For the last few months I have been blessed to be spending my Monday and Wednesday mornings in the local county jail helping out with the Advanced Anger Management class. It has been an amazing experience.
Recently I ran into my friend whose place I have taken as assistant teacher for the class. She asked, “Isn’t it addictive?” Addictive is the only way I can describe it. It is one of the coolest things I have going in my life right now.
I have learned so much from the class. These lessons are not limited to how to best use or teach tapping, but I have also learned lots of lessons about life. Here are a few of the lessons I have learned from working with the guys.
One of my favorite parts of the class is the fact that it has not been court-ordered. Everyone is in the class because it is their choice. I will admit a few of the guys show up because they receive a certificate of participation for their file upon completion, but even these guys fully participate.
There is no mystery about what is going on. These guys recognize that because of their anger they have made choices that have created negative outcomes AND they want to change this. Sometimes they are trying to change just to avoid negative outcomes while other times they are trying to change to be better people over all.
Regardless of why they are in class, it is their choice. Because of this openness we are willing to push them and challenge them to look at their life, their past choices, and their beliefs about themselves very honestly. Sometimes this is a little work (but we all need to be pushed a little to be honest with ourselves.)
Lesson 1: Healing and transformation isn’t going to happen unless it is a choice. We can’t force someone to change. We can encourage people to change. We can support people in their change work. We cannot force someone else to change.
I am in awe of the woman who runs the class. She works for the county and is the one who is in charge of this class (as well as many others types of classes). She spends 5 days a week working inside a very restrictive environment trying to make the lives of a very marginalized population (both male and female) better. In her words and (more importantly) in her actions she shows how much she cares for the guys in class.
One of the main reasons the class works is because it feels like a safe space. The guys know they can talk about their issues and worries without fear of judgment or of negative repercussions. This safe and loving space exists because of safe space that has been created with her heart.
One day the guys were asking if I got paid to teach the class. I told them I was a volunteer. When they asked the teacher the same questions she responded, “Yes, but they don’t pay me to care.” There are lots of people who the guys interact with in the facility who don’t care. She does, and it makes all the difference.
Lesson 2: It is important that the people we are working with understand that we care about them and that they are in a safe space when we work with them. Doing change work can be hard. Often we have to admit the things we don’t like about ourselves. Creating a loving and safe environment is going to make it easier for them to choose the steps to healing.
Other People’s Emotions
We spend a great deal of time in class working with the guys' emotions about their relationships. These emotions fall into three basic categories. First there are the relationships that are contentious. These are normally relationships with the mothers of their children. Second, there are the relationships where they feel like they have let others down. The guys are seeing first hand how their choices are affecting others (their parents, their partners, and their children). It is really hard to see how our choices negatively impact others. Finally, there are the relationships in which they feel helpless. Because they are incarcerated the guys can’t be helpful to the family members that are struggling with other personal problems.
Because the guys have limited interaction with their loved ones (phone, letters, and occasional visits) it puts in stark relief what they can control and what they can’t. When we are around someone frequently, I think we misunderstand how much influence we have over someone else’s life. When we don’t have much contact with them, it becomes much more obvious just how little influence we really have.
Because of this, we help the guys to spend a great deal of time talking about and tapping for what they do have control over, which is their own emotions. (The tool we use the most is “About…To…As if…”)
Lesson 3: In the end the only thing we control is our emotional response and our choices. We can’t control other people’s choices or their emotions AND we are not responsible for others people’s choices or emotions. When we stop spending time and energy trying to changes others’ emotions we can put our energy to the place we have the most control: inside ourselves.
Twice A Week, Every Week
It is very easy to pick out specific moments about the class to rave about. There are moments where there are amazing breakthroughs. There are amazing unplanned conversations about life where the guys wrestle with the really hard questions. As wonderful as these moments are they don’t happen all class long and they don’t even happen in every class. There are classes that feel long. There are times where the guys look at me bored (because I am sure they are bored with me).
Even though each class isn’t amazing it creates a cumulative effect. By being there twice a week every week, it helps to build a relationship. The more we show up the more the guys trust us and trust the tool set. Sometimes it takes weeks before one of the guys will open up in class, but it is because of the constant contact and relationship that the opening-up eventually happens.
Lesson 4: Not everyone is going to trust us and start tapping right away. Sometimes we have to prove ourselves and our commitment to them over time. This does not mean that we run people over with our care, but it is important that we demonstrate that we are here for the long haul.
What Is That Word?
Recently I brought to class a list of emotions that was created by the center for non-violent communication. The goal of the list is to help the guys develop a more specific vocabulary in describing how they feel. The more specifically we can describe how we feel the easier it is to change how we feel.
When printed, the list is two pages long. After I handed out the list to the guys I started to explain why I had given them the list. As I was finishing “K” just blurted out, “What does this word mean?” He then asked about another and another and another. K is in his late thirties and is comfortable enough in his own skin that he wasn’t concerned what I (or the other classmates) thought about the fact he didn’t understand something. His learning was more important than that.
