“Melanie” (52), mother of four children, contacted me because of feelings of abandonment and rejection by her mother and unrelenting anger at her. She also mentioned the debilitating panic attacks and the agoraphobia she experiences, mainly when she goes to a supermarket. In fact, she cannot go shopping without her husband at her side. This has been going on for twenty years. Although the husband is understanding and accommodating, Melanie longs for emotional and personal freedom.
After we had done three EFT sessions focussed on her emotionally unavailable childhood mother, I suggested to tackle the panic attacks and the agoraphobia directly.
First I asked what body sensations Melanie experienced, just thinking about entering the supermarket on her own, and then we tapped:
This watery feeling in my stomach…this clinched stomach…this tenseness in my jaw muscles…these rigid shoulders…
After she had relaxed somewhat, we focussed on the anxiety and what exactly triggers it again and again inside the supermarket.
Melanie: “It is about what might come up when I am there. There is this fear: Anything can happen in this busy place, and I have no influence. The kids are loud, people can block my way or do unpredictable things, and I might not be able to cope. The worst is the check-out. It is overwhelming! I feel like a confused 3 year old that has no control. Yes, like a little child doing the shopping, and I cannot leave without purchases.”
This was a revelation to her: feeling like a little child that is left alone and burdened with a job she is definitely not old enough to do.
Even though I feel so little when I am in the supermarket…my shoulders and my jaw are tight…I feel deep sadness and overwhelming fear…I have no control…I am so little…
When the emotional intensity subsided, I asked her the time-honered EFT question: “What does that remind you of?”
Melanie came up with a situation in Primary School: “It was a rough school, I was often beaten up, the teachers ignored me, and my parents did nothing. They said I shouldn’t make such a fuss, it was all my fault.”
After we tapped on this traumatic memory and brought the intensity down, I had the nagging feeling that there were some pieces of the puzzle still missing.
So I said: “You know, I wonder why your worst attacks are in a supermarket. And especially at the check-out. Is there anything that happened to you as a child in a supermarket? And what happened twenty years ago when the panic attacks started?”
And there it was: Melanie told me that she could not remember anything that happened to her in a supermarket as a child. Twenty years ago, however, she did have a traumatic experience in a supermarket. At that time, she lived with her husband and her small children in a Middle Eastern country. The husband was very busy with his work, and it was up to her to get around with the children in this strange and somewhat scary environment.
One day, she was standing at the check-out in a supermarket, with a baby in her arms. All of a sudden, she was physically profoundly unwell. While she felt panic rising, she looked at the girl doing the check-out. She was wearing a scarf and gave back a completely unemotional gaze.
Now in complete panic, Melanie thought: “I can’t make her notice me, she won’t help me – just like my mother.”
Since the session was coming to an end, we only tapped on the feelings that had come up around the check-out girl. However, with the work we had done before on her mother, this made perfect sense.
As a test, I suggested to Melanie driving with her husband to the supermarket and trying to enter it on her own, while her husband was near by. If she felt panic coming up, she would turn around and get him (with EFT we never advise to “push through” fear) -and we would do some more work on this issue next time. If she managed to go through with the shopping on her own, she would use cash at the check-out to shorten the process.
Several days later, Melanie wrote this e-mail:
Today I went with my husband to the supermarket. He had one list and I had my own. I was planning to buy just a few things and use cash as you and I discussed. However, I picked up more than I intended and had to use my bank card instead.
I still felt relatively relaxed during the whole process!
I stopped and bought myself a lottery ticket on the way out to celebrate.
I am really very happy with this breakthrough.
Melanie continues stepping out on her own in other areas of her life as well.