Chapter Four - "Help Me --- I'm Tired Of Feeling Bad"
How Do We Summon the Unconscious?
Down through the ages, we have been told not to feel. It is one of our earliest injunctions.
'Stop crying, or I'll give you something to cry about' 'Don't stand around feeling sorry for yourself, get on with the job.' 'Think of others, don't be so self-indulgent.' Not being allowed to feel is the hallmark of the human race. When we bury feeling, we bury the vast, subtle, intuitive continent of the brain. We lose the largest and most organically productive part of ourselves. The deepest compass of the mind goes awry. Intuition and creativity become damaged. Sensitivity to self and world dampens.
Above all else, the therapist must return to his clients the permission to feel. We bring about this return of the permission to feel in a variety of ways. These methods are all based on a common process which I am going to name THE PRINCIPLE OF CONGRUENCE.
Present events have their own reality. Often, however, they resonate with or trigger old feelings. In fact, present events trigger a surprising number of internal experiences which are exactly congruent with experiences from the past.
When a therapist leads a patient to experience a series of congruences between a present and past event, the tumblers of the mind fall into place, and the past event is re-experienced with great intensity.
We encourage the reliving of past experiences because only after this occurs does the mind break free of its bondage to early trauma. Until an event is re-experienced, as fully as possible, it remains anchored and unchanging in the depths of the mind. From this hidden place, the early feelings radiate disorganization into our present life, causing us to bear the double burden of both present pain, and past pain, whenever something in our adult lives hurts us.
This double burden produces avoidance and over-reaction in our daily lives. The person who cannot enter a room full of people for fear of being criticized is reacting to early criticism which has remained unearthed in the depths of the past. It will continue to harm present function until it is re-experienced. Thus, as adults, we move through two landscapes without ever knowing it. We are never fully available to create or respond to our current existence. The past contaminates the present. It follows from this, that the first and greatest of the congruences which we will strive to create for our patients is the CONGRUENCE OF FEELING.
Congruence I: In the summoning of unconscious material, to create Level Four regressive psychotherapy.
The Congruence of Feeling
When a person has a powerful feeling about a present event, almost always the identical feeling has existed in his past, having accompanied an early traumatic event. For example, if someone is breaking down under continuous criticism from a boss, they will be carrying the double load of the present event, plus significant criticism from their childhood. The present stress will trigger and resonate with the unknown pool of pain in the past. Thus, the patient will overreact in the present, and a breakdown of function, to a greater or lesser degree, will occur. Our job, as therapists, is to bring the past into view. Our job, as Level Four regressive therapists, is to arrange a feeling of the congruence between the present and the past event, powerful enough so that past events are reactiviated and relived in the therapy room. Thus, the patient is freed from this early landscape. Accordingly, we lie people down in a comfortable, neutral position on a padded mat in a semi-darkened, soundproof room and ask them to leave all their thinking processes behind. Then we ask them to feel the feelings that are centred around the current event. Each time they return to their head and begin to talk about themselves and to tell their story (Level One therapy) we gently and firmly turn their attention back to what they are feeling and sensing in their bodies. Unlike the Level Three therapist, we do not immediately convert the feeling to words. We ask the patients to enter the experience more deeply, to stay inside the feeling and, like the choke on a car enriching the mixture in cold weather, we enrich the experience and ignite the regressive process. This regressive process takes on a downhill, toboggan-like intensity, bringing on a re-living of the early childhood trauma.
The ignition of this experience is rarely as simple as I have just made it sound. The mind and body, even in highly motivated people, are profoundly repelled by pain. This repulsion is quite beyond the conscious control of our patients. Because of it, the mind struggles to return to normal daytime intellectual function. In the case of the criticized employee, for instance, we simply ask the patient who is now lying in our semi-darkened, soundproof room to stay with the feeling he experiences while the boss is actively criticizing him. If he can allow the feeling to become intense enough, and if he can stay inside it for long enough, then suddenly he will be six years old and his father will be laughing at him in front of his brothers and sisters while he struggles to ride his new bicycle. The anguish will return in full force and be re-lived.
The principle of maintaining the experience of feelings attached to a present event with sufficient intensity, and for a long enough duration of time in the therapy room, is crucial to the triggering effect in all the congruences we shall study.
Congruence II: To promote the re-living of early traumatic experience in Level Four deep regressive psychotherapy.
