Relaxation-induced Anxiety - a common but under-recognised phenomenon

Published on 4 February 2023 at 17:47


EFT (as well as TFT and other acupoint tapping modalities) calms people and down-regulates high states of stress and arousal. This occurs so reliably and predictably that it can be a surprise when it is not the case. Have you found sometimes that a client reacts to EFT paradoxically with an increase in anxiety?  This can of course be because they are tuning in more vividly to the target problem or memory, but this may not be the case. It can happen that a client becomes more anxious precisely in response to the calming effect of EFT, because they feel it is not safe to be calm. He or she may have come to believe that to be safe it is necessary to be alert, vigilant, and prepared for danger at all times. Pressing on with EFT, without addressing this underlying belief may drive the client into a frenzy of anxiety. The anxiety will generate further 'anxiety about anxiety', and even more anxiety at the thought of the therapy failing and of being beyond help. In the case of those suffering with generalised anxiety disorder, there may be another hidden belief that it is dangerous to be anxious, alongside the belief that it is not safe to be calm - thus bouncing the client continually between two poles of anxiety.

Another related belief can be that it is not safe to trust anyone - triggering panic when the client does begin to trust the therapist. Yet another inner reaction of increased agitation, triggered in response to the effect of EFT, occurs when there is a prohibition on feeling weak or vulnerable. When the sense of vulnerability is activated or amplified, a part of the client that is felt to be in the position of 'prey' may be attacked by another part that is identified as 'predator' [see the Prey-Predator dynamic described in Mollon, 2015]. These responses can certainly be addressed with EFT but only if the practitioner and client realise what is going on.

When we encounter these paradoxical responses to EFT, whereby the client appears not to make progress, or their symptoms worsen, this is an indication that we are working against complex internal conflicts, rules, prohibitions, and parts of the mind acting against each other. The problems we then have to address are not just specific adverse experiences, but the whole internal modelling of the interpersonal world, a complex inner software and relational template, that may have developed an autonomy from the original traumas. A paradoxical worsening in response to EFT is always an indication to stop what we are doing, step back, and allow some space for understanding to emerge. Often what is most helpful is simply to ask the client what might be more beneficial. Sometimes we may painfully recognise that we are attempting a task beyond our level of skill and knowledge. We then have to consider how best we may fulfil our duty of care at that point and under those circumstances.

Phil Mollon PhD

Psychoanalyst and Energy Psychotherapist


Mollon, P. (2015), The porous personality (and the 'apparently normal' persona). In The Disintegrating Self: Psychotherapy of Adult ADHD and Autistic Spectrum. Karnac. London.