattern, after maybe six or eight rounds, with a bit of “tap and breathe” added here and there, to just 1/10 when she thought about that movie title. “I don’t feel much at all when I look at that title now” she said. “It’s weird”.
The sensations in her body had all settled down considerably as well, and she looked much more relaxed. She felt barely any nausea at all, but could still feel some very slight tightness in her chest, and like there was still something in her throat. But it wasn’t red or hot any more.
When I asked Denise what she could see on the movie screen by the end of that process, she said she could see the door to the room was open, and daylight was streaming in through the window, but there was nobody in the room. She could see herself outside the window, playing in the sun with her friend Emily on the swings.
It was a pleasant scene now, and the words “Don’t Tell Anyone” had disappeared.
Denise was amazed at how the movie screen changed, and how much calmer she felt. By this time she was able to talk much more freely. She rated her Fear at only 1-2/10 now, as she felt in control of this process, and that her body had responded well to getting help this time.
She said she somehow felt more safe to talk about what happened to her now, “even though it doesn’t feel like we have really done anything, or even talked about anything!” she said as she laughed.
Then she apologised, and said she didn’t mean to say I hadn’t done anything. But I agreed with her, that it does kind of look like nothing much is going on, yet so much is happening in her brain and body.
We chatted about the next steps from there, and Denise commented on how she already felt like she was not to blame for what happened, as she now understands that she was only a child. But she felt sad now that she had blamed herself for so long.
We finished by “boxing up” these feelings, acknowledging that there was a lot more emotion to be processed, and that today was just about making a gentle start. And we had done enough for the brain to integrate for now. Denise left feeling “calm and kind of hopeful” that she might be able to leave this part of her life in the past with the help of EFT.
These posts are aimed at demystifying the process of an EFT session for a person who has experienced sexual abuse. I am specially trained in Advanced Evidenced Based EFT for trauma relief and very experienced in working with sexual abuse trauma.
I also hope to educate people about what a big deal it is for most people to let a professional “go near” their trauma. So you need to be properly qualified, trained, skilled and experienced to consciously choose to do this kind of work. Whether you are an EFT practitioner or a therapist. As I see way too many clients who have had negative experiences in sessions which have re-traumatised them. So let us respect this and make sure we do trauma work well! Refer on if it is out of your scope of practice.