By Andrea L. Allen
A middle-aged woman, we’ll call her Nina for the purposes of this case study, had approached me to ask for help in identifying ways to lessen her stress levels, which tended to precipitate serious gallbladder pain. It appeared that though she suffered with bouts of gallbladder inflammation on a fairly frequent basis, perhaps once every month or so, she had not found a treatment that dealt with it in a satisfactory manner.
Hospital visits tended to be short and fruitless—“You’ve only got a few tiny gallstones. There are others in a worse situation than you and they’re the ones we treat with surgery. Go home and keep taking the tablets.”
The allopathic (modern) treatments of anti-inflammatory tablets did not agree with her; her stomach rejected them, exacerbating the bouts of vomiting that accompanied each occurrence of the gallbladder disease. This often meant that she also had to take a number of other tablets to counteract this unfortunate effect, including one table to settle her stomach so that she was able to keep the anti-inflammatory down, and yet another tablet to counter the effects of the stomach-settling drug. In all, she had a bag of six different types of tablets to deal with her gallbladder pain, and had been searching for an alternative method of pain control for almost 2 years.
We were able to work on this issue at a time when she was right in the middle of a particularly lengthy and painful recurrence of her gallbladder disease. She was fidgeting on her seat, and from time to time gently rubbed her sides as her abdomen area was swollen and painful to the touch.
Nina said, “I’ve been up since midnight last night with the pain. It’s been almost 12 hours and I’ve hardly slept. I know that my stomach is struggling to digest any of the food I ate yesterday afternoon, and that was almost 24 hours ago. And at the moment I’m just so thirsty. I’m dehydrated as this bout is so bad I’ve even been vomiting up the water that I try to sip every 4 hours. I just can’t stand this pain anymore.”
She was familiar with the EFT protocol and during the previous 2 years had frequently tapped on “this burning pain,” “this terrible stomachache,” “my swollen gallbladder” and other such phrases. However, she had never been able to get rid of the discomfort, even though she had experienced many successes with EFT in other areas.
“For some reason, EFT just doesn’t work on my gallbladder problems," she said. "Maybe it’s not strong enough.”
We established that her SUD level was 10, and had been for some hours. Initially, as she had found in the past, the tapping we did around the gallbladder pain itself made no difference at all to her SUD level.
In fact, at one point she complained that the tapping action seemed to make her pain level rise even further—her SUD level went "off the chart"—and she had to go to the bathroom due to a particularly bad wave of nausea.
Thus it appeared doing the EFT was actually making her feel worse!
It was at this point that I intuitively decided to follow the reason(s) why her pain level should go UP rather than down as we attempted to eliminate it. I wanted to explore the roots of this resistance.
I then put forward a series of questions that dealt with the activities and feelings she was experiencing in other areas of her life and that she might have felt at previous points in her life when her gallbladder had played up.
We continued tapping through the shortcut points as we conversed, changing the pattern only to reverse the polarity of her thoughts that “maybe EFT isn’t strong enough,” and also to complete the 9 Gamut Procedure at the point where anxiety was identified as a factor in how she was feeling.
I asked, "I know your stomach is painful, but is there another area of your life where you are feeling some pain too? Something difficult at home or at work perhaps?"
“Well, this week I’ve got my yearly appraisal meeting at work and my boss is probably going to look to promote me," she replied.
"He says I’ve been doing really well.”
"Okay, I’m a little confused. That’s not what would usually be described as a difficult situation. How does it actually make you feel? What word would you use to describe how you feel about what will happen at work this week?"
“I don’t know—it’s just a really big deal, so it’s what I’m really concentrated on at the moment in my life.”
"Does the appraisal make you feel little worried?" I asked.
“No, not worried exactly. I’m sure he’s going to say good stuff because I’ve been performing quite well. Better than they’d expected. But I do feel anxious about it.”
"Anxious? Have you ever been in this sort of situation before, where you are reaching a high point in your work or personal life and you experience this sort of anxiety?"
“Actually, yes, I have.”
"Have you ever felt unwell at such times too?"
There was an evident light of realization in her eyes at this question.
“Yes, I have actually. If I think about it, there have been quite a few times when I’ve thought how frustrating it is that this stupid gallbladder problem always pops up at the very worst moments in my life. Like just before I’m about to give a presentation to the team, or make an important sale, or launch a new project. It drives me crazy because I have to call in sick beforehand or leave early to go the doctors or the hospital to get treatment.”
"So what is it about this sort of situation that makes you feel anxious, do you think?"
“I’m not really sure. There’s a huge reshuffle in our team going on. They’re getting rid of a lot of people. But I already know they’re determined to keep me on. He’s already told me that privately. And they might go and promote me and my role to a higher level.”
"But that sounds marvelous! You are moving toward a new and more fulfilling work life where you’ll be able to do more, and others will look up to you."
“Some of them already do look up to me. That’s what worries me.”
"So it’s not such a great thing to have others look up to you? Can you tell me why?"
