No doubt about it. Divorce hurts. Whether you were left or did the leaving, whether it came as a shock or you had seen it coming for years, whether you were betrayed and abandoned by your partner or the two of you respectfully decided to go your separate ways … no matter what the specific circumstances, the ending of a relationship hurts.
If you are in the process of separation, divorce, or heartbreak of any kind, I feel your pain — and I know there’s a lot of it right now – because I’ve been there.
I know that feeling of gut-wrenching loneliness, wondering if you will ever find love again. I’ve experienced that heavy curtain of grief, punctuated by teary outbursts. And that furious rage burning within that can feel scary at times – I’ve had that too. I couldn’t begin to count the number of times I’ve replayed horrible conversations in my head or the times I wanted to scream at the Universe that this wasn’t fair! I too have felt cast aside, rejected, and ashamed.
Nobody likes to feel painful emotions. As a society we do everything we can to avoid them: we numb them with substances, food, the media or other addictions, we block them out by over-scheduling, we deflect them, project them, anything to stop the pain. Or we stay stuck in our pain and can’t seem to move past it. But what happens when emotions don’t get processed? They can get trapped in the body and manifest as a physical pain or illness, they can fuel dis-empowering habits such as emotional over-eating or smoking, or they can keep the nervous system stuck in ongoing problems such as insomnia, anxiety, or depression. In fact, I believe that behind any unwanted condition lies unprocessed emotions. Furthermore, our efforts to numb or avoid feeling painful emotions also keep us from feeling love, connection, gratitude and joy.
As an EFT practitioner, I help clients process both current and long-held emotions so they can move out of unwanted conditions and into a life of their choosing. EFT stands for Emotional Freedom Techniques and is probably best known as “Tapping,” because it literally involves tapping on the same meridian points used in acupuncture.
“Tapping” looks a little funny and at first seems ridiculously simple. When I first heard about it, I admit I thought, how could this possibly work? But I soon learned EFT is a powerful tool with an outstanding track record for helping people overcome a wide range of conditions including PTSD, depression, emotional overeating, physical pain, fears, phobias, and much more.
EFT meets your feelings exactly where they are in any given moment and by deeply processing them through your body’s energy system, allows you to transform them in a relatively short period of time. In this 3-part series I am going to explore three of the most common emotions people experience during divorce – fear, anger, and grief – and show why EFT is the best way I have found for moving through them.
Fear and Anxiety
Divorce throws our lives into upheaval. Things that once felt secure, now feel insecure and the future suddenly becomes a vast ocean of unknowns.
During divorce we can easily become overwhelmed by a swirling mass of unspecified anxieties, which can be the most powerful fear of all. Therefore, it’s helpful to make a list of everything causing you anxiety. Just naming these fears and putting them in one place can make them feel less threatening and overwhelming. Here are some common possibilities:
- Fear/anxiety around living alone and being alone
- Fear/anxiety around not being able to support yourself
- Fear/anxiety around becoming a single parent
- Fear/anxiety around what others might think or say
- Fear/anxiety around your own emotions
- Fear/anxiety you will never get over this
- Fear/anxiety you will never find love, joy, happiness, etc. again
Now take a moment to create your own list.
It’s also helpful to tune into the physical sensations you may experience when you think fearful thoughts. Here are some common sensations:
- Fast or irregular heart-beat
- Shallow breathing
- Hot or cold sweat
- Stomach discomfort
- Difficulty concentrating
- Dry mouth
- Tense muscles
Take a moment to tune into your body while focusing on the fears you listed and create your own list. You may have strong or mild sensations in your body or you may not have any. There is no right or wrong. Just notice, record, and be sure to breathe! Slow, deep breaths send calming signals to the brain and body.
It’s natural to feel some fear and anxiety when so much change happens at once. In fact, we’re wired to feel fear because all this upheaval poses a threat to our well-being.
You may be familiar with the stress/fear response, which is better known as “fight or flight.” There’s a primitive part of our brain called the limbic system that has the job of keeping us safe. Whenever the limbic system detects a threat in our environment, it triggers this fight or flight response, which is a series of physiological changes designed to protect you.
During fight or flight, everything speeds up. Your heart beats faster, more blood is pumped to your arms and legs, your brain waves quicken, and stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol flood your body. Over the course of human evolution, this response evolved to make our ancestors as fast, strong, and alert as possible so they could have the best chance of either winning a fight against a smaller threat or successfully escaping a larger one.
This is super helpful whenever you come face to face with a saber tooth tiger! Not so helpful when you’re trying to recover from an emotional ordeal such as a divorce and all the events leading up to the break-up.
The fight or flight response was designed for short-term emergency situations. It was not designed to be used for long periods of time. Unfortunately, during a divorce, it’s common to remain in the fight-or-flight emergency mode for months or years on end, which often leads to difficulties sleeping, excessive weight gain or loss, depression, physical pain, or a generalized feeling of fear or anxiety.
What tapping does with amazing efficiency is to halt this fight-or-flight response in its tracks.
The limbic system – again, that primitive part of the brain that controls the fear response and has the job of keeping us safe — pre-dates language and logic by millions of years! This means it doesn’t understand English, Spanish, Japanese, Swahili or any other human language. Although telling yourself to “get over it and get on with it” may be great advice, the part of the brain controlling the switches for the fear response may not be getting the message.
It may be like those old Charlie Brown cartoons. Remember when the teacher spoke, all the kids heard was wah, wah, wah…? This is what I imagine the limbic system understands when we try to have a conversation with it in English!
Tapping on the meridian points, however, is a form of communication the limbic system can both receive and respond to. When the meridian points are tapped, the limbic system receives signals of calm and peace and it responds by deactivating the stress response.
EFT practitioners have been observing and experiencing this for decades, but, for those of us who like proof, we now have scientific research to confirm it. Researchers at Harvard Medical School have been studying the effects of acupoint stimulation on midbrain arousal. What they have found — and have used MRI and PET scans to document — is that when certain acupoints are stimulated, the activity in the limbic system associated with stress and fear go way down.[i]
In a 2012 study, Dawson Church, Ph.D. and a team of researchers studied a different aspect of fight or flight: cortisol levels. This study showed EFT to reduce cortisol levels at an unprecedented rate.[ii]
In short, scientific studies have confirmed that EFT reduces the physical symptoms of stress by communicating with the primitive, non-verbal limbic system and directing it to call off the fight or flight response.
Are you ready to try this out for yourself? Are you ready to hack into your body’s emotional control system and turn down fear and stress and turn up calm and peace?
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[i] Hui, K.K., et al. (2000), ‘Acupuncture modulates the limbic system and subcortical gray structures of the human brain: evidence from fMRI studies in normal subjects,’ Human Brain Mapping, Vol. 9, no.1, pp. 13-25; Fang, I. et al. (2009), ‘The salient characteristics of the central effects of acupuncture needling: limbic-paralimbic-neocortical network modulation’, Human Brain Mapping, Vol. 30, no 4, pp. 1, 196-206.
[ii] Church, D., Yount, G. & Brooks, A. (2012). ‘The Effect of Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) on Stress Biochemistry: A Randomized Control Trial.’ Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, pp. 189-896.