A. The Congruence of Inarticulate Sound
The congruence of inarticulate sound is not necessarily congruence between a present sound and the sound of a past event. It is rather the congruence between what we feel during a therapy hour and how we would sound if we were allowed to speak or cry out during the experiencing of the feeling. This may or may not match how we cried out as a child when we were hurt. We may not have been allowed to cry out at all.
In the present, however, there is a sound which will exactly match in quality and intensity the feeling we are experiencing in therapy. In passing, we should note that the making of no sound may itself be a resonance with a childhood situation and thus precipitate a reliving.
The direct expression of the pain we are experiencing, through the use of an inarticulate sound, activates almost immediate relief whether the pain be emotional or physical, but most especially, if it is emotional.
Thus, in Level Four regressive therapy, we ask our patients to shape the sound which exactly fits or mirrors the painful feeling. The intensity and the quality of this sound, move it toward congruence. At this moment, we become on the outside what we feel on the inside, and congruence is achieved.
For example, the man who has a pain in his gut would be encouraged to experiment with a low grunting sound, while a woman who, as a baby, was left alone and untended in her crib, might find her way to a higher-pitched whimpering. The manipulation of the texture of the sound is done by the patient who is guided by an inner body sense to produce a noise that is exactly correct.
For example, recall the earlier story of the woman who couldn't swallow anything more from her boss, the one with the constriction in her throat. If, instead of converting the feeling of constriction into words, she had been encouraged to make the sounds of someone strangling, this congruence with the strangling experienced when her uncle filled her mouth with semen would quite possibly ignite a reliving of the incest.
B. The Congruence of Articulate Sound
The use of human speech in deep regressive psychotherapy can be extremely helpful but it carries with it one major problem.
We have already said that the more conversational we become during depth therapy, the more it tends to lift us away from direct experiencing. It renders the process intellectual and returns us to Level One therapy. Conversation is (under any social or therapeutic circumstances) almost always a defence against feeling. It can, however, be used in depth therapy in several ways.
First, conversation can be used as a scanning device. For those patients who cannot lie down and connect with a feeling or internal body state, talking is an excellent place to begin. If we set someone free to talk about anything they wish, slowly but surely, the topic they choose will get closer and closer to their unfinished emotional business. Pain, acting like a magnet, draws normal conversation inexorably toward the hurts that lie buried within us. We will begin to circle endlessly above the deeper issue in a highly displaced and symbolized manner.
For example, a man who was not treated well by his mother may turn to the theme of women's inadequacy in politics. He may argue at great length about how they are not strong enough to properly look after their constituents.
A therapist listening for the underlying theme might sense that this man was not properly looked after by the significant woman in his life when he was a child. He would gently help the patient to make the connection and talk about his childhood relationship to his mother.
The regressive psychotherapist would ask the patient what he feels as he talks about women politicians, and would keep him lying down in the feeling until a congruence occurred. A re-experiencing of the early relationship might then be triggered.
Not only does conversation circle around unresolved pain, but the actual words and phrases of early childhood lie scattered everywhere on the beach of adult conversation. For those therapists who know how to recognize them, these perfect little shells are excellent doorways into deep unconscious material.
For example, a patient describes an argument with a taxi driver who has taken her to the wrong address. In the course of her story she says, 'No matter how carefully I explained his error to him, he just couldn't hear me.'
The depth therapist hearing the phrase, 'He just couldn't hear me,' might ask the patient, lying down in a semi-darkened, soundproof room, to say the phrase over and over again until, breaking into tears, she might realize that most of the feeling attached to this argument was coming from an entire childhood of not being heard by her father. The phrase, 'He just couldn't hear me,' creates a perfect congruence between present and past, and the doors of the unconscious open.
The repetition by the patient of childhood phrases which lie scattered about in adult conversation acts as a diamond drill easily penetrating defences.
Conversation can be used by the depth therapist but we have to divest it of its defensive qualities. We have to re-work it so that it becomes a device for search and penetration rather than a device of avoidance.
Another way of making conversation useful for depth therapy is to ask patients to restrict their vocabulary to the use of short words and simple phrases. Because this kind of speech is similar to the simple speech of childhood, it becomes more congruent with childhood. Thus, these simple words and simple phrases melt through adult defences.
The use of any significant short words and simple phrases, attached by the patient to felt experiences in therapy, allow a shift from the symbolic to the actual and begin to approach the intense power of inarticulate sound.
A patient tells a long and complicated story of a man who has taken advantage of him in a business deal. The use of a simple phrase at this point such as, `He hurt you very much', will often cut through defensive conversation and bring the patient to tears. The phrase has touched upon a childhood theme.
