By Pat Törngren
"Our bodies’ abilities to heal themselves when injured,
-- The Author
is vital to
the survival not only of the individual, but of the species.
would make sense for our psyches to operate in the same way,
for the same reason."
Most of the people alive on the planet today have been emotionally wounded, one way or another, in infancy and childhood. Many of us are trying to heal. What are our chances? Are we to be caught forever unsuccessfully fighting our bodies' defences? Or is there an inner drive towards wholeness and healing, which operates in our minds and bodies if we can create the conditions to allow it to occur? Personally I believe there is. I like to call this my "inner healer." My understanding is that not only our physical bodies have an "inner healer" but our psyches do too.
What I mean is, that when we injure our bodies, they start to heal themselves, without us having to tell them to do it. If we cut ourselves, special "soldier" cells rush to the scene of the accident to deal with any infection. The blood thickens and clots, so we
don't bleed to death, a scab forms for protection, and underneath that, new healthy tissue grows. It seems that the psyche works in the same way, and some of the most recent brain research is confirming this.
I believe that our minds are also "set to heal" if we don't stop them. When we go through overwhelming pain, especially in childhood, the memories of the pain, and of the unmet need beneath it, are "repressed" or "gated" in the brain so that we won't be overwhelmed and literally die. This is especially critical with early traumas such as birth, separation of the newborn from the mother, surgery, sexual molestation, and neglect, anger or violence from our parents. In fact it applies to all physical or emotional pain that is too severe to be integrated at the time.
Once the danger has passed, the mind tries to "bring it back up" to connect it to consciousness for healing. This happens in many ways, quite naturally, and if we would just allow it to happen to children, later therapy might not be needed at all.
I am thinking of myself here. If, as a baby, my mother had just let me cry out my
birth-pain, while being held in her loving arms, I might have been able to heal it there and then. William Emerson is doing a lot of work with newborn babies to help them process their births during the first weeks of life. But a specialist isn't necessary - the parents can do it. The problem was that when my "inner healer" tried to come out in the form of crying, even as a baby, I could feel that it made my mother irritable, anxious, and impatient. So in order to gain my mother's love, even as a baby, I tried not to cry, even when I needed to.
Of course teaching the importance of this "therapeutic crying" to new parents is fraught with danger. It is often misunderstood that we are saying, "Leave your baby to cry it out." That of course is not what I mean. When a baby cries, we should always go to it and pick it up immediately, as crying is the only way a baby has to tell us it needs something. It may be hungry, cold, in pain, or often, just in need of more loving touch and holding, which in itself is a very important need. But sometimes, all the feeding, changing, comforting and rocking in the world won't stop the baby from crying, and then we need to consider the fact that it may be "primalling."
If that is the case, we shouldn't "shush" the baby up by jiggling it around, trying to distract it, pushing something into its mouth (breast or pacifier) to shut it up, or do anything else to make it feel that we will love it less for crying. Instead, we need to let it cry as long and deeply as it needs, supported in the loving arms of its parents, till it reaches resolution. Aletha Solter has a lot to say about this on her Aware Parenting Site , and I see that Vivian Janov endorses it as a form of "primal parenting."
When the child hits the misnamed "terrible twos," is really a time that it is trying to work on its baby pain, and its present emotional frustrations, to release them and heal. By this time the child has some language abilities, so it doesn't need to cry when it wants to ask us for something (unless we are not listening and don't respond or frustrate the child in some other way). Spontaneous crying now becomes more specifically a way of dealing with feelings of old or present pain and frustration, and two-year-old tantrums are one of the ways that these little ones do it. We need to lovingly facilitate that, and not punish them for crying, or threaten to hit them if they don't stop, as is so often done. If we understand that these outbursts are their "inner healers" at work, we can support and help them better.
I believe that all repressed pain is constantly trying to re-emerge in order to be healed. It comes up in many ways, including dreams, and children's play and fantasies, and so long as we let it come up, the self-healing will happen. I can remember being left alone in a hotel room one night, at six years of age. Suddenly I was alone and my mother was gone. I began to scream blue murder. I was reliving being separated from her straight after birth and left alone in a plastic container in the newborn nursery to die of "abandonment and a broken heart."
I was actually a six-year-old having a massive primal! But someone heard me and called my mother, and she came in, very angry and shut me up. I was made to feel I'd been selfish when she told me I had ruined her evening, as she would now have to stay with me. So not only did I not get help, but I was retraumatised. If only they had left me alone, or even better, offered support and containment, so that I could explore the feeling further. I was only six, but my "inner healer" was taking the first opportunity it got to self-primal something I really needed to deal with, and would have been able to resolve if I hadn't been stopped by adults who didn't understand the process.
This process of trying to get back to my pain, and deal with it, seems to have gone on all my life, but the message I got from the adults around me, was that if I cried I was bad, and when I showed any kind of feelings, especially sadness or anger, I was punished. So instead of facilitating my "inner healer," they were actually making me stuff more and more of my pain down, till I was finally totally shut down and cut off from my feelings. If they had done the opposite, I think I would have "primalled" all my early pain naturally in childhood, and have been able to deal with later traumas as they arose, if my feelings about them had been accepted. This is what we need to teach to parents. It could be called "emotional hygiene."
To return to the theme of the "inner healer" - in adulthood our "inner healers" are working all the time too. We often find ourselves in situations where old pain has been triggered, or where we are returning to old, unhealthy patterns or relationships. My therapist recently suggested to me, that it's not that we are just "stuck" or "sick," but that our psyches take us back there specifically to expose, deal with, and heal that area. Again it is the "inner healer" pushing us in the right direction to find wholeness and resolve whatever needs to be resolved.
Our dream lives illustrate this too. I have noticed that material that I need to work on often starts emerging in my dreams before I am even conscious that I am working on it. Some dreams have been like long, progressive "serial stories" going deeper and deeper over time, to bring the pain to the surface for healing. This happened in connection with sadistic torture I was put through as a toddler. It came up in night terrors for years, with more and more insights over time. Finally I had a dream in which I "connected" to the body memory, and the bruises reappeared on my body and lasted for about a week, with no other primal activity apart from the "primal dream."
That would imply that our "inner healer" works even when we are asleep.
There has been a lot of talk lately about the fact that the brain becomes "hard wired" very early in life by our very first experiences, beginning in the womb, and including birth and the baby and toddler years, by which time many pathways in the brain are "grooved" and become neural circuits that are set for life. This certainly sounds like bad news. However, recently I was listening to a taped lecture by France Janov in which she cites studies by recent researchers, including Allan Schore, on the "plasticity" of the brain. She says they have found that if we totally relive the traumatic event from the past, with the full emotion felt when it occurred, new brain circuits will open up and begin to operate, after all these years. Once again the "inner healing" process is at work.
I have come to think about it this way. Our bodies' abilities to heal themselves when injured is vital to the survival not only of the individual, but of the species. It would make sense for our psyches to operate in the same way, for the same reason.