Birth Trauma and Pre- and Peri-natal Feelings
of Death and Dying:

First Trimester Intrauterine Trauma and Transmarginal Stress With Paradoxical Reaction

The Theories of Frank Lake, M.D.

by John A. Speyrer

Dr. Frank Lake


Transmarginal stress - the physical and/or emotional suffering which extends beyond the margin or level which can be tolerated by the developing fetus, birthing infant or during the foundational year.

Paradoxical reaction - the extreme change from hopeful expectation of survival to the wish for non existence. This contradictory state of mind automatically occurs as soon as the stress level of the fetus or birthing infant becomes transmarginal.

"Transmarginal stressing in infancy is never forgotten. It cannot be assimilated to the ordinary body of experience of life with mother and father. It is 'out of this world'. Since it cannot be tolerated in consciousness, all the better aspects of parental care by which, reasonably speaking, it ought to be balance, do not affect it at all. Parents are often very puzzled when a child who seems to have been happy and reasonably well adjusted up to a certain point begins, during the school years, or in early adult life, to accuse the parents of attitudes of rejection and harshness which certainly could not have been reasonably deduced from the later years of consiousness. They are, of course, faithful transcipts of first-year interpretations of experiences in the foundation year."
Frank Lake, M.D. Clinical Theology, p. 1128-9

Frank Lake was born in Aughton, England in 1914 and had an untimely death from pancreatic cancer in the early 1980s. Religious by nature since youth, after obtaining his medical degree in 1939, he volunteered for work in India as a medical missionary. Upon returning to England eleven years later, he retrained as a psychiatrist.

LSD was discovered by a Swiss pharmaceutical company in 1943, and in the early fifties the company sent samples to various psychiatric research units. Lake enthusiastically embraced its use because he had soon noticed that the impact of the drug helped spill the contents of the unconscious mind. He noted that the drug specifically helped to lift repressed memories of infancy. But, it was the frequent abreaction of birth trauma which he witnessed in his patients which was to guide his research for the rest of his life.

At first, he did not believe that it was possible to re-experience one's birth traumas. It was not until he was able to compare his patient's birth records with their experiences in therapy that he became convinced that such regressions were possible.

He wrote,

I was assured by neurologists that the nervous system of the baby was such that it was out of the question - that any memory to do with birth could not be reliably recorded as fact. I relayed my incredulity to my patients, and as always happens in such cases, they tended thereafter to suppress what I was evidently unprepared, for so-called scientific reasons, to believe. But then a number of cases emerged in which the reliving of specific birth injuries, of forceps delivery, of the cord round the neck, of the stretched brachial plexus, and various other dramatic episodes were so vivid, so unmistakable in their origins, and afterwards confirmed by the mother or other reliable informants, that my suspicion was shaken. [Frank Lake, M.D., Clinical Theology, 1966, p. xix.]

All individuals, Frank Lake believed, are essentially either neurotic or psychotic. The neurotic in turn was fitted into one or more of these reactions: the Anxiety-Depressive; the Hysterical; the Schizoid; the Depressive and the Psychosomatic reaction. Dr. Lake's magnum opus, was his 1966, 1200 page edition of Clinical Theology. Subtitled, A Theological and Psychiatric Basis to Clinical Pastoral Care, the book has a chapter of over 400 pages devoted entirely to a discussion of the schizoid condition. Lake admitted to being a schizoid. I am one also.

Towards the end of his life Dr. Lake became more and more certain that the really important traumas which cause neurosis happened during the fetus' first trimester of life. This hypothesis he called, the Maternal-Fetal Distress Syndrome. "The M-FDS may be operationally defined as, the behavioral reactions of a pregnant mother affecting her fetus in ways which contribute to its perceptions of itself and of its environment in the womb; and these perceptions persist into adult life." [Quoted on page 2 of Stephen M. Maret's doctoral dissertation, Frank Lake's Maternal-Fetal Distress Syndrome: An Analysis.]

Dr. Lake believed that intrauterine traumas were both physical and emotional. As a result of being present during LSD facilitated regressions (and undoubtedly because of insights acquired during his own therapy) Lake developed theories of how the mother "broadcasts" emotions to her fetus via the umbilical cord. He believed that this "umbilical affect" establishes the set-point which determines the future degree and type of neurosis of the developing fetus. He felt that the first trimester of pregnancy was the most important phase for the future mental health of the developing fetus.

