The Box/Container Technique

Increasing your effectiveness with EFT, part 9.

How to use the EFT Gentle Techniques to start taking the edge off of something that might be too intense otherwise. Today we’ll review: The Box/Container Technique.

Remember the “Goldilocks and the 3 bears” analogy that I used in Part 3 of this series? Basically, the soup can be “too hot”, “too cold” or “just right”. The same applies to whatever we make the target-focus of our tapping. “Too hot” would be when the intensity is too high and overwhelming. And “too cold” is when it doesn’t bring up any intensity whatsoever because it doesn’t activate or “light up” the energetic and neural pathways that are connected to whatever issue we want to tap on.

So what do we do when we want to tap on something that is “too hot”? Well, the same as with a bowl of soup, there are ways of approaching it so as not to get our tongue burned, such as gently blowing some air on it, or starting eating at the edges of the bowl, where the temperature tends to be a bit cooler.  

This is what the Gentle Techniques of EFT help us do: they allow us to start taking the edge off of something that might be too intense and overwhelming if we were to face it head-on, by putting some distance between us and the heat. So today we are going to talk about another one of these Gentle Techniques, known as “The Box Technique” or “The Safe Container Technique”.

Now, let me first mention an important caveat: even though I’m going to talk about how we can use these Gentle Techniques by ourselves, if you suspect you are dealing with a traumatic event (for example, something where your physical integrity might have been compromised), then I strongly recommend you work on this with the help of an experienced EFT practitioner. However, if the memory is quite upsetting, but not necessarily traumatic, such as an argument you had with a friend, then you might consider trying out some of these Gentle Techniques.

Ok, so what is “The Box/Container Technique”? It’s basically when you notice that the event or memory you chose to work on has a very high intensity, so you imagine placing it in a safe container of your choosing, which in turn you imagine placed in whatever safe location you would like, and you just tap round after round describing the container in as much detail as possible. So the setup statement might be something like: “Even though there is this big metal safe, it has 3 different locks in it, it’s very heavy and it’s painted gray, and it’s located all the way over there on the Moon, I accept myself anyway”. After each round, you tune in to the container again (the container, not the event/memory), and notice if there’s any change in how you would describe the container or its location, and adjust your setup statement accordingly.

To explain this further, I’m going to contrast it with Basic EFT. But first, I’d like to clarify a few things regarding the name “Box/Container Technique”. It’s actually originally known as “the Box Technique”, but a box is just one of the many types of safe containers a person might think about when using this technique, so “The Safe Container Technique” feels like a more accurate name. Furthermore, for some people, a box per se doesn’t feel like a particularly safe container. It’s important that they are the ones who choose a container and location that feels safe for them.

Also, I want to clarify that in this article I’m talking about “The Safe Container Technique” when used as a Gentle Technique to process/work on a specific memory, which is different than when you use it to contain something and put it aside for now (for example, at the end of a session when you notice your client looks somewhat distressed, or when you stumble upon a traumatic memory that you decide not to work on right then and there). When we use the Safe Container Technique just to contain something and put it aside for now, it’s ok to put more than one specific memory into the container (we could say “I’m placing everything I stumbled upon today that I didn’t fully resolve”). 

That being said, to gain a better understanding, let’s contrast “The Safe Container Technique” (as a Gentle Technique to work on a single specific memory/event) with Basic EFT. If we think about the full name of “Basic EFT”, which is “the Basic Recipe of EFT”, we can start thinking about its ingredients, which are: a specific event (set in the past, present or future), an emotion (even if the emotion is “this ‘arghh’ feeling”) and a body location (if any). 

Well, in the “Safe Container Technique” we are going to toss all those ingredients aside and we are just going to focus on the physical characteristics of the container you chose and its location. Or, if you are working with a client, the description of the container and the location that your client chose. And we don’t want to reference the event at all until the very end when you are done using this Gentle Technique. 

So, what are the steps of using it? Let’s say you are working with a client. First, make sure that what they are going to place inside the container is one specific memory/event, as opposed to a whole time period (such as “the divorce from my husband”, which might entail several different memories within that time period that maybe lasted months or years). Then you are going to ask the client, with their eyes open (which helps ground them in the present moment, in the “right here and now”) to just guess at the intensity of the event/memory, without thinking about it too much. Once they do that, you ask them to come up with a safe container of their choosing (such as a box, a safe, a chest, etcetera). Make sure it’s a relatively neutral container as opposed to, say, a coffin. And then you ask them to describe it in as much detail as possible, and you also ask them where would they like that container to be located for it to feel safe (some examples might be: the Moon, the bottom of the ocean, a castle in Europe, their backyard, etcetera). 