At this point we spent some time teasing out the details of a childhood that had been riddled with parental criticism and school bullying.
“I hate it when people look at me, when I’m visible to others. I always feel as though they’re looking for things to start criticizing me about or that they’ll use to pick on and bully me. The only time I ever felt safe when I was a kid was when I was ill, because then everyone at home and at school were really sympathetic and they’d leave me alone. Even if they didn’t take care of me particularly well, at least they’d lay off the bullying.”
"So do you think you might be avoiding becoming successful because of the acclaim that might come with it?"
This particular question resonated with Nina in a striking way.
“Yes! I just can’t bear the thought that everyone will be looking at me and pointing and noticing what I’m doing—even if it’s in a really positive way where they’re saying ‘Look at how good she is’ or ‘Hasn’t she done well?’ It frightens me that they might suddenly turn on me and criticize my... I don’t know, my work, my efforts. They might criticize ME! So I prefer to continue to be invisible.”
"And how might being ill allow you to be invisible, do you think?"
“Well, I guess it gives me the perfect excuse to disappear from the limelight, doesn’t it? I mean, without being criticized for jumping ship or not working hard enough that is. Nobody in the team can blame me if I’m not there because it’s not like I choose to be ill, is it?”
"No of course not. Why would you choose to be ill? Unless, perhaps, your subconscious could choose for you to be ill?"
"And if it did, what would be the point of it doing that to you?"
“Well, I guess it would be the perfect way to keep me safe from something I really hate—being in front of a pointing crowd. It would be a good way to protect me. At least temporarily. Do you think that’s what’s been going on?”
I checked her SUD level at this point and it had come down to about a 9 during this realization (remember, at one point it had gone off the chart!).
I decided to follow through on the theme of her subconscious using her anxiety to initiate or worsen her illness, using her words "protect" and "safe." Thus we tapped all the upper body points for another 20-30 minutes using the following phrases:
“Even though my body has been so helpful in keeping me safe and protecting me from potential bullies...
Even though my mind has worked so hard to protect me from criticism and bullying all this time...
Even though my gallbladder is so swollen and hot that it forces me to stop working and stay in bed where it’s safe...
Even though I have been protecting myself from having to face situations where I’ll be successful and exposed to unsafe scrutiny...”
“I deeply and completely love and accept myself and my fears simply because they are a part of me...
I choose to accept that I am no longer a little girl who cannot protect herself from those who wish to question or criticize me...
I am ready to recognize that I can speak up for myself and I’m a grown-up who’s allowed to talk back...
I choose to let go of the need to be ill and welcome my hard-earned success with open arms because I’m ready for it now...
I choose to be well and know that I will be safe because I’m an adult now and I can cope with whatever they throw at me...”
Within 30 minutes of having discovered the root cause of her pain, her stomach had calmed, the fiery pain had cooled, and she was no longer fidgeting on her seat. Her SUD level came down to 4 and then 2 and then 1. The sense of nausea had passed and she was able to speak without having to lean back to ease the abdominal swelling.
It was at this point that we were finally able to look at ways for her to manage the stress factors at work that brought on her anxiety and work on bringing those down to a SUD of 0.
One interesting point to finish: At one stage, in the middle of this continuous tapping, the client experienced a sense of "fighting to let go" of the anxiety. She described it as "almost like being in a tussling match with a part of me that was saying ‘no, not yet!’" and a final wave of nausea (a symptom of the gallbladder disease) swept over her before her stomach finally calmed and settled. There’s no way to objectively judge the reason for this, of course, as EFT does not readily lend itself to such precise measurement. But perhaps this was part of the unconscious struggle to protect her before finally allowing her to move on?
Since that point, she has not had a recurrence of the gallbladder disease but acknowledges that this is in part because she is taking extra care with what she eats and when. She has also found that her productivity levels have gone up, and concludes that this is because she feels less fearful of doing well and subsequently being noticed for doing well.
Follow-up: 4 Years Later
I was fortunate enough to be able to talk with this client and gain further feedback over 4 years later. She let me know she was still thrilled with the results of her EFT session.
She had one further bout of gallbladder trouble almost 18 months after our session. However, she felt this wasn't an issue as it was so obviously caused by an evening of major overindulgence. She had discovered the baked goods store Cinnabon during a trip to the United States and went overboard with the cinnamon rolls they offered. Her comment was “Man, I really, really pigged out, but without thinking things through first. There must be a good quarter pound of pure fat in each one of those cinnamon rolls, so it absolutely served me right that I had a bad reaction."
She laughed as she said, "I think just about anyone would have felt ill if they'd eaten four of those things in a row!”
Other than this lapse, she hadn't experienced any further problems with her gallbladder at all, which she felt bordered on the miraculous, considering that before our EFT session she had been bedridden and/or hospitalized on an almost weekly basis.
She felt that her body had, as she put it, “finally worked out who the hell was in charge here. And it's ME! Not my gallbladder."