The severest forms of human pain" [ have their origin in ] ". . .the soul-destroying pain and heart-breaking suffering that comes from the distress of the foetus in the womb when the mother herself is distressed . . . these first three months after conception hold more ups and downs, more ecstasies and devastations that we had ever imagined.[Frank Lake, M.D., in Tight Corners in Pastoral Counseling (quoted in Maret, ibid.].

Such interchanges of emotions between mother and developing fetus, via the umbilical cord, were divided into four possible "scenarios:"

  • The first "scenario" of umbilical exchange Lake termed, Positive and Ideal. He described it as the most preferable, as the fetus has an almost perfect womb environment. This blissful state of being is a replay of the present home environment of the mother as well as her own fetal experiences in her mother's womb.

  • The second "scenario" is less than ideal and is Negative but Coping as the fetus is able to adequately contend with its umbilical and uterine environment. Dr. Lake defines it as a period of "influx of maternal distress," or perhaps less of an "essential need for recognition and caring attention." Lake writes that the "foetus already understands enough to cope with some incomprehensible interruptions of its mother's tranquility. In this environment the fetus has been given loving trust for a long enough period of time to be able to bear, without losing trust, times when the mother's attention is being taken up by outside troubles. The detriment is not serious." [Quoted in Maret, op. cit. pps. 165, 168].

  • In the third "scenario" the womb-life is described as Negative and Oppositional with an obstructional environment. In this instance, "in the face of too severe, too prolonged, unremitting deficiency of maternal recognition or because the sense of 'negative umbilical affect' is like a great nail of affliction or skewer transfixing the foetus at the navel, with an overwhelming invasion" [Maret, op.cit., p. 168] of dark maternal feelings. When the negative feelings of the mother are shut off or reduced the fetus is able to recuperate (as during the night) to a helpful extent.

  • It is the fourth condition which is the most traumatic. It is a condition which Lake described as Strongly Negative with Transmarginal Stress. Through "umbilical affect" - "the pain of the world . . . picked up by the family, is funnelled by the mother into the fetus." Lake describes the fetus as being "marinated in the mother's miseries." [Quoted in Maret, op. cit.p. 172]

"When and if the "affect flow" from the mother to the fetus reaches the point where the fetus perceives a "sheer impossibility of keeping up the opposition to the invasive evil which seems interminable and relentless" [Lake, Mutual Caring, p. 30] then "transmarginal stress" has occurred. When the absolute margin of tolerable pain has been reached and passed, paradoxical and supra-paradoxical response patterns result in which "the self turns against itself, willing its own destruction and death." [Lake, Studies in Constricted Confusion, C68] The stance of the fetus switches from being life-affirming to death-affirming. Beyond the margin of tolerable pain, of transmarginal pain, the "foetus longs, not for life, but for death. The plea is not for a relief of the weight, but that it may be crushed out of existence." [Lake, Mutual Caring, p. 30] There is a loss of 'being' at the center, replaced by a (paradoxical) desire for 'non-being.'" [Lake, Studies in Constricted Confusion, C41]

This can be the result of attempted abortions, and even being vehemently unwanted. I believe that a subsequent severely physically and/or emotionally traumatic birth can add to the intra-uterine trauma or even by itself account for the laying down in the neonate's unconscious unresolvable amounts of transmarginal stress with paradoxical reaction.

"Paradoxical reaction" is this point when the fetus can no longer cope when "transmarginal stress" develops. The self turning against itself is an quick automatic reaction. When the emotional or physical pain becomes no longer bearable, the fetus wants and embraces the idea of not existing - of being annihilated. Indeed, the fetus may plead with its mother to exterminate it.

Naturally, these pleas are not expressed in language when they originally occurred. The verbal expression of the feeling becomes available only after language acquisition and when the person is in a regressed state in therapy. The feeling content of the earlier traumatic experience which occurred very early in life are nonetheless experienced during the intrauterine, pre- and peri-natal and infantile period. .

Lake writes,

It may be due to her marriage, to her husband's withdrawal rather than more intimate supporting when he is asked urgently for more than his personality can easily give. It may be due to the family's economic or social distress in a distressed neighborhood. . . . If she is grieving the loss of or nursing a still dying parent, the sorrow overwhelms her and overwhelms her fetus. [Lake, Theology and Personality, p. 66. Quoted as a footnote in Maret, op. cit., p. 172.]

