Between the Mattress and the Box Spring:
Pressure As Comfort

by John A. Speyrer

"...ADHD and addictive tendencies both arise out of stressful early childhood experience...although there is likely some genetic predisposition toward ADHD, a predisposition is far from the same as predetermination. Two children with similar predispositions will not automatically develop in the same way - once more, the environment is decisive."
Gabor Maté, M.D., in In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts

In three sections of Imprints, The Lifelong Effects of the Birth Experience, Dr. Arthur Janov, writes about the relationship between autism and primal pain. He recounts a story from Virginia M. Axline's book, Dibs: The Search For Self. Dibs, a child of two professionals, was thought to have severe mental retardation with autism who when finally measured had a genius IQ. Janov believed that the child ". . . appears to be a case of severe in utero damage, citing four traumas from Dibs' medical records. In addition, Janov believes that Dibs knowledge of being unwanted was transmitted by his mother "somehow via her physiology." He also believes (as does psychiatrist Stanislav Grof) that "infants can be born with such astronomic Pain that they may never be able to integrate it." (Janov, op. cit., p. 33).

In a second study, Dr. Janov cites a case of infantile autism probably the result of brain damage and massive in utero primal pain. He includes a long letter received from the mother of the child. She reports remarkable "glandular changes" in her child after experiencing the benefits of what is described as a type of sporadic "holding" therapy after she noticed her son's eyes beginning to become teary. The mother reports that, as a result of the crying, her child became very responsive to physical and emotional pain.

Janov believes that autism is a type of psychosis. The disorder has characteristics of psychosis such as lack of, or difficulty with, communicative skills - a distinguishing characteristic of psychosis. Janov explains:

"Birth (trauma) is probably never the sole cause of psychosis, because nothing exists in a vacuum. A child who has an extremely traumatic birth and is then raised in a loving and supportive family is not going to become psychotic. But another child with a similarly traumatic birth and an unsupportive family may. Conversely, the birth may have been fine, but the childhood so shattering that psychosis results without significant birth trauma." Janov, op. cit., p. 202

Psychiatrist Frank Lake concurs that birth trauma may be a cause of autism. He writes,

"There is no doubt in the mind of several patients that they had already passed the limit of tolerance of pain during this descent, in the second stage of labour. They had already lost all trust in the world into which they were being thrust out. They would much rather have been annihilated on the way. This accounts for the fact that some children are autistic from birth.

Whereas the very loving mother will accept even an autistic infant, who does not attempt to suck or wish to co-operate in the business of living, or respond at all to the maternal concern to keep it alive, the unsatisfactory mother, who is herself a reserved and insecure person, cannot do this. In the first case, good mothering may effect the gradual displacement and repression of the death­seeking effects of this birth trauma.

Except in exceptional circumstances, therefore, this experience will never again return to consciousness. Dreams may hint at it, migraine may be related to it. But in the second case, the autistic distrust of human existence and surrounding relationships remains." Frank Lake, M.D., Clinical Theology (1966) , p. 624-5

Many years ago, when I read neurologist Oliver Sack's, An Anthropologist On Mars, I was drawn to the story of Temple Grandin, an autistic woman, who was able to obtain a Ph.D. in spite of her social interaction and learning disabilities. She has invented chutes and other devices used in the cattle industry and is a consultant in that industry. What really intrigued me was her invention of a "squeeze machine" or "hug box" for herself (She also invented one for cattle). Read the article by Dr. Grandin, of the Center for the Study of Autism in Salem, Oregon about The Calming Effects of Deep Touch Pressure....

When I wrote about a device (Resolving the Rotation Trauma of Birth Trauma I had used to help resolve my external rotation birth trauma, I included a link to the article. In my article, I acknowledged that I had an opinion as to why a full body squeeze has a tranquilizing effect on Temple Grandin. During the two decades the article has been on the Primal Psychotherapy Page, I have received no responses to my question, "Why do you believe the device works for her?" The rest of this article will be my attempt to answer that question.

In 1998, due to unfolding and deepening primal memories of near death during my birth process, I discovered that being pressured reduced my anxiety to a remarkable degree. It began while laying in bed, with an idea that "full body pressure" might relieve me from the anxiety and chest tension I was undergoing. I intuitively seemed to know that I needed full body pressure. The solution to obtaining this type of pressure was in my bed underneath me!

I immediately placed myself between its mattress and box spring. The amount of pressure from the weight of the queen-sized mattress seemed to be exactly what I needed to obtain relief from the severe anxiety I was having. The procedure worked each time I allowed the weight of the large mattress to pressure my body. Within seconds I felt more relaxed and calmer as my nervous tension was reduced.

This procedure did not have to be repeated more than half a dozen times as the reliving of my "death in the birth canal" birth trauma, via the primal route, reduced my tension level to a more tolerable degree - to a degree which never again required recourse to my being 'twixt parts of my bed.

This was not a personal discovery, as before the major tranquilizers had been discovered, mental hospitals used layers of cold wet sheets on some patients to help relieve symptoms of severe anxiety and tension.

Would a device, which allows the primaler to self-inflate a cloth-covered rubber bladder to enfold one's body trunk have the same benefits and at a much lower cost than Dr. Grandin's seemingly large and complex "squeeze machine?" The device I have in mind would work as does a high blood pressure cuff but, naturally, would have to be much, much, larger, treating the entire mid-section of one's body.

