EFIT & Shame: EFT for individuals with Jenny

Published in ICEEFT-Newsletter July 2023, dieser Text in deutscher Übersetzung

Shame can make us feel isolated, like we don’t belong, and unworthy of love and care. Shame can make us hide, but if we hide these vulnerable feelings from others or from ourselves, then we become cut off from the possibility of coregulation, acceptance and emotional support. It can become a vicious cycle. An EFT Therapist knows that as we are bonding mammals, sharing shame can be an antidote!

The following article offers examples of Stage 1 and 2, focusing on two key moments in working with shame in EFIT. The first is a Stage 1 encounter with Jenny’s inner critic, a very common part of self that hides the deeper ashamed and vulnerable parts in an effort to keep control. This inner critic is often a driver for perfectionism and can continuously devalue the core self. The second is a Stage 2 encounter with Jenny’s younger self that shows feelings of being wrong and isolated, and where shame starts to become resolved.

What we do in Stage 1

In Stage 1, an EFT therapist discovers protective strategies and emotion regulation patterns in the context of attachment and relevant biographical phases and events, and heightens and anchors the client’s resources for the process. Within the window of tolerance, vulnerability and lack of self-worth is approached and framed within the attachment context. Reflecting, validating and normalizing provides support and context where needed. Non-pathologizing is key when it comes to shame. Mirroring the client can unintentionally resolve more shame. Rebecca Jorgensen states to „look in the mirror together,“ instead of just holding up a mirror, so that we bring ourselves into the process. We add relation to a simple reflection: „This makes so much sense to me, what you’re experiencing. I would feel the same way if [trigger]: wanting to sink into the ground so no one can see you in this vulnerable place. When nobody is there to protect us, we all want to hide. I feel thankful that you shared this with me. I’m here with you.

From an attachment perspective, it makes sense. Shame can be a controlling part of an insecure attachment strategy, giving the therapist a sign to build up a felt sense of security and prove themselves trustworthy.

Through all stages, therapists are especially alert to ruptures in the therapist-client-relationship and actively go into repair mode if necessary, demonstrating that they are able to contain their own shame and that relational ruptures can be emotionally repaired. Correcting experiences with the therapist are meaningful pieces in the chronic shame healing process!


Jenny is a 34-year-old primary school teacher who comes to individual therapy on the recommendation of her doctor and with a variety of anxious-depressive symptoms. She describes her childhood as “terribly alone,” having felt “stupid” and „invisible.“ She barely remembers her father as a young child, due to his work and experienced her mother as constantly stressed and anxious about “everything,” often being critical and aggressive towardsJenny, while trying hard to show a perfect home and family to the outer world. She always tried to please her mother and avoid the outbursts, where her mother scolded her when a mishap happened, which just increased her fear and shame. Jenny tells in the third session, „I didn’t know why Mum always got so angry with me. Apparently, there was something wrong with me that she couldn’t really love. I tried to always make it right, the way she wanted it, so she would be kind and loving to me. Rarely she was.“ Another burned-in memory was connected to her mother’s repeated critical remarks about her appearance during different ages. Jenny said, “I guess I was too fat as a young girl and no one liked me because of that.” When I asked if she experienced tender or comforting physical contact, she responded, „I only remember on my birthday getting a kiss and a caress on the cheek. Normally, there was a certain physical distance. I remember my grandma who cuddled me when I visited her over the holidays.“ This balancing bonding experience with her grandmother becomes a key recurring resource during the EFIT process.

Jenny’s inner working model of self is shaped by unresolved shame glued to the fear of being wrong and therefore not worthy of love. „I know there is something wrong with me. Nobody likes to be close to me.“ Through countless moments of being rejected and neglected by her parents, she internalized her mother’s critical voice and made it her own. Through preschool and junior school, it gave her a certain illusion of control – that she could get better if she just tried hard enough. By developing a perfectionism in pleasing everyone, as she did with her mum, she avoided these painful feelings of being unwanted and rejected. “I put on my perfect mask,” she says, hiding her true self and trying hard to not make mistakes, not express herself freely, and to adapt to the needs of others, while at the same time feeling more and more alone and empty inside. From teenager to early adulthood, Jenny reports, “I had grown tall and had become beautiful with long hair — many boys tried to date me and the girls all wanted to become friends with me. Loneliness stopped for a while, but inside, I guess I just locked all the old pain away.” After another broken relationship, which lasted only a short time, Jenny came to therapy. I could feel her pain in her words: “I should not feel all this stuff. I should feel normal, like others do.” This secondary shame sometimes flooding her body made her suffer even more.

Jenny in Stage 1: Encounter with the inner critic

Jenny describes a conflict with her school director.

Jenny: It’s terrible! I knew my boss would freak out if she overheard that there was this scuffle in class. I feel like I sunk into the ground long before meeting her. I just couldn’t get it done, again. I’m just incapable! Next time I…

Therapist: (Leans forward.) Oh, let’s pause here for a second… (Brief pause.) Yes, that has been so overwhelming for you. I can feel it. First the scuffle in class, then the thought of your strict boss who might criticize you again… and then you just want to protect yourself and sink into the ground? (Jenny nods.) And your inner critic part [client’s words from a previous session] takes over, starts devaluing you, saying all these critical things to yourself…

Jenny: Yes, exactly, it’s a prison! I try and try to give my best, but over and over again I get it wrong. It’s embarrassing. (Lowers her gaze.)

