For me the greatest challenge of being a healer is gauging what to tell my patients when I perceive truths about them that I know will make them uncomfortable. Figuring out what kind of trauma underlies a physical or psychological problem is relatively easy. It's the kind of intuitive information that people broadcast with their bodies all the time. The difficult part is figuring out if they're ready to listen to this information on a conscious level and how I can make them feel safe enough to hear it.
This happens most frequently in cases of sexual abuse by a "beloved" parent - or equally by one who seems to have been "too distant" or "too unemotional" or "too unsexual" to ever have done such a thing. The other case is abortion attempts - although these are, amazingly, somewhat easier for people to hear about if not to deal with.
The first thing I usually get in response is "But I have no memory of that." At this point I try to patiently explain that if it had been safe to remember it, to bring it into consciousness, the information would not have had to be held in the body and cause the kind of distress it is creating.
Typical symptoms of unremembered sexual abuse are habitually sitting with ones hands between ones legs, hip pain or degeneration, lower back pain, insomnia, infertility, ovarian cysts, fybroids, aversion to certain kinds of sexual contact, frigidity, premature ejaculation, prostate problems, hemorrhoids, rejection of body parts - or of the body as a whole - homosexuality, attraction to pornography, promiscuity, candida, urinary tract infections, compulsive hand washing and germophobia- to name just a few.
Typical symptoms of unremembered abortion attempts are constant anxiety, severe depression, irrational fear of certain foods, a general inability to trust people, fear of sharp objects, fear or growth or change.
The second greatest challenge for me is dealing with my own sense of urgency around other people's healing. There is a certain feeling I get in my chest along with an impulse to lean forward towards the person with whom I'm working that tells me that my need to have this person heal is not trustworthy - and above all not helpful to their healing process.
When this happens I have to take a moment to pull back into myself and examine what I'm feeling. Inevitably the emotion of pain comes up usually with a relevant image that tells me what part of my past my reaction is coming from. Once I've acknowledged this to myself I can once again be fully present for my patient and separate my desire for his well being from my desperate childhood need to have someone in my family wake up and heal.
Of course the two issues are related. My "need" to have someone see the truth about his history interferes with my ability to judge wisely just how much information and change he can deal with at a given moment. Once I've clarified and processed my own feelings about the situation I have a much better chance of matching truth with timing and being truly helpful to my shocked and traumatized patients.
WAKING UP FROM DEPRESSION
Depression is usually regarded as a biochemical problem that descends on people for heaven-knows-what reason and can only be treated with psychotropic drugs. As an almost-life-long sufferer from this "mysterious" condition I've done quite a lot of research on it - mostly and most successfully with myself but with many patients and workshop participants as well.
The first question I asked myself was "Why would the body create a 'chemical imbalance?' What purpose might it serve? And when would this purpose have been critically important to the survival of the individual or the species?"
I started as I always do from the premise that Nature is neither stupid nor wasteful. If something occurs it occurs for a reason. If the reason doesn't make sense in terms of ones current life then it probably did at some earlier time. Nature just didn't invest any extra energy or dna in rewriting the program once it had served its purpose. Just because something doesn't make sense for you at 33 doesn't mean that it wasn't useful at 3 or in the crib or in the womb.
I looked at the key aspects of depression:
Not wanting to or not being able to move (usually accompanied by a sense that all action is useless or will cause disaster).
Feeling "bad" about yourself (severely embarrassed, humiliated, guilty or ashamed).
In most extreme cases longing for death.
In what situation I asked myself would these be useful ways to be or things to feel?
Knowing something of my own prenatal history and of the effects of a mother's emotional state on fetal development and growth I realized that the instruction, "Don't move," made total sense to a child developing inside a woman who was hostile to or ambivalent about the pregnancy. Movement would remind the mother of the child's existence thus raising the mother's stress levels and causing a cascade of catecholamines (stress hormones) to pour into her bloodstream and the baby's. The baby would then go into protection mode instead of growth mode thus inhibiting its development. If in addition the mother used alcohol, caffeine, drugs or sugar as a coping mechanism she might further damage the baby or inhibit development by reducing oxygen levels in the blood or overtaxing the fetal liver or pancreas.