Congruence III: In the summoning of unconscious material, to create Level Four regressive therapy.
The Experiencing of Body Position The third method of igniting a reliving of original trauma, utilizes what depth therapists call body memory. If a child was beaten while lying curled up on a bed, a request is made for the patient to assume the same position on the mat. If we add to this a request for feelings when this position is taken, and even further, suggest that the patient make the sounds which exactly duplicate the childhood cries of distress, we are adding three congruences to each other. By doing this, we are creating a highly specific pressure on the mental mechanisms of defence. They will eventually give way and thereby allow a re-living of the early childhood trauma. Congruences are cumulative and we seek to combine as many of them as we can. When body position in the therapy room becomes congruent with body position during the childhood trauma, untold numbers of nerve cells in the Peripheral, and in the Central Nervous System, fire in precisely the same configuration as that which occurred during the childhood event. This electronic key fits the lock and therapy moves forward. The creation of congruences are all methods of summoning the unconscious. Therefore I wish to include, in this group of techniques, a fourth method of breaking through defences. Although not exactly the same kind of congruence, it is, however, a highly specific physical intervention which calls forth childhood re-experiencing.
Congruence IV: In the summoning of unconscious material, to create Level Four regressive therapy.
The Method of Physical Intensification: This method of breaking through defences involves the use of touch to intensify the physical pain of symptoms that have been displaced in the body. We talked earlier, in Level Three, about tapping into the diffuse, subtle, inner-body state as outlined by Gendlin. This time we are referring to a different technique, involving a more discreet, intense, focal kind of body symptom and the approach is different. We can do this with any psychologically generated physical pain.
A man lies not far from me in the semi-darkness of my primal room. On this occasion he is free from all feeling except a mild pain in his upper abdomen. Inner exploration has ceased because there is not enough intensity to drive it forward. The feeling in his abdomen is produced by, absorbs, and hides the memory of some conflict. I place the tips of my fingers exactly in the centre of the painful area. If the placing is not exact to the millimetre, nothing will occur. The past will remain hidden. I ask the patient to guide my fingers and his inner sense tells him the precise spot.
I now begin to push downward slowly, increasing the intensity of the pain. I take care not to push so hard that I hurt what might be a duodenal ulcer. I instruct the patient that it is crucial he not think about anything but, rather, let come to him whatever wants to come. Thus, by staying out of his head, he is not lifted back up into a Level Two or Level Three connection. The power of the insight will not, therefore, be diluted.
As my fingers increase the pain, suddenly the symptom's ability to hold and bind the forces of repression lets go. The symptom is, we might say, overwhelmed and the patient begins to sob. Now he is in the past, feeling the death of his father when he was nine, and experiencing the grief that he was not allowed to feel because he had to be strong for mummy and his little brothers and sisters. For the first time in twenty years his stomach relaxes, he grieves, and his ulcer, previously treated by a succession of medicines, finally begins to heal.
The congruence is somewhat hidden in this last method. In the example given above, the placing of the fingers must be exactly congruent to the location of the pain. The pressure exerted must create and intensify precisely the pain which is being felt. It must be congruent with the pain. In fact, as the pain increases, if this work is precisely done, the patient has no sense of the therapist's fingers. There is only the feeling of the original pain growing, to a point where it can no longer bind and hide the memory. The stomach pain may or may not have been present in childhood.
To sum up, staying with the feeling, creating its exact sounds and words, placing the body in the position of the original trauma, and touching the exact point of pain all involve a series of congruences.
When using these techniques, it becomes apparent that the mind\body axis is like a combination lock. Each technique which achieves an added level of congruence is another correct number in the combination. Finally, when all the tumblers have come into alignment, the mental mechanisms of defence shift aside and childhood appears. I call this phenomenon CONSCIOUS-UNCONSCIOUS CONGRUENCE.
Within a knowledgeable and caring therapeutic environment, this phenomenon must be allowed to reach its goal, which is to re-experience. This re-experiencing, which often must occur again and again in therapy, is a necessity if deep trauma is to be integrated.
There is a danger of clients becoming addicted to the warm, self-validating, early painful experiences. Strange as it may sound, re-experiencing early pain has a warmth and a realness which draws some patients into an endless repetitive re-experiencing. The avoidance of this addiction is another issue for depth therapists.
If, as Freud said, dreams are the royal road to the unconscious, then the techniques of CONSCIOUS-UNCONSCIOUS CONGRUENCE are the express elevator.
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