The Subjective Units of Distress Scale


Something you’ll hear about quite often in the context of EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) is the Subjective Units of Distress Scale, which is sometimes referred to as the SUDS.  It’s often mentioned when EFT is used in conjunction with hypnotherapy, especially in the trance stage of a session when a particular situation or memory is being addressed. But what is the SUDS and how do you use it in the context of EFT?

The SUDS is designed to measure your emotional response to a situation, thought or memory.  It doesn’t have to be used just in the context of EFT. Knowing how the SUDS works is a good tool for becoming more self-aware and more in control of your feelings.  You can use it even if you think that EFT doesn’t really press your buttons – or should that be “even if EFT doesn’t really tap your meridians”?

SUDS is a scale from one to ten which you can use to gauge where you are at emotionally.  The good thing about the SUDS is that it saves you having to describe in words how you are feeling – sometimes having to break away and give that description distracts you from the feeling itself and you might not be able to measure it accurately.  You’ve probably worked with similar scales before if you’ve ever taken part in a survey where the researcher asks you to rate your opinion on a scale of one to five.  But the SUDS is a bit more complicated than this.

It might be an idea to memorise roughly how the SUDS works to make your hypnotherapy session (with or without EFT) go a bit more smoothly.  You don’t have to memorise how the scale goes word for word, but having a rough idea really helps.  More visual people might like to assign a colour of the spectrum to the scale to help them decide where they are at.

There are a number of scales out there that people use in conjunction with EFT, but this is one common one:

0                     Total peace and calm.  You’re feeling good and happy, and you’re relaxed, without a care in the world.  You feel completely safe and like the place that you’re at.

1                     You feel pretty good on the whole, and you’re more or less happy about what’s going on.  However, if you focussed on the negative side of something, you could feel a bit bad, if you could be bothered about thinking on the negative side.

2                     A tiny bit upset about something, but this feeling is in the background and you’re not really consciously aware of it nagging at you.  You can tune the niggle out unless you are consciously making yourself aware of how you feel and what your body and emotions are telling you.  It’s the emotional equivalent of a slight muscular ache that you don’t really notice until you focus on it.

3                     Mildly upset and aware that something’s bothering you.  At this point, you can choose whether or not you focus on the worry. It’s still possible to push the negative feeling or thought away and concentrate on something else, but this takes an act of the will.

4                     Somewhat upset and fully aware of it.  You could still push the negative feeling or worry away; however, pushing the negative feeling away takes a bit more effort and you have to focus continually on something else.  This is the emotional equivalent of trying to read the poster on the wall of the dentist’s surgery rather than letting what they’re doing to your teeth swallow up your consciousness.  You can handle the negative feeling.

5                     Definitely upset and uncomfortable, but you’re still in control.  You’re not overwhelmed or completely “beside yourself”, to use the old phrase.  It’s not a nice place to be, but you can cope without wanting to escape the situation or do something about your emotions.

6                     Feeling bad and upset to the point that you want to get out of this state and move to somewhere on a lower point on the scale.  At this point, you really want to do something about the way you feel or the situation, as it’s becoming unbearable.  Any physical signs of distress are pretty low-grade – a few tears and a raised heartbeat, maybe.

7                     Barely holding onto your self-control and on the verge of losing it in one way or another.  The emotions have nearly overwhelmed your conscious, rational mind.

8                     Your self-control cracks and you can’t stop the tears, the shouting and the bad feelings.  You feel out of control.  Physical symptoms of distress are very noticeable, such as shaking.

9                     Despair and feeling so out of control you are afraid of what you are going to do.  You feel hysterical – but you are aware that you are hysterical, even if you can’t do anything about it.  A lot of people think that they have reached Level 10 when they are really at Level 9 – they might be out of control, but there is a little part of them that still manages to stay objective and is aware that they are out of control and hysterical.

10                 Complete breakdown and panic attack, with the negative emotions totally overwhelming all rational thought.  You can’t think clearly enough to assign yourself and your emotions a 10.  You are hardly aware of what you’re doing.

EFT is used to help you bring yourself down the scale from the higher levels to the more neutral ones (Level 4 and below; some scales have an additional level around the Level 2 or 3 mark indicating no feelings at all, either positive or negative).  After each cycle of EFT tapping (seven taps and repetition of your script on all 12 key areas, followed by eye movements and humming), you can use the scale to see where you are at.  If you have reached the full Level 10, you are probably incapable of using EFT, but other people can gently administer help, which can include EFT or other physical contact to help you back to yourself.

Read more about the Subjective Units of Distress Scale here.