Dr. Lake, in the introduction to Constricted Confusion: Exploration of a Pre- and Peri-Natal Paradigm, writes that during the first twenty years of his research he had concluded that pathological personality conditions which he had observed in his patients were due to birth trauma and in traumas which occurred in the period after birth. However, he writes that he was forced to revise his theories because of overwhelming evidence that psychopathological conditions originate in the intrauterine period and particularly during the first three months after conception.

During the psychotherapeutic regressions, both with LSD and primal-oriented therapies, events, such as, "(f)ailed abortions and near miscarriages are recalled in most distressing detail, with fear of being killed by maternal hatred. . . . Feelings of being "(o)verwhelmed, passing into Transmarginal Stress, into paradoxical and self-destructive reactions" may occur. [Frank Lake, ibid., C41].

The first 72 hours after birth are of prime importance and this period is often a reflection of the first trimester trauma. "There are, however, exceedingly important roots, both in schizoid and hysterical personality and bodily reactions, within the first trimester after conception." [Frank Lake, ibid. C69].

Once the door to the realm of birth consciousness is open, it often continues to insist on its resolution through the need for the primaler to acquiesce in the re-livings of such traumas. At that time the individual is often consciously presented with overwhelming un-repressed feelings from his intra-uterine and birth periods which previously had unconsciously ruled parts of his life and personality patterns which origins were completely unknown to its victim.

Arthur Janov, Ph.D. argues, "the reason the birth trauma has such a tremendous impact is that it's a life-and-death situation." [Arthur Janov, Imprints, 1977, p. 65]

In this age of hospital births, the majority of infants have to cope not only with the biological ordeal of human birth by mothers who repeat their own birthing stresses, but will also be subjected to numerous medical assaults and invasions. Many of the traumas of birth which currently arise in psychotherapy exist because of conditions found in the hospital births of the past few generations of people. [See Dr. William R. Emerson's webpage. ]

Others have theorized that evolutionary changes due to man's upright position have resulted in a size limit being placed on the birthing mother's pelvic dimensional opening. [See Aletha J. Solter, Ph.D., The Aware Baby and Ludwig Janus, M.D., The Enduring Effects of Pre-Natal Experience.]

Stanislav Grof was one of the first to recognize the fundamental significance of extreme physical discomfort, trauma, illness or operations in his theoretical model of psychodynamics.

Grof observed that:

(P)owerful experiential approaches, reliving life-threatening diseases, injuries, operations, or situations of near-drowning are extremely common and their significance clearly far exceeds that of the usual psychotraumas. The residual emotions and physical sensations from situations that threatened survival or the integrity of the organism appear to have a significant role in the development of various forms of psychopathology, as yet unrecognized by academic science. [Beyond the Brain: Birth, Death and Transcendence in Psychotherapy, pp. 97-98]

Dr. Grof later narrows this perspective, as he considers specific symptoms which have their origin in birth traumas:

The typical physical concomitants of various emotional disorders make much sense if considered in this light. They involve belt headaches or migraine headaches; palpitations and other cardiac complaints; a subjective sense of a lack of oxygen and breathing difficulties under emotional stress; muscular pains, tensions, tremors, cramps, and seizure-like activities; nausea and vomiting; painful uterine contractions; activation of the gastrointestinal tract, resulting in spastic constipation or diarrhoea; profuse sweating; hot flashes alternating with chills; and changes of skin circulation and various dermatological manifestations. [Grof, ibid., p. 250].

Later, Grof was to claim that all psychophysiological symptoms have their origins in traumas of the pre and peri-natal period. He felt that later traumas of infancy and childhood were not of sufficient severity to cause psychosomatic disease. [Grof, Psychology of the Future, p. 127-129]

The overwhelming terror experienced while being trapped in the birth canal can be very real for the infant. For others, the trauma may have consisted of being pushed out before they were ready to be born.

Lake writes that birthing infants

are acutely aware that their experience of the crushing of the head in the birth passages was so severe as to reach the margin of tolerance and even to exceed it. They have wished, like Job, that the gates of the womb would close against them and that they might return deep into the womb. Several patients have spoken of this moment of indecision, as if it depended on the baby either to will to go on, through the pain to the point of birth, or whether to dissociate entirely from that forward movement in a death-wish, or a regressive wish to return to the safe place. [Frank Lake, Clinical Theology, 1966, p. 625.]