The bottom line here is that not moving makes a lot of sense when it comes to preserving the health of a growing fetus inside a stressed mother.
What about the self-loathing? How and when could that have been constructive?
If Nature's first imperative is to get us born her second is to make certain that we reach puberty so that we ourselves can reproduce. In order for this to happen she has to make sure that we neither kill our parents nor incite them to kill us.
In order for this to be assured in a family where parents exercise control over children through abuse or neglect the child has to "forget" almost as soon as it occurs any offense to the self and the soul committed by the parent. In order for this to happen the child must at various times suppress fear (perception of danger), anger (action in response to danger), pain (knowledge of the source of danger and the damage committed) and need (dependence upon the person committing the injury). It is the suppression of these emotions that creates the "bad" feeling associated with depression. Since we can't "remember" the source of the bad feeling and focus these emotions appropriately we blame and reject ourselves.
Depression that is so severe that it leads to suicidal thoughts or suicide itself reflects a situation that among our gathering/hunting forbears was handled by infanticide. If I child was conceived in a time of plenty but born in a time of want the mother's instinct was to abandon the child and walk away so that she would have the earliest chance possible to conceive again and give birth at a time when supporting a child was more probable. If the baby were to cry in distress as she walked away this would make it much harder for her. But if the baby were programmed to long for its own death it wouldn't protest but rather give up in silence (if it hadn't decided earlier to self-abort and make things easier all around) and make it easier for the mother to leave it behind and go on to conceive the next child at a better time. In Nature survival of the species always trumps survival of the individual.
In modern times while a mother may have the physical and financial resources to care for a child she may not be emotionally equipped to do so for a number of reasons. With abortion generally frowned upon, all kinds of technology available for babies who try to force the issue by "leaving early" but aren't allowed to and infanticide illegal many babies are born to mothers who secretly - or sometimes even publicly - don't want them. In short they are forced into life when they've been psychologically programmed to die. When in future life anything like a birth experience looms (and this can be anything from just waking up in the morning to changing a job, a place of living or a partner) the feeling of wanting to die is triggered all over again.
It's important to remember that although depression begins in the womb it is reinforced over and over again in infancy and early childhood. Every incident where life and liveliness were inhibited or suppressed has to be brought to light and healed. It is also important to become aware of ways in which we perpetuated these patterns in our adult relationship and work choices.
YES, BUT WHAT DO I DO ABOUT THIS ?
Treating depression involves going back, layer by layer, through all the traumatic experiences to which we couldn't respond with full emotional vitality. These are usually either experiences we don't remember at all or remember with no feelings attached to the memory. It requires above all the utmost patience with yourself.
Since the wounding occurred through relationship it can only be healed through relationship. That is to say you have to find someone - a therapist or a healer - who can be attentive to you and support your life in a way that your mother never could. This also needs to be someone who has done his or her own work on prenatal and birth experiences and can lead you back there safely without going into shock themselves.
I am someone who thought that my depression would never end - that it would always be there lurking in wait for me no matter what else happened in my life. No matter how bad it got, however, I never took any medication because I instinctively knew that these chemicals would separate me from myself and impede my ability to feel things clearly.
While dealing with many other levels of abuse in my history I found myself returning again and again to life in the womb and my experience of being born. My approach to treating depression (as well as for a host of other intractable syndromes like overeating, addiction and chronic anxiety) involves taking people micro-step by micro-step through their conception, first cell division, implantation of the embryo in the uterine wall, growth and transformation in the womb and birth. It also involves investigating what both their parents were experiencing when the germ cells (sperm and egg) were being formed in their bodies.
I do this not in a strict linear way but following the body's lead - noticing gesture, breath, body movement and posture and feeling into what these are communicating as well as listening to the patient's words, noticing facial expressions and emotional clues in the voice. Your unconscious is really the best guide to how to navigate your own healing path and it speaks through the body. When you learn how to follow it you will, finally, wake up from depression into the fullness of your life.