Therapist: Yes, your inner critic takes over and tells you to try harder. Wow, Jenny, that must be so much pressure, so much pain.

Jenny: I then beat myself up. And nothing works. I go home and switch all these feelings off and distract myself, maybe go shopping or meet up with a friend, talk about superficial stuff. Inside me, it’s boiling. “You have to be better!”

Therapist: Your inner critic tells you that and it puts so much pressure on you; that’s painful. And your inner critic tries to protect you from feeling all this again? What is it trying to protect you from, Jenny?

Jenny: That it’s going to hurt more. That I’ll lose my job. That I’ll be unacceptable and alone again, and everyone will see it.

Therapist: (RISSSSC.) Oh yeah. It [inner self] wants to protect you from all this pain, from being rejected and alone and seen that way. (Jenny begins to cry.)

Jenny: It’s so sad to realize… It’s all about me… so alone…

Therapist: (RISSSSC, leaning toward her.) Yes, that’s the grief. There has been so much being alone for you. And then you had to learn to protect yourself, like every young child who has suffered from rejection. Your inner critic tries to do that every day, tries to protect you.

Jenny: (Still crying.) Strange that I always criticize myself, but it is meant well somehow. Stupid! It makes so much struggle and pressure.

Therapist: (Goes with the vivid emotion as shown by her tears and invites her to Move 3.) Jenny, if your tears could speak to your inner critic part right now, what would theysay?

In this excerpt, Jenny’s tears build the first part of a bridge to more self-compassion. They help her to say to her inner critic, “The pressure is too high. I long for a different way than always having to be perfect. I feel so alone and sad.” Her inner critic, seen for the first time, becomes more accessible than she ever imagined. “I don’t like putting so much pressure on you. I’m tired, too. But I don’t see any other way.” This is where EFT Therapists offer the attachment context, in this case, encouraging Jenny’s inner dialogue toward more self-compassion and discovering a first glimmer of a new felt possibility of having a choice.

Through Stage 1, Jenny finds more self-acceptance and agency through encounters with her younger self, the therapist, her grandparents, and her mother. Jenny allows more of her vulnerable feelings to be seen, and in turn, she gently begins to question, stating, “Maybe this is bullshit, that there’s something wrong with me. Maybe it’s just Mum’s voice?” In parallel, Jenny develops a friendship with a new colleague, and for the first time, feels like she can really talk to someone about what’s important. She still has moments where she’s overwhelmed by shame, but says, “Then I try to remember our conversations and what you would say now. And then I feel this small light of compassion for myself. ” Jenny is now ready to enter Stage 2.

What we do in Stage 2

In Stage 2, the EFT Therapist transforms chronic shame and attachment-related fears through corrective emotional experiences, deepens the inner emotional experience, acknowledges unmet attachment needs, and expands emotional resilience. Jenny in Stage 2, starts to stand up for her needs and longings via imagined encounters with her mother. These encounters will be key for restoring her view of self as more gentle, open and lovable. Young Jenny was forced to internalize that she was rejected when she was simply a child who longed for attention, protection and mentoring, and so built a barrier of shame to protect her vulnerable core.

Jenny in Stage 2: Encountering the wounded self,
starting to resolve inner working model

Jenny shares a key situation when she was about 8 years old and her mother aggressively exploded and threatened her, causing Jenny to flee into the garden, trembling in panic. She remembered thinking, “This is it. She will never want to see me again. I’m just a bad child. Unlovable.”

Jenny: I just sank into the ground. Oh how worthless, how bad I felt. Devastated.

Therapist: (Comes close.) Yes, that’s terrible. Devastating. Little Jenny, just playing, innocent… and then all this anger and aggression from Mum, even threats. And the little one sinks into the ground with shame and fear, and took it all to herself. So much panic.

Jenny: Mum will be angry again for hours, or forever. (Starts to cry.) She just sends me away. I’m all alone…

Therapist: Alone… alone forever. Devastated. The panic says, “This is it. I’m all alone here. And it must be me.” (Jenny lowers her eyes.) What do you notice, right now, in your body?

Jenny: I feel so sick in my stomach. My knees are weak. I don’t know…

Therapist: (Brings herself in as a resource.) Jenny, can you look at me? We’re going to this place together, okay? You’re not alone. You’re here, adult Jenny, and I’m here too. (Jenny looks up, sighs.) Where is little Jenny right now?

Jenny: She is hiding behind the garden house. She feels so bad! She has to make it right. At any cost, otherwise…

Therapist: Otherwise…?

Jenny: Otherwise, Mum will never talk to her again. Never want to have her close again. Never love her. She’s just a bad child.

