Using EFT for a Macho War Veteran

By Dr. Patricia Carrington

In this article, I’m going to describe how I used the Tearless Trauma Technique to help a Viet Nam veteran, “Tommy”, accept EFT, even though the standard EFT protocol might well have caused reactions in him, which would have run counter to his Self Image.  In that event, he would likely have refused to participate in the treatment.

As you will see, although Tommy was able to pull out of a severe battle flashback through the use of EFT, I am almost certain he would not have responded to this treatment had I not structured the session so that his “macho” Self Image remained intact.

Tommy is an immensely engaging, friendly and helpful man whom just about everyone likes.  He weighs over 300 pounds and has a host of physical problems, some of them remnants of war wounds that leave him handicapped to quite an extent.  On his good days, though, he can lift a metal office desk onto a truck as easily as most of us can pick up a bag of groceries.  He works successfully at every imaginable sort of handyman job and, because of his enormous strength he has worked on and off as a bouncer in a night club.

He is a self-appointed defender of the weak, and last year saved a woman from being raped when he heard her screams as he was walking through a low-income housing development. Tommy ran to the site of the attack, grabbed the assailant by the scruff of the neck and tossed him over an eight foot fence.  The attacker broke both his legs as he landed on the concrete and, by some twist of the law, Tommy ended up having to defend himself in court against charges by this serial rapist of assault and battery. Tommy won his own case when the rapist was shown to have had multiple arrests for this same crime.  Nonetheless, trouble sometimes seems to be Tommy’s “second name.”

Tommy’s Self Image is clearly that of being strong and invincible. However, in actual fact this huge man is also a wonderful surrogate parent to his nieces and nephews whom he supports, cooks for, and acts as the father they never had (he’s never been married himself).  He is also the person who stays up through the night caring for his widowed mother who suffers from Alzheimer’s and a near fatal heart condition.  Further, he is the one who plays Santa Claus for the children in the leukemia wards in Trenton and whom they beg for and call “our Uncle Tommy”.  But, always he is the strong one and the salvation of all.

Tommy has done handyman work around my house for years and in many ways it is as though he were part of my family.  I absolutely rely on him to fix anything and everything cheerfully and immediately.  Thus, I have had plenty of opportunity to observe him pooh-pooh needed medical treatment until it became absolutely necessary to accept.

He claims to be able to recover almost miraculously from injury, and in fact does possess an amazing immune system.  But he will also tell you he is “feelin’ just fine!” even when he can barely move.  His Self Image of being invincible keeps him in good cheer, even amidst difficulties that often seem enough to keep a soap opera running for years.

Because I knew so well Tommy’s pride in coping with anything and everything that happens to him, I was deeply concerned when I heard his voice on the phone about a year ago telling me that he was leaving town forever.  He just had to “get out” and never come back.  There was a tremendous urgency in his tone and he was talking in non-stop fashion, almost incoherently in fact.

It turned out that during a winter snow storm the night before, a fatal accident had occurred on his property.  A car skidded off the road and smashed headlong into one of his trees.  Tommy managed to pry open the car door and lift the driver out, but he was dying and did, in fact, die in Tommy’s arms–just as some of Tommy’s war buddies had done many years before.

When he phoned me the next morning, Tommy told me he was “seeing” his whole backyard aflame with bombs bursting, just as they had on the battlefields during the war. “I don’t know what’s happening!” he kept repeating “But I’ve gotta get out of this place. I’m gettin’ out of here!”

I knew Tommy had called because he respected the fact that I’m a psychologist and because he trusts me.  Clearly, he wanted my help, otherwise he would have simply skipped town as he was threatening to do. I realized I would have to overcome his resistance to accepting medical or psychological help of any kind before I could really help him – his “I’m fine!  I can do it myself!” Self Image could seriously get in the way of any treatment.

Tommy’s Self Image is clearly that of being strong and invincible. However, in actual fact this huge man is also a wonderful surrogate parent to his nieces and nephews whom he supports, cooks for, and acts as the father they never had (he’s never been married himself).  He is also the person who stays up through the night caring for his widowed mother who suffers from Alzheimer’s and a near fatal heart condition.  Further, he is the one who plays Santa Claus for the children in the leukemia wards in Trenton and whom they beg for and call “our Uncle Tommy”.  But, always he is the strong one and the salvation of all.

Tommy has done handyman work around my house for years and in many ways it is as though he were part of my family.  I absolutely rely on him to fix anything and everything cheerfully and immediately.  Thus, I have had plenty of opportunity to observe him pooh-pooh needed medical treatment until it became absolutely necessary to accept.

He claims to be able to recover almost miraculously from injury, and in fact does possess an amazing immune system.  But he will also tell you he is “feelin’ just fine!” even when he can barely move.  His Self Image of being invincible keeps him in good cheer, even amidst difficulties that often seem enough to keep a soap opera running for years.

Because I knew so well Tommy’s pride in coping with anything and everything that happens to him, I was deeply concerned when I heard his voice on the phone about a year ago telling me that he was leaving town forever.  He just had to “get out” and never come back.  There was a tremendous urgency in his tone and he was talking in non-stop fashion, almost incoherently in fact.

It turned out that during a winter snow storm the night before, a fatal accident had occurred on his property.  A car skidded off the road and smashed headlong into one of his trees.  Tommy managed to pry open the car door and lift the driver out, but he was dying and did, in fact, die in Tommy’s arms–just as some of Tommy’s war buddies had done many years before.

