The Aftereffects of Two Uncompleted Primal Sessions

by John A. Speyrer

Edvard Munch - The Scream

"Incomplete Primal - A primal that has not been worked through fully and results in
residual tension and confusion rather than a feeling of relief"

-- Psychiatrist David Freudlich

A description of the disastrous consequences of uncompleted primal feelings at their worst can be read in an interview with Dr. Alice Miller published in "Psychologie Heute" (Psychology Today) in April of 1995, describing the horrendous effects of a series of primal feelings which were triggered during her three weeks' intensive, but seemingly, not integrated. She describes their adverse effects:

"I hold that what was expected of me was irresponsible. At the end of these three weeks my feelings were in a turmoil, so that I could not find sleep, that for the first time in my life I thought of suicide, and had anxiety verging on the psychotic. I was already fearful of this therapy that robbed my organism of sleep, but I could nowhere escape it. The ghosts that I called for did not allow themselves to be chased away."

I've been experiencing primal feelings of my birth, infancy and early childhood for thirty years. Over 95% of these regressive experiences were solo. I began the process alone and continued it alone except for occasional workshops. Very early I discovered that primalling alone is not the optimal method for doing this therapy. Primal feelings are usually deeper, longer and often consist of new material when one occasionally sees an experienced and competent therapist during one's primal therapy.

And practically all of the thousands of regressive episodes I experienced ended with a sense of relief and resolution - at least in the short run. Two, however, were exceptions.

Neither of my two incomplete primal feelings were as disturbing as the one Alice Miller describes above. Those effects caused her to discontinue the therapy. The two particular feelings I had began as all of my other primals had begun. Neurologist E. Michael Holden's description of the primal process pretty well sums up what I have experienced again and again for three decades:

"Quite consistently, Primal Pain enters one's awareness as a feeling of fright or panic which is most typically experienced as a sensation in the abdomen or chest. Some experience such a sensation in the legs or in the pelvis. Very typically, almost without exception (just before a Primal), the sensation moves upward in the body: from pelvis or abdomen to chest to neck to throat, then to the mouth. (Primal Man, The New Consciousness, p. 137, Arthur Janov, Ph.D., E. Michael Holden, M.D.)

Accompanying this movement upwards of the feeling the primalers body experiences many components of a sympathetic 'mass reaction,' which Dr. Holden lists as rapid heartbeat, rise in blood pressure, facial pallor, 'gooseflesh', extreme muscle tension, arching of back and backwards extension of the neck and head, dilatation of the pupils of the eyes, need to urinate and rise in body temperature.(ibid., p. 138)

Dr. Holden continues,

"When the feeling reaches the throat there often occurs a scream, a 'cry,' indistinguishable in quality from that which may precede a grand mal seizure. Alternatively, one may abruptly start hard, convulsive crying or moaning as if in extreme agony. At this moment of sudden outward expression of the internal feeling, one sees the abrupt start of a predominantly parasympathetic mass reaction." (ibid. pps. 137-138)

In my case, the parasympathetic mass reaction seemingly completed (experiencing a birth trauma of near death), I arose from my living room floor and went to my home office to write-up the episode in my primal journal. It was the season of Lent, during the 40 days penetential period before Easter and a glance at the Christian calendar, to confirm the date for the journal entry, made me notice the calendar image of the crucified Christ. Upon its viewing, I immediately was re-connected to the same birth feeling which I had just primaled. For that reason, I realized I had not completed that primal feeling, so I went to my bedroom, lay down my bed and with both arms flung out in a spread eagle position, I was revisited by the agonies of my birth.

As I writhed on the bed, I turned my head to the left and viewed my left hand as a spike was being mallet-driven through my palm. I could clearly see the left rung of the cross as I was being crucified! The birth re-experience had triggered in me a hallucinatory identification with the crucified Christ! I turned my head to the right but the vision was not present on that side of my body.

I am neither spiritual nor a very religious person, but as a convent educated child, on Fridays during Lent, for eleven years, we had been marched over to the church across the street to participate in the Way of the Cross -- a prayerful recounting of the passion and death of Christ. I always hated attending these church devotions because they left me feeling depressed, but for Catholic school children at the Academy of the Immaculate Conception, in Opelousas, attending the Way of the Cross was obligatory.

I subsequently attended college at Loyola University in New Orleans where all Catholics were required to attend an annual religious retreat. Those dreary silent retreats also left me feeling depressed and I promised myself that after graduation I would never again attend one.

Later in life, when my neurosis became more overt, I had always assumed that its symptoms had begun because of my Catholic education and rearing, but I was surprised to learn through my primals that my unconscious mindI had simply used the symbols of my faith as a focal point for my blocked memories. Their ultimate cause lay elsewhere - I was to eventually find their origins to be my near-death experiences during birth.