So then you ask them to imagine placing the event/memory there, and you are just going to tap while focusing on the description of the container, not the memory/event. It’s almost like you want them to forget all about the event for the time being, so you are not going to reference it at all while you do the tapping. So the setup phrase would be something like: “Even though there’s this small wooden chest, it’s gold and white, it has a big lock in the middle and a ribbon, and it’s located on the third floor of a castle in Europe, I accept myself anyway”. And for the reminder phrases you might say:

Top of the head: “This small wooden chest”

Beginning of the eyebrow: “It’s gold and white”

Side of the eye: “It has a big lock in the middle”

Under the eye: “it has a ribbon”

Below the nose: “it’s located on the third floor of a castle in Europe”

Collarbone: “this small wooden chest”;

Under the arm: “it’s gold and white”.

After you complete that round, you ask the client to describe the container and location again, pre-framing that it might have changed or maybe it hasn’t. If there has been any change in the characteristics of the container or its location, you adjust the setup and reminder phrases accordingly. Notice that after each round you are not asking them to guess what the intensity of the event/memory might be, you are only asking them about the container and its location.

The same as with “Chasing The Pain/Sensation”, the way this technique works is that by tapping on the different aspects/qualities that describe the container, it’s like we are tapping on the different emotional aspects of the event/memory “behind the scenes”. So round after round we are tapping on and processing the different shifting aspects of the memory/event without consciously knowing what they are, because we are simply focusing with our conscious mind on the changes in qualities and location of the container, which is safer and gentler.

What is likely to happen is that round after round the container might get smaller and closer, as the subconscious mind and nervous system begin to feel there is less and less of a need to distance themselves from it.

How do we know when it’s time to stop using this technique? Either when the container has become so small that it vanishes, or when after two or three rounds using the same setup and reminder phrases there’s no change at all in any of its qualities or location. That means you’ve gone as far as you could with this technique for the time being. 

It’s only then that you ask the client, with their eyes open, to guess again what the intensity of the memory/event might be now if they were to think about it, without thinking about it too much. If the number they come up with is higher than a 2, then you might want to consider using another Gentle Technique (such as Tearless Trauma, Sneaking Up, or Chasing the Sensation). If, on the contrary, it’s lower than a 2, then you might want to consider switching to a more in-depth processing technique, such as Basic EFT or Tell The Story Technique (if we are talking about a Big T trauma).

That’s because chances are you are not going to be able to fully process an event by just applying “The Safe Container Technique” alone. Eventually you might need to start zooming in a bit more with Basic EFT or Tell the Story (if it’s a “big T” traumatic event). But with “The Safe Container Technique” you’ll be able to take the edge off enough so you can apply these other more in-depth techniques in a safe, gentle way without burning your tongue (or your client’s).

Something else worth mentioning is that this technique tends to work best for people who are somewhat visual in nature. In other words, people who like to think using visual images and metaphors.

By tapping in this way, you are making the EFT process as safe and gentle as possible, as opposed to having to “grit your teeth” and feel really uncomfortable. And you are also working on the memory itself, but in a more distanced “metaphorical” way, where you are taking the edge off. So when you finally start working on the memory directly with Basic EFT, you will notice it’s a lot less intense than it would have been originally if you hadn’t done those “Safe Container Technique” tapping rounds before.

That being said, if after many rounds of “The Safe Container Technique”, it still doesn’t feel safe to approach that memory directly, then that might be a sign that it’s best to enlist the aid of a certified practitioner to help you work on it together.

That’s it for today. I hope this post was helpful to you. My name is Bruno Sade, and I’m a certified EFT practitioner with a mental health background as a clinical psychologist licensed in Argentina. I use EFT as a tool to help people (who speak English or Spanish) change their emotional reactions and also to help them overcome procrastination that stems out of a fear of judgment or rejection.

And, I’d love to know: have you ever used any of the Gentle Techniques? What do you think about “The Safe Container Technique”? Please share in the comments below.

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