When he phoned me the next morning, Tommy told me he was “seeing” his whole backyard aflame with bombs bursting, just as they had on the battlefields during the war. “I don’t know what’s happening!” he kept repeating “But I’ve gotta get out of this place. I’m gettin’ out of here!”

I knew Tommy had called because he respected the fact that I’m a psychologist and because he trusts me.  Clearly, he wanted my help, otherwise he would have simply skipped town as he was threatening to do. I realized I would have to overcome his resistance to accepting medical or psychological help of any kind before I could really help him – his “I’m fine!  I can do it myself!” Self Image could seriously get in the way of any treatment.

Since there was no point in trying to convince him over the phone about the value of EFT, I simply said, “Tommy, you get over here, NOW!  We can fix this. I have something that can help you.”  I was absolutely determined to make EFT work for him no matter what, but the trick would be to get Tommy to remain doing the treatment until it took, restlessness is a strong characteristic of his even under ordinary circumstances.

When Tommy entered my home I saw this huge man trembling noticeably, and his face appeared ashen.  I had him sit down immediately.  No introductions to EFT; there was no time for that.  Just the briefest description– “I’m going to use a new method that can take away the kind of experiences you’re having.  It’s based on acupuncture, but they’re no needles or anything like that involved.  It’s being used with Viet Nam veterans who have the same problems you do now, with a lot of success.”

Gary Craig’s Comment:  Impressive!  In a few words Pat used her congruence and her authority to quickly link EFT with its use for other Viet Nam veterans.  Sometimes a few well chosen words, said with emphasis, can convey more than several pages of rhetoric.

Pat Continues:  Obviously, I said this because I wanted Tommy to believe that the technique would work – and I didn’t have the luxury of the caution we use in experimental work where we’re careful never to influence or “suggest” to a subject positive results.  I needed all the help I could get, and confidence in a technique on the part of the person using it can be a great help.

One thing I was certain of was that Tommy’s “macho” image could not permit him to break down and express the real emotions that were underlying his intense reactions –they would be forbidden in his view of himself.  For this reason, I did not want to use an approach which might take him into an abreaction (a re-living) of last night’s experiences or of his war experiences.  I could not use a technique which would cause him to express what would be for him deeply humiliating emotion.  Were I to do this, I knew I would simply “lose” him — he’d have been out the door in a flash.

So I chose to use the Tearless Trauma Technique, and quickly set that in place to protect Tommy from running headlong into the restrictions of his own Self Image.  I told him that he was not even to THINK about the accident or (later) about the battle scenes, but merely to “guess” what his SUDS rating (rating on a ten-point scale of distress) would be, IF he were to think about these things.

Although Tommy’s initial SUDS was a “10 Plus”, he could manage to repeat the set-up phrase, “Even though this man was killed on my property …” and did a round of tapping on that.  Notice that I purposely did not have Tommy describe his own emotional reaction to the event, but helped him construct his reminder phrase to reflect the facts alone, which in themselves would obviously evoke a great deal of emotion.

Tommy was able to follow these instructions without thinking in detail about the accident.  He just repeated the Reminder Phrase description of it.  After tapping a complete round this way, he was obviously experiencing some relief.  His breathing was easier, his eyes more focused, and he described himself as “a little better.”  After tapping another round, Tommy felt better yet.  Then, on an intuition, I suggested that we go directly to the memories of the war.  I asked him if he had seen men die like this in the war.

“Yeah.  Sometimes they died in my arms just like this.” he said.

I then asked him to say, “Even though they died in my arms in the war..”, reminding him not to IMAGINE the war experiences, but only to SAY them in the Reminder Phrase.  He did as I suggested.

In all, Tommy did about eight to ten rounds of the tapping and I watched in amazement myself as his SUDS rating came down, in just 12 minutes, to a zero.  He had stopped trembling, looked entirely different, and could only keep repeating, “This stuff is something else!  This stuff is SOMETHING ELSE!" over and over again.

Tommy’s EFT treatment was remarkably successful.  He was able to go back to work that day with no difficulty, and did not “flee the state”.  I have been keeping close tabs on his state for over a year now since this incident, and his flashback has never occurred again.  Nor has the fatal accident on his property bothered him.

In my experience with EFT, this lasting effect can be expected to occur very often if the original treatment was successful.  In this case, I am convinced that we could not have obtained such excellent results were it not for the use of the Tearless Trauma Technique.  Because the pain was held to a minimum through this technique, his extremely disturbing emotions became manageable.  Tommy did not have to suffer the humiliation of “losing it” in front of another person, and in front of himself.  It may be because of this that he was able to accept that the treatment was effective and not have to deny this fact through the Apex (denial) effect.  Can it be that the Apex effect only comes when a person’s Self Image is in danger of being violated if they recognize the success of the treatment?

Interestingly however, Tommy refuses to use EFT for any other problems that have occurred since this incident–even though he admits its great usefulness.  He will not, for example, use it for the severe pain he can sometimes experience with his disabilities.  Nor will he use it or for his distress at some of his rather urgent family problems.  But again, to do this would be to violate his image of vulnerability — too much, it would seem, for him to take.

In all, Tommy’s experience has convinced me once again of the great value of the Tearless Trauma Technique.  One of these days I will report how I use it routinely to help clients in ongoing therapy through any rough spots which might make them want to flee from therapy (actually or emotionally).  An important point to remember is that this method need not be applied only to a major trauma.  It is a wonderfully humane way to handle many serious problems which clients face.  I cannot urge you strongly enough to try it!

EFT Master, Dr. Patricia Carrington
 

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