Lake suggests: "This occurs because the dissociated primal experience is still taking place on reverberating circuits and in cell memory. This is exacerbated by current crises, ordering mobilization on all the old battle fronts" (p. 14). The child interprets the ongoing life problem as emotional pressure, a parental barrier or a hardship which has to be struggled through. [Quoted by Dr. Michael Irving in his internet article, The Genesis of Birth Trauma].

Dr. Lake applied the concept of transmarginal stress with paradoxical reaction to both physical and emotional trauma. He believed that the transmarginal experience of birth is more than a struggle to be born and a temporary failure at success in doing so. Rather, he believed it to be one of the most profoundly traumatic experiences in life.

Lake, in Birth Trauma, Claustrophobia and LSD Therapy, believed as did Freud's disciple, Otto Rank, that the fetus, as it begins on its journey towards birth, wants to be born, but this intent can become transformed in a desire to return to the comfortable womb as the fetus encounters unexpected pain and suffering.

A stage is often reached in which going back and going forward seem equally impossible, and there is only a struggle to survive. Beyond that I have noted on many occasions particularly in those who turn out to be schizoid or male homosexual personalities, what I would describe as a Pavlovian transmarginal stress. The struggle to live changes in one dreadful moment into an equivalent struggle to die. [ibid.]

In births which involve transmarginal stress, the birthing fetus cannot continue to accept the overwhelming pain of birth, and automatically begins to wish for death. In adults who are being tortured daily, such as, political prisoners, or the torture of "witches" in medieval times caused such recipients such overwhelming pain to wish for a surcease of the pain through death rather than to face continued torture and suffering. I believe that the unconscious fetal/infantile transmarginal stress is the source of the theological concept of eternal punishment in hell.

Lake believes that transmarginal strees is not limited to the pre-birth and birth period but:

"(i)t may be that transmarginal stress here provides the model for the transmarginal stress in relation to the personal agendas. There is a limit to the baby's ability to endure separation anxiety. At the end of that time there is a fall into the abyss of dread, non-being and de-personalization. After this, we frequently observe a transmarginal stress into autistic or schizoid withdrawal." [ibid.]

Lake believed that the ultimate ultra-paradoxical reaction was the wish to die, its source being "severelly obstructed labour." [Frank Lake, Clinical Theology, p. 790] He continues, "We have recurrent evidence that in those infants who have not incurred any stress worth remembering at birth, and have entered into a glorious inheritance of mother love, there is evoked into consciousness by LSD an experience of transcendent joy with no hint at all of separation or death, nor any trace of an archetypal death-wish." [ibid., p. 791]

The writings and experiments of the Russian neurologist, Ivan Pavlov, regarding stress, was a great influence in the thinking of Lake as regards to birth trauma. The discovery of the concept by Pavlov was an unplanned event.

Pavlov used dogs as the subjects of his classic experiments in behaviorial psychology. On one occasion, when caged animals in a flooded laboratory basement were rescued right before they drowned, he noticed that the animals retained overstimulated (nervous) reactions over time as well as had lost their prior conditioned behaviors.

The type of stress which the dogs suffered during their near-drowning ordeal was termed "transmarginal" by Pavlov and this concept was soon embraced by Lake as he noticed that Pavlov's theory was also applicable to some of his patients -- those patients with the most severe birth traumas (The concept explained in the fourth category below).

  • The first category of birth is an almost completely non-traumatic delivery. The second, third and fourth categories below do not occur.

  • In the second category of birth severe moulding of the baby's head occurs. The fetus struggles to live and feels the lack of oxygen and is fearful.

  • In the third category of birth the head of the baby cannot move as it struggles to progress despite rising physical and emotional suffering.

  • It is in the fourth category of birth that the elements of both the fear of death and soon thereafter, the desire for death, are developed. Here is this, the most traumatic type of birth, where the feelings which comprise Pavlov's concept of transmarginal stress are begun. The desire for immediate annihilation becomes automatic as

there is a limit to the pain and panic any living organism can bear. When that limit has been reached there is a sudden, dramatic and drastic reorientation of the whole will. Instead of struggling to live, the organism is struggling to die. Life under such conditions is intolerable. Death is preferable."