I wish I could always approach learning like that.
Lesson 5: It is ok to admit that we don’t have all the answers and it is important to let others know that it is ok to ask for clarification when they don’t know. If we stay in the dark we are not going to learn and we will often feel stupid because we don’t know, which in turn shuts down the learning and/or healing process.
Filling The Tool Box
There are lots of reasons why guys don’t make it to class. It could be the unit’s day to go to the library, they could be meeting with their lawyer, they could be in court, or something could have happened over night and the unit is in lockdown making it so no one can leave for any reason.
Because of this reality it is hard to teach concepts that build upon previous work because you never know who is going to be there and what classes they have attended in the past. To combat this I have broken down all the topics down into discreet parts. Each part contains two pieces: a tool that can be used right now and an explanation of how it fits into the big picture.
“Ten Steps To Tap For Any Emotion” is a perfect example of this approach that I created for class. If you know the tapping points and follow the steps you are going to get relief. When working with the guys I presented each step one at a time and had them write out their answers for each step.
After they completed the whole process we spent some time talking about how and why the process worked. We talked about the importance of each step and how it impacted the over all results.
In the end it didn’t matter if they understood any of the big picture stuff. Sure, understanding the big picture makes using the tool easier and it makes customizing the tool easier. In the end if they understand the tool and use it regularly they are going to heal and that is what is most important.
Lesson 6: Don’t give people concepts and theory. Give them tools they can use right now to improve their life. If they are interested in theory they will ask about it. It is more important for someone to regain control of their life than it is for them to be able explain what is happening on an energetic level when someone is experiencing PR.
Because of the nature of the facility it is hard to get the guys to class. They are coming from as many as 10 different units, many of the inmates are not allowed to move through the facility on their own, class lists need to be submitted ahead of time, keys need to be checked out by officers, and the class room has to be unlocked. There are an amazing number of moving parts. Because of this we have two, 2-hour classes each week. This is so we can get a maximum amount of time in class with the least amount of disruption to the facility.
To be honest, two hours is a really hard amount of time in which to teach. It is just a little too long to go straight through and it is too short to take a break. It can be hard to keep the guys’ attention and sometimes I find it hard to keep my energy up as a teacher for two straight hours. Also, the class is at 8:30 a.m. Many of the guys have just rolled out of bed and aren’t awake yet.
Lesson 7: When planning a class you are going to be teaching keep in mind how long people can be focused, how long you can teach, and the energy level of the room based on what has come right before class. If you are going to be teaching for a large chunk of time, switch from direct teaching/lecturing to providing experiential/hands-on activities in order to keep everyone focused and energized.
Breathe In And Hold
Tapping in public can be a little bit embarrassing. Let’s be honest, it does look very silly. You can only imagine how much harder it must be to tap in jail! There is no privacy, your reputation can be very important, and you don’t want to look silly.
At the beginning of one of the classes I asked the guys how it was going and if they were tapping back in the unit on their own. One of the guys said that he wasn’t tapping, but he tried one of the “breathing thingys.” (At the beginning or the end of most of the classes we do a guided imagery or breathing exercise. He was referring to one of these).
He said that he was having a really hard time falling asleep because the jail is never quiet. There is always someone talking or something banging. Not being able to fall asleep really agitates him. He said that doing one of the breathing exercises calmed him enough to fall asleep. He then apologized for not tapping.
I told him that it didn’t matter if he tapped or not. What was most important is he recognized what was going on, reached for a tool that he thought might work for him, and then used it. That was all I could ever ask for.
Lesson 8: It is always about our client’s healing. It is never about the toolset. I would love it if everyone in the world learned to tap, but I would love it even more if everyone were willing to take responsibility for their own healing and do something about it. It is easy for us to get wrapped-up in getting people to tap because it has been so effective for us. We shouldn’t let our love of the tool to get in the way of others’ healing.
If You Have Time In Your Busy Schedule
One day in class I was introducing a tool that would take less than ten minutes to work through. I turned to the guys and said, “Sometime in the next 48 hours I would appreciate it if you could find some time in your busy schedule to carve out five or ten minutes to try this on your own.” They all looked at me stunned and then broke out laughing.
Lesson 9: It is good to be honest where you are. It is not a mystery that the guys are in jail, that they have limited freedom, and are wearing colored jump suits for a reason. They know they are in jail. I know they are in jail. By being honest about where we are and what is going on, this gives us the greatest chance for healing.
Lesson 10: Just because something is grave doesn’t mean it has to be serious all the time. There are lots of things that are very serious and very important, but I have found in my own life that if I lose my sense of humor in the serious moments I am more likely to be overwhelmed. It is ok for us to laugh. Gallows humor can be very helpful and very healing.
I have learned so much by being stretched by these guys. It has forced me to rethink the way I teach and what I can learn from the classes I teach. I hope you are willing to stretch yourself a little and share tapping with someone outside your comfort zone.
Baltimore, Maryland, US
From the EFTfree Archives, which are now a part of AAMET International.
Originally published on June 16, 2012.