The hidden internal trauma evoked by the exogenous trauma

Published on 4 February 2023 at 17:55


Acupoint tapping methods, such as EFT and TFT, are commonly used to target traumas and other adverse experiences. This is usually the most effective application of these modalities, thereby addressing the experiences that have given rise to core beliefs, schemas, and the template of intrapsychic dynamics that shape the person’s patterns of response to self and others.

When we work carefully through a traumatic event, the focus tends to be upon the sequence of what happened, along with all the perceptual, sensory, emotional, and cognitive details. However, there is often a more hidden internal trauma to do with the reactions to the external trauma. This trauma is the experience of all one’s coping strategies and capacities being overwhelmed – the intensity and quality of emotion overwhelms the ego. It is analogous to a calamitous onslaught of a storm or fire that sweeps away all the structures of civil life – but this is an internal storm of emotion, in addition to what actually happened in the externally observable world. The result of such an emotional storm may be that the person finds their capacities to function in the social world much reduced, with impairments in the capacity to work, relate to others, and manage ordinary affective ups and downs of life.

A person is such a condition may find that he or she becomes significantly depressed, perhaps for the first time, or incapacitated by anxiety, or discovers that cognitive and attentional tasks that once were easy are now experienced as very challenging. Their ego functions (of managing the inner and outer worlds) are profoundly impaired. This is the hidden secondary endogenous trauma in the wake of the original exogenous trauma – and it can have profound effects on a person’s self-esteem and identity, giving rise to enormous shame. He or she becomes anxious about feeling anxious, and depressed about feeling depressed, and ashamed of feeling so much shame. “What has befallen me?” cries the ego in despair. This is the state of post-traumatic decline.

Another kind of internal trauma is the shock of a sudden realisation of retrospective meaning – a phenomenon that Freud referred to as the ‘après coup’. In Freud’s examples (1895), a child experienced some degree of sexual molestation, which was not particularly traumatic at the time it occurred, but acquired a retrospective shock when its sexual meaning became apparent later during adolescence. Similar retrospective re-appraisals occur when a person discovers their spouse is a paedophile, or a serial killer, or has gambled away all their joint income. Another striking example is the scandal that came to light a few years ago in the UK whereby undercover policemen had infiltrated certain activist groups (environmental or animal rights, etc), deceptively entering into sexual partnerships with woman in the groups lasting several years, even fathering children with them, before eventually mysteriously disappearing; the shock to the women, when the truth became apparent, was obviously enormous. In all these instances the triggering event is not in itself a physical threat, but it causes a semantic shock, that then reverberates back through time, necessitating a review of the significance of innumerable elements of daily life. Such processes can take considerable time.

Energy Psychology methods can be very helpful with these internal traumas, provided all their myriad ramifications of meaning are addressed (in addition to the specific related exogenous traumas). It can be helpful to explain to the client the mental processes involved.  Set-up statements and tapping phrases will of course relate to the client’s specific experience, language, and thoughts – but could be along the lines of “Even though I was completely overwhelmed by my terror and shock, and felt completely helpless, and all my capacities to cope were gone … and since then the scope of my life has shrunk and I am no longer the person I was – and I feel shame at what I have become…” (filling out the details with the client’s own descriptive words and metaphors) – or (in the case of retrospective shocks) “Even though my whole life now feels like a lie … and I have had to rethink so many details of what I thought I knew … so many details of the person I thought he/she was …”. These are big internal semantic explosions, accompanied by many smaller micro-bombs and incendiary mental events as the person reviews their life. Whilst we must respect the enormity of the psychic task, acupoint tapping can take some of the sting our of each toxic element.


Breuer, J. & Freud, S. (1895). Studies on Hysteria. Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. II. London. Hogarth Press.

Phil Mollon