Psychiatrist Stan Grof writes:

"In the fully developed first stage of biological birth, the uterine contractions periodically constrict the fetus, and the cervix is not yet open. Each contraction causes compression of the uterine arteries, and the fetus is threatened by lack of oxygen. Reliving this stage of birth is one of the worst experience we can have during self-exploration that involve holotropic status. We feel caught in a monstrous claustrophobic nightmare, exposed to agonizing emotional and physical pain, and have 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 often becomes convinced that this situation will never end and that there is absolutely no way out. An experiential triad characteristic for this state is a sense of dying, going crazy, and never coming back. . . . We may feel the intolerable tortures of sinners in hell, (or) the agony of Jesus Christ on the cross." my underlining (p. 41-43, Psychology of the Future: Lessons from Modern Consciousness Research) .

The feeling of being crucified I had experienced that day while laying on my bed was on a transpersonal plane of feelings. I believe the feelingful hallucination was the result of an overload of released repressed material which resulted from the earlier incomplete or aborted primal. If I had remained "on the floor" and not been impatient to finish the primal feeling, I believe the primal would have continued and thereby resolved itself and I would not have been catapulted into an experience which transcended my early biographical history. In no way was I sorry that I had experienced a transpersonal aspect of my birth. In the future, I was to experience other such aspects of my birth. (See A Holotropic Breathwork Experience . . .)

At the last series of workshops I attended, the therapist noted my tendency to abort the feeling and would always encourage me to continue the primal. On many occasions her efforts were successful as there was often more material for me to feel. My impatience to complete every project I have, as soon as possible, is related to my birth pain. As a suffering fetus I was anxious to stop the suffering and in the present each project in which I am involved takes on the characteristics of my birth. I always have a need to upload each article to this website even before it is completed. There is always a relief of tension when I convince myself that the article has been finished since it has been uploaded. The act-out is only temporarily satisfying as I then spend much time re-editing the article until I am finally satisfied with the result.

As explained, I never have regrets of having relived such transpersonal material after believing my primal feeling was over, as my experience was exciting and unforgetable; such experiences can also be painful, fearful and unforgetable. I am convinced that such deep symbolic resolutions of early trauma can be healing. Dr. Grof believes that transpersonal experiences are something other than symbols of repressed trauma.

In Beyond the Brain: Birth, Death and Transcendance in Psychohistory, Grof contrasts Primal Therapy with Holotropic Breathwork which is his formulation of a type of regression therapy. He emphasizes that at times it is necessary to feel the transpersonal aspects of a biographical trauma in order to resolve it.

Also see Janov's Imprints: The Lifelong Effects of the Birth Experience, p. 196-198, for a short analysis of psychosis, mysticism and spirituality which is germane to this subject. Dr. Janov believes that transpersonal experiences are merely residuals of unprocessed primal pain. I believe he is correct.

My second incomplete primal occurred a few years later. It also began as described above with uncomfortable tension and angst. Just when I was about to connect to the primal feeling, my doorbell rang. The person visiting me, although not in primal therapy herself, was familiar with primal therapy as I had spoken with her many times about its theory and practice. Because I was at the very brink of the feeling, and also because the pre-primal state is very uncomfortable, I asked her to "sit for me," i. e., witness my primal during the primal feeling. She agreed. I laid down and began the birth feeling.

There is no need to describe the details of the feeling, but after a minute or so of connection to the deep birth feeling, I glanced up and noticed the look of horror/concern/discomfort on the face of the sitter.

I was upset with her unease so I knew I could not continue the birth feeling in her presence. She left soon thereafter, but as I was no longer able to continue feeling the feeling, I decided to begin walking outdoors to dissipate some of the loosened-up energy of the incompleted feeling. A minute or so after I began the walk, my mind began racing; I was unable to control my thoughts and began to feel concerned, as I had not realized, at that time, that I was in the throes of a panic attack. Feeling in no condition to continue the walk, I immediately returned home to deal with this unsettling development. As I entered my house, even before I laid down on the carpeted floor the birth feeling began to connect at the same time as the anxiety attack dissipated.

The spill-over symptom I was having, was a "fragment of a primal," as neurologist, E. Michael Holden, has described such an event as I had experienced - going from a primal to a panic attack and then returning to the primal. Although his use of the expression is to explain a psychophysiological symptom. Dr. Holden's article listed below is a very fine discussion of the origins and resolutions of common psychosomatic ailments explained from the viewpoint of primal theory.

Holden writes that "Symptoms in neurosis evolve in relation to unresolved Primal Pain." Symptoms occur, he believes, "when feelings cannot be fully experienced. It is an either/or relationship: the symptom or the feeling. . . . A completed Primal resolves a symptom; an incompleted Primal leads to symptom formation." (The Journal of Primal Therapy, Winter, 1976, Symptom Formation in Neurosis p. 5, E. M. Holden, M.D.)

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