Sometimes you'll witness a scene where a child has been told specifically not to do something and then goes ahead and does it - or initiates some other kind of behavior like hitting or biting - seeimingly just to "provoke" a parent or other adult. What the child is actually trying to do in this apparently self-defeating act (self-defeating because of the wrath and punishment that inevitably follows) is to bring out into the open the hostility he feels from the adult which the adult has been more-or-less successfully hiding from others but showing to the child through looks, tone of voice or patterns of neglect.
Although the child may get hurt by the adult's response there is also a relief from having the danger out in the open and manifest.
THE ROOTS OF COMPETITION
Competition begins in the womb at the moment of implantation when a mother is ambivalent about or hostile towards the pregnancy. Gestation is supposed to be a collaborative process with mother and child working together to create the placenta and to nourish the growing embryo and fetus. The mother's reward - if all goes according to Nature's plan - is a feeling of supreme well-being fostered by her own changed body chemistry and the energy and emotions flowing towards her from the developing child within her.
But if the mother - either consciously or unconsciously because of her own suppressed and forgotten womb trauma - is rejecting, uninterested or conflicted about the pregnancy she and the baby inside her feel as if they are competing for resources. If she smokes, drinks alcohol, coffee or tea, eats too much sugar or animal protein thus acidifying her blood, or produces cascades of stress hormones there is literally not enough oxygen in her blood for both of them. Pregnancy becomes a zero-sum game (with the more the one gets the less there is for the other) instead of the win-win situation it is meant to be.
When you consider that all capitalism reflects this sad reality you begin the realize how difficult this will be to change. Women would have to deal with their anger about their own histories - which they'd also have to make a difficult and painful attempt to remember - before conceiving and giving birth. Moreover pregnancy, birth and neonatal care would have to be broadly supported by our society and promoted to the place of main events - not sideshows - in our lives.
Our first experience of collaboration is building the placenta with our mother. In utero fetus and mother must work together, each contributing cells, to build this vital supply line for fetal life. Building starts around the beginning of the second month in the womb and goes on until the end of the third month.
If the mother and her body are willing and prepared for this a child's first experience of collaboration is that it is a rewarding as well as necessary part of life and that people can be trusted to cooperate with you.
If the mother and her body do not participate fully and lovingly in this task the fetus must work overtime and give more than it can healthily afford to. The lesson is that collaborative tasks are dangerous and draining and that collaborators can't be trusted.
What troubles me in all the uproar about torture and the truly horrifying things done "in our name" is that no one asks the question, "Who are the torturers and why do they do it?" And by torturers I mean not just the people who humiliated, abused and in some cases murdered our helpless prisoners but the people who thought up the treatments and approved their use.
To me this is the essential question. I believe the answer is that these people - and I include our former president, vice president, attorney general and everyone down the line to the psychologists, CIA operatives and military personnel involved - were themselves tortured when they were helpless prisoners of their parents, i.e., in the womb and as infants and small children. No one who has NOT suffered in this way would have any impulse to make another helpless being do so.
In typical, sadly human fashion their fear and rage at those who have threatened them is directed NOT at all-powerful Mommy and Daddy - the real terrorists of their lives - but at people weaker than themselves. Of course this is unconscious which makes it so very dangerous.
Their fear - that someone wants them dead, envies them for what they have, resents their freedom - is all very real but tragically misplaced in time and space. But since it never feels safe for them to bring it into consciousness no matter how many "terrorists" they kill or punish or from whom they extract information they will never feel safe. The information they really want is from their parents. It's "Why did you reject me and turn me into the terrified person I am today?" The "others -" the co-conspirators - are the friends, grandparents and other relatives who kept quiet or participated in the torturing themselves.
Of course it's important for the BIG parent - the government - to make torture illegal and see that the laws against it are enforced. But it's also important for people to understand what makes a torturer and to see that these people are exposed in their disease and healed.
