Why Do We ‘Affirm the Negative’ When Doing EFT?

Increasing your effectiveness with EFT, part 99.

A recent question on an online forum sparked my interest: Why do we ‘affirm the negative’ when doing EFT? Isn’t that reinforcing the thoughts and feelings that we don’t want? Why don’t we just affirm what we want instead? I’d like to address these very valid concerns in today’s article.

Clinical EFT, meaning, the type of tapping that has been researched, with very promising results, has the person focusing on the unpleasant thoughts and emotional reactions they would like to diminish and/or release. It’s hypothesized that tapping sends a signal to the amygdala and limbic system, helping to turn down the threat response activated by triggering thoughts or memories. This process helps shift from ‘survival mode’ to a state where the rational, thinking brain is more engaged.

Besides that, according to what many of my clients have told me, there’s something very powerful and liberating about being able to “say it as it is” in an EFT session, and to be met with no judgment from the practitioner. That acceptance and validation of our feelings, which for many of us isn’t so common in our everyday lives, can be quite liberating in and of itself, and even more so when coupled with tapping.

When it comes to our feelings and emotions, we could say that “what we resist, persists”. Pretending like they aren’t there, or just trying to affirm the opposite doesn’t usually work very well. If a person is currently feeling worthless, that is what feels true to them (or, at least, to a part of them) in that moment. It doesn’t mean that they actually are worthless, but it is the current truth of how they are feeling right now. Acknowledging that is how they are actually feeling while tapping isn’t reinforcing that feeling, but actually giving it space to be explored and eventually released.

Trying to tap while affirming the opposite (“I’m worthwhile”) might trigger a feeling of incongruence, as if a part of the client is internally disagreeing or feeling that it’s not true. On the contrary, what tends to happen when we allow ourselves to voice how we actually feel is that then we might find ourselves spontaneously (without the practitioner having to artificially force this) thinking “actually, I’m not really as worthless as I thought”.

The “positive” tends to emerge spontaneously once the unpleasant emotional intensity begins to subside. This common phenomenon in EFT, known as ‘cognitive shifts,’ occurs when clients begin to explore solutions previously unthought of, or adopt new, more empowering perspectives that feel genuinely true. For example: “It’s not that I failed that exam because I’m not smart enough, but I was simply too nervous, and also could have studied a bit more”.

What we do in EFT, when we tap while focusing on negative thoughts, is not reinforce them, but actually we take away some or all of the emotional charge, so that they have less of a grip on us. It’s that emotional charge that gives those negative thoughts their power, which is why EFT can be useful not just in diminishing and releasing our triggers, but also our limiting beliefs, such as “I’m not smart enough”.

As a caveat, if you happen to find it useful to tap while saying positive affirmations, then by all means, continue to do so. It can be another resource to help you navigate life. It’s important to also recognize the power in voicing negative thoughts and feelings, a process that can be deeply effective, especially under the guidance of a skilled practitioner.

And that’s it for today! I’m Bruno Sade, a compassionate, open-minded clinical psychologist, and certified EFT practitioner. My approach is tailored to your individual needs and preferences, always respecting your experiences, beliefs, and background.

What are your thoughts on today’s topic? How do you relate to the idea of focusing on the negative with EFT? Feel free to share your experiences, questions, or suggestions for future topics. You can either leave a comment below or send a private message. 

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