Therapist: Little Jenny feels this overwhelming fear that Mum can’t love her… and all these thoughts come up that it’s because of her, that she’s not right. Too much for little Jenny. You feel it in your stomach, in your knees. (Jenny nods.) And adult Jenny, are you there? (Preparing Move 3.)

Jenny: I don’t know… I’m afraid to go to her. I don’t want to feel all this any more. I just want it to stop. (Lowers her eyes, her posture breaks.)

Therapist: (Leaning towards her, warm voice.) Jenny, can you look at me? (Blocking the shame exit.) This is the old stuff, isn’t it? (Trusting the stabilization achieved in Stage 1.)

Jenny: Yes… (Takes a deep breath, a sign of her being in the present, and looks up.)

Therapist: We go together, okay? (Jenny nods.) How do you make contact so that it’s safe for little Jenny, so alone and scared, hidden behind the garden house?

Jenny: (Closes her eyes and goes back to the inner scene.) I sit down a few meters away, maybe I say hello.

Therapist: Good. Is she noticing you?

Jenny: Yes. But she’s distant, she’s afraid of me.

Therapist: Could you tell her, “Hey little Jenny, it’s okay, that you are cautious. I understand. You have every reason to be.”

Jenny: (Pauses for a moment.) Honestly, a part of me just wants to run away, leave all this behind, just forget.

Therapist: (Warm voice, coming close, looking at her.) Yes, I understand. That’s what saved you before. Getting away from the pain, the shame of being rejected by Mum? (Jenny takes a deep breath.) Is there something else coming up, right now?

Jenny: (Begins to cry.) “I’m so sorry. (Sobbing.) It’s so unfair that you are there all alone. It wasn’t right of Mum. I… I’m sorry. And the worst is…”

Therapist: The worst is…?

Jenny: “I left you alone too, all these years. I just couldn’t…”

Therapist: (Proxy voice.) “I just couldn’t. It was too much. I needed time to find myself back. But now I’m here with you.” Does little Jenny hear you? What do you notice, in her little body?

Jenny: I guess she hears me. She turned a bit, still cautious. Still distrusting.

Therapist: If her distrust has words, what do they say to adult Jenny?

Jenny: “Is this true, or is it just a new lie? You are going to leave me, right?”

Therapist: So good that she speaks out! And you, Jenny, you are the best to understand her pain, aren’t you? Just answer her.

Jenny: (Crying.)“Yes, I understand. I would like to see you. I don’t want you to feel so alone. ”

Therapist: “I don’t want you to feel so alone, so unworthy and wrong?”

Jenny: Yes. (Deep breath.) “I don’t think you’re wrong. You are worthy. It was because of Mum. But I run away from all this.”

Therapist: (Takes the agency part, proxy voice.) “You are not wrong. You are worthy.” What’s that like for little Jenny? Can she feel your words?

Jenny: It’s weird, I guess it kind of reaches her. Like in an inner place where there’s a bit of light and hope.

Therapist: And she – you – just feel that in your body, that place… (Slowing down.)

Jenny: There’s so much pain and shame in her – me – but in that inner place, it’s bright.

Therapist: Beautiful! Feel that in your body. (Slowing down, Jenny’s face muscles relax a bit.) And when little Jenny looks at you? Can she raise her gaze? (Jenny nods.) What does little Jenny need to share with you now? Just give her space… (Jenny burst into tears, and we take a moment just to be with the grief.)

Jenny: There was so much pain, so much pressure… so much burden on her little shoulders.

Therapist: Let her know that you can be with her now. You can carry this burden now, Jenny, you are so brave!

Jenny: I want to carry this burden. I still need some help. (Looks to therapist and a little smile comes to her face; the therapist responds with a little nod.)

We continue with the encounter and little Jenny reaches a felt shift in her body, getting the empathic, powerful answer of the adult. Still the sense of “something is wrong with me” is part of her inner core, but she started questioning her inner doubts, felt empowered and had more volume in her chest and lighter breathing.

In this Stage 2 session, confidence grew and Jenny is now able to offer her younger self a hug by physically hugging herself. She is able to sense her breathing and be with her emotion, discharging some of her shame-based nauseous sensation. By seeing, accepting and holding little Jenny in her despair, something profoundly changes. Adult Jenny can stay with her core vulnerability without being overwhelmed. Jenny’s shame-based model of self starts to slowly melt and there is a new safety in her core relationship to herself. Through more Stage 2 and a few Stage 3 sessions, Jenny feels a new kind of self-confidence and, as she put it, “solid ground under my feet.”

EFT is a wonderful model for helping people to heal the deep wounds of chronic shame, often created by missing, insecure and dangerous attachment experiences. The EFT Tango is our tool to frame, touch and break down barriers to connection and compassion.

In working with chronic shame, EFT therapists are invited to reach it experientially together with their client, while respecting the client’s window of tolerance. EFT therapists are committed to attachment, and grow into their own emotional completeness by addressing the places within themselves wherever they experience shame – in the past or present – becoming an even safer base for our clients and making this work even more fulfilling.

Christine Weiß
EFT Therapist, Supervisor & Trainer
EFT Center Hannover

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