My first thought about the "war on terror" was that we always seem to need some kind of enemy and when the "cold war" finally ended another just as apparently implacable and tireless one as the Soviet Union and "international Communism" had to be found.
And why do we need this mighty enemy and endless war? Because we are internally locked in an endless war with our parents which we dare not fight in any open way - or even know that we are fighting. The energy of that war has to go somewhere. And what a relief it is when some politician (who is secretly angry at his parents as well) tells us that the real enemy is those guys over there.
But at last we have named it clearly. With "The War On Terror" we are acknowledging that we are fighting so that we no longer have to feel any fear - a desperate battle guaranteed to go on forever. We will never be free of "terror" and that free floating anxiety it brings that allows us to be so easily manipulated until we realize that our real terror is our fetal and infant fear of our parents - the fear that they will not meet our needs or do something even more overt to hurt us.
As usual we are torn between knowing the truth and hiding from it. If this were truly a war designed to wipe out terrorism we would call it "The War On Terrorism." By calling it instead "The War On Terror" we are trying to communicate the true nature of the conflict - and all our despair about ever winning it.
The overweening need to control both people and situations comes from the failure - first of the egg cell, then of the embryo, then the fetus and finally the baby - to get our mothers to behave in a way that promotes our own health and well being.
The first frustration of this need to get Mommy to act in a healthy way is felt by all the eggs inside her ovaries as she chooses the man who will be our father - and in many cases chooses badly both for herself and, more critically, for us. Hope and frustration continue once the egg that will become us is fertilized and starts the long journey towards birth. During the many critical steps of gestation we try to connect with and communicate with her chemically and energetically to tell her what we need. All too often she is lost in her own fantasy about her life, her relationship with our father and the pregnancy - and her addiction to this fantasy keeps her from truly connecting to our life inside her and nurturing us.
The pattern all too often continues after we are born. There is too much of her own life as an infant that she needs to block out for her to be fully and healthfully responsive to ours.
Since this early lack of control over our unconscious mothers literally threatened our lives we find ourselves trying to control every situation where there is even a whiff of something going wrong with an intensity that others just don't seem to understand - small wonder since we ourselves don't.
If you have been reading this thinking, "Well, this certainly doesn't apply to me. I don't have any need to control anyone or anything" you may have had two parents who both adored each other, were creatively fulfilled in their lives and unstintingly gave you unconditional love from the moment you were conceived. Or you may have techniques for managing your anxiety in other ways - that is to say by manipulation instead of control.
Rather than frantically contacting your mother and telling her what to do your style would be to find some way of getting her to notice your distress - so you'd be sending out a different, less direct message although the goal would be the same - to get her to take better care of you. Similarly with other people you wouldn't be giving orders - you'd be asking leading questions, trying to get them to notice your desires and needs without ever making them explicit. But the sense of desperation if these tactics fail to get them to treat you in a certain way or peRform the job you feel needs to be done is just as intense.
Greed (and exploitation) is the result of the feeling that there is not enough oxygen in the womb to accomplish all the necessary tasks of embryonic and fetal development. This forces the growing baby to grab all the resources it can whenever it can and the pattern persists after birth - especially when an individual feels threatened in any way.
Economic recession (or depression) occurs when our collective memory of oxygen deprivation overcomes us and we are overwhelmed by anxiety, agitation, desperation and despair that there won't be enough. Some take more than they need from the collective pool of wealth and others are pushed - in reality or in their imaginations - to the edge of survival. Recovery usually comes when the Great Parent (the government, usually led by some charismatic figure) recognizes the distress and takes action. People start to feel cared about and hopeful again and are once more willing to take risks with resources.
The economic model of endless growth also comes from the feeling that the job of creating a viable infant from a single cell will never be completed. We need to feel collectively that we can grow forever because our early fears that we will never complete ourselves and the driving thought that health comes only from continual growth (which is true in the womb) continue to haunt us.
The pain you can hear in the voices of people who have lost their jobs is the pain of children who have been tossed out of the family. Until we collectively become clear about how angry we are at rejecting families we will continue to act this our periodically on a broad social scale.