It would be necessary to use a fail-safe mode to allow the device's bladder to become flaccid on demand as it could easily trigger claustrophobia, as birth trauma is the original cause of claustrophobia in most of us. (See my article, Claustrophobia and the Fear of Death and Dying ). It would also require a high degree of control over an air-pump which would dispense air to supply pressure as the device is inflated.

But, why should pressure applied to the body's midsection help reduce nervous tension?

Many of us crave the comforting effects of the weight of sheets, quilts or blankets as we drift off to sleep. (Perhaps, we become reminded, at that time, of the earlier pleasant womb environment, as it had been experienced before the uterine environment had become more unpleasant - when we rapidly began increasing in size and when womb contractions would begin and we would soon be expelled from the womb). I've experienced only one non-birth-related inuterine primal. It was a simple uncomplicated feeling of floating peacefully. Perhaps, the full body pressure allows one to psychologically return to that time and place.

The pregnant mother may be taking drugs, smoking, consuming alcohol; there may be dissension in the family, illness, unemployment, etc. Some of us may have had continuously painful uterine experiences from conception on to birth and then end up the experience with a horrendously painful birth. Psychiatrist Frank Lake believed that during gestation the developing fetus gets marinated in the mother's emotions. Though inutero time may not be all blissful, neither is it a time only of suffering.

The words "pressure", or "compression" are good words to describe a particular event during birth, but used in this sense, seem to have only a negative connotation. Thus, it might contradict a theory of why, for many, full body pressure could be relaxing. This conundrum might be solved by assuming that most fetuses can and do enjoy the womb environment until the pressure becomes formidable - until the fetus finally begins to get expulsed from its heretofore paradise and the hell of the birthing process begins.

Dr. Grof has written that the uterine pressure which forces the fetus from the womb, exposes the birthing fetus to

. . . agonizing emotional and physical pain, and . . . a sense of utter helplessness and hopelessness. Feelings of loneliness, guilt, the absurdity of life, and existential despair reach metaphysical proportions. A person in this predicament becomes convinced that this situation will never end and that there is absolutely no way out. An experiential triad characteristic for this state is the sense of dying, going crazy, and never coming back. (Stanislav Grof, M.D., Psychology of the Future: Lessons from Modern Consciousness Research, p. 42)

Could the pressure which Dr. Grandin feels in her "hug box" and which I felt between my mattress and box spring have both had their origin in a memory of an earlier intrauterine feeling of security - of being gently caressed by the uterus during late gestation? Thus we could recall earlier, happier memories of times, before we had developed and grown so much that, like our first parents, Adam and Eve, we were pushed out forever from our own Garden of Eden.‡

Both pleasurable and painful aspects of our early lives are spoken of, as repressed, although speaking about "un-repressing" is hardly a good choice for a word, used during adulthood, to describe the process of retrieving a happy inutero memory, - a time during when one may relive an experience which occurred long before normal memory would be retrievable. Happy fetal memories are not "repressed." Yet, they can, like traumas, be regressed to and re-experienced.

From South Africa, Pat Törngren writes:

I was very interested to read John's article above, "Between the Mattress and the Box Spring: Pressure as Comfort"

This article really rang bells with me. While I was in therapy in L.A. I also had a buddy session where I needed heavy pressure to get into my feelings, and become able to cry.

I asked my primal buddy Craig, a big man of over 6 ft and well built too, to lie on top of me in the primal box, to help me. (He was gay, so I knew there would be no sexual implications).

I still don't know what the connection was, but when he laid his full weight on me, I started to cry, and told him he could get off at that point, while I went on crying. (I was crying because it "felt so good").

Like I said, I still don't know the connection, and the pressure of my birth contractions was comforting at all, so it wasn't about the birth contractions.

But what John said about the pregnancy not being all good or all bad, made sense to me too. Inside my mother, it was hell most of the 9 months, and the first major split I underwent was early in the pregnancy.

But like John says, it wasn't all bad, and I am starting to get in touch with feelings about times when it was good. Earlier this year a friend of mine visited me from England, and again I asked him to lie on top of me, for comfort.

He was concerned that he might squash and hurt me, as he is also a very big man, but I kept telling him, "I like the pressure". The quote that came to me was from Shakespeare's "Anthony and Cleopatra", where she says, "Oh happy is the horse that bears the weight of Anthony!"

I also resonated when John said that this could have been the firm, gentle pressure of the uterus before the actual labour began. During the last two months of the pregnancy, the mother has what are called "Braxton-Hicks" contractions.

These contractions gently pressure and stimulate the baby without hurting it. They are gentle, and last only a minute or so long (sometimes less), and prepare both the uterus, and the baby for birth.

Since my mother was looking forward to having a child, and feeling positive that I would be arriving soon, it would make sense that she would have been feeling good at that time, unlike early in the pregnancy, when my father didn't want me to be in there, was angry, and they fought at lot.

I do know that these are only inspired guesses. But my friend is coming from the UK again next month (for a short visit) and so I will have the chance to explore this further, if he is willing.

It was a mystery to me that the thing I was looking forward to the most, was the pleasure of being able to ask him to put his weight on me. Now I think I understand it a little better.

So thanks to John for writing the article, and I shall have to make my own connections when it happens.

One of the things I like the most about the Yahoo Primal Support Group is that by sharing, we can learn from each other, and for me, this article of John's was like a light going on for me. I have been though enough of the pain of birth, and it would indeed be nice to tap into something good that made me feel secure and loved.

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