It is the feeling of one in whom

the loathing of the pain of being born may be so great that the wish to die almost entirely replaces the former longing to live. In fact, the intensity of the earlier longing is transformed, mechanically and without any act of the will to the latter, at the point where sheer intolerance of pain takes over. As with Job, the infinite desire is to be carried from the womb to the tomb. Indeed, the passage from the womb has become the tomb of the baby's natural hope of a secure and friendly universe. In so far as a sense of personal identity takes its roots in this experience, it is the identity of one whose spirit lives within the schizoid position, whatever defenses have been used against it. In one or another it is the identity of someone who is always feeling that death is preferable to life. [This paragraph and the paragraph above are from Lake, Personal Identity - Its Origins p. 7]
Stephen M. Maret, in his doctoral dissertation, Frank Lake's Maternal-Fetal Distress Syndrome: An Analysis, wrote that Dr. Lake believed that philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, in a psychobiohistorical sense, was "incomparably the most perceptive diagnostician of the tortuous paradoxes of the schizoid person." Maret again quotes Lake as associating Kierkegaard's "incurable melancholy" "closely with dread and the abnormal, paradoxical wish to die and be annihilated, in order to escape the mental pain of it." [Stephen M. Maret, Ph.D., op. cit., p. 175-179]

Lake investigated the writings of, among others, Simone Weil, St. Augustine, Martin Luther, St. John of the Cross, John Bunyan, Jean-Pierre de Caussade, as well as P. T. Forsyth and found them to be sufferers of transmarginal birth stress and therefore imprinted by severe birth trauma. Dr. Maret writes that Lake found that the early poetry and later writings of Pope John Paul II also show empathy into the schizoid position molded by the transmarginal stress of birth.

One's peri-natal traumas last for a lifetime or until they are healed. Lake believed that

those who have been intensely active in their will to live become intensely active in their desire to die, and in the steps they take to achieve it. Similarly, those who are passive and lukewarm in their will to live, remain so when it has become the will to die. [ Frank Lake, Personal Identify -- It's Origins, pages 8 - 9.]

Frank Lake believed if the early stages of labor went well and there was a happy womb-life during gestation, then the person tries to preserve this earlier positive attitude as the basic characteristic of his personal identity - his personality. "But if this, and the memory of it, has been almost entirely destroyed by the devastating effects of transmarginal stress, then there seems to be no living identity worth preserving." [ Lake, ibid., page 7.]

Most of the time the response to a triggered repressed trauma is an act-out or an act-in of the identical or similar earlier feeling. In cases of a birth involving transmarginal pain often the triggered feeling is identical to its repressed feeling. This is often true in cases involving suicidal and death wishes in children and in adults.

Death is a solution now because (at) near death (dying) was the only 'solution' to birth trauma. Death becomes stamped in as the answer, and given the right circumstances it becomes the only solution to life's problems. It beckons release from the Pain. The point is that first there is despair, and then there is suicidal despair. I submit that suicidal despair -- despair steeped in death feelings -- is most often a memory of near death [ Arthur Janov, Ph.D., Imprints: The Lifelong Effects of the Birth Experience, p. 214.]
In the same way that Pavlov's dogs lost their previous conditioning as a result of near drowning, the fetus in the throes of transmarginal stress in the birthing process, loses his earlier womb-based decision that life is exciting and worthwhile (if life in the womb was indeed so). All of the earlier positive intrauterine environmental conditioning will have been supplanted and the infant born with a fear of the world and its dangers. According to Lake, such traumas are the origin of paranoia.

Lake ponders the question of the reasonableness of asserting that the solitary experience of a devastating birth experience can change the course of life "even to the point of determining whether the self can accept social involvement or not?"

Lack of interest or unease during "social involvement" is a consistent symptom in a neurotic who is schizoid. Dr. Lake decided that

(t)he evidence shows that suffering in the birth passages which exceeds the margin of the tolerable, does cause profound deviations in the sense of personal identity which last for life. In conjunction with constitutional and hereditary factors which determine the amount of pain that can be borne, and for how long, and in what manner, either actively or passively, it does seem to be a fact that when birth injury inflicts the fourth stage of intolerable pain, this is bound to express itself in the social matrix as an avoidance of commitment, involvement, or social embodiment. [ibid., page 8]

"The torment of despair is precisely this - not to be able to die . . . not as though there was hope for life; no, the hopelessness in this case is that even the last hope, death, is not available. When death is the greatest danger, one hopes for life; but when one becomes acquainted with an even more dreadful danger, one hopes for death. So when the danger is so great that death has becomes one's hope, despair is the disconsolateness of not being able to die." [Frank Lake, Clinical Theology (1966) p. 595-6, quoted from Søren Kierkegaard, Sickness Unto Death 150-1.]

Lake cites Kierkegaard's following story as an ironic yet humorous account of "the ultimate ultra-paradoxical reaction" of the death wish: "A man walked along contemplating suicide; at that very moment a slate (roof) tile fell and killed him, and he died with the words" 'God be praised."' [Søren Kierkegaard, The Journals, trans. and ed. Alexander Dru [London Oxford Univ. Press, 1938]: Extract #52, 785. Quoted in Maret, op. cit.].

In 1970, Dr. Lake discontinued the use of LSD as a regressive agent. He had found that using deep breathing techniques with Dr. Janov's primal therapy was as effective as, or superior to, LSD therapy.

Few realize that tiny helpless infants can actually be waiting to die because of the degree of pain being inflicted on them in the crushing, constricting annihilation of birth. The infant in the birth process may experience a significant deprivation of oxygen and thus have the terror of suffocation added to the intolerable torture of being crushed. [Lake, Clinical Theology, 1966.]

Lake allows:

There is no doubt in the mind of several patients that they had already passed the limit of tolerance of pain during their second stage of labor. Mistrusting the world into which they were being thrust out. They would much rather have been annihilated on the way. [Lake, Clinical Theology, p. 626]

Lake writes that the fetus feels as though it is dying and wonders why its mother is doing this to him. Why, he wonders, has the life suddenly become so painful and brutal. Later, the adult might well symbolize the source of painful threats presented to him as coming from God.

Question: But how can an infant know anything about death and dying?

Answer: The feeling is more akin to wanting to be annihilated or wishing that it no longer existed.

Psychologist Daniel W. Miller, Ph.D., writes, "The preborn of course does not have the words (editor's note: referring to "death" and "terror"), it only has the biological patternings which eventually give rise to the words [In Birth, Death and Organic Energy]

Psychiatrist Stanislav Grof believes that the numbing effects of anesthesia its mother received can prevent the fetus from feeling part of its suffering. Anesthetics to relieve the pain of the birthing mother can interfere with the birthing process and well as with future experiential therapy to resolve these early birth imprints.

Grof writes.

It Is important to emphasize that . . .[ successful]. . . healing and life-changing experience occurs when the final stages of biological birth had a more or less natural course. If the delivery was very debilitating or confounded by heavy anesthesia, the experience of rebirth does not have the quality of triumphant emergence into light. It is more like awakening and recovering from a hangover with dizziness, nausea, and clouded consciousness. Much additional psychological work might be needed to work through these additional issues and the positive results are much less striking. [Grof, The Cosmic Game, 1998, p.146-147]

Arthur Janov concurs. He believes that some traumatic births are so onerous that even with years of therapy the treatment "may not be totally effective." He believes that prevention of birth traumas is more effective than attempts at cures. He believes that "a decent birth can buffer the effects of adverse experience later on, whereas an improper birth leaves one vulnerable to even the most benign events." He writes that he has "seen every possible combination and permutation of mental illness. I have seen what bad families can do, what orphanages and rejection can do, what rape and incest can do; and it is still my opinion that birth and pre-birth trauma are prepotent over almost any later kind of trauma. . . . What we will become is found in (our) birth matrix." [Janov, op.cit. pps. 248-9.]

One reaction to the suffering of the fetus during birth can be anger and rage. The fetus decides that its future will be one of having to accept cruelty and pain, because that is what it first received. The suffering during birth, and even before, often produces anger and can permanently set one's personality to resent violation and intrusion into its well being. Anger at the suffering undergone at birth can become a prototypic origin for feelings of rage which can last a lifetime.

One of Janov's clients explained,

Anger has been my lifelong defense. It started in the womb as a means to stay alive. In fact, that aggression was the only thing that kept me alive. I fought and struggled to try to make myself understood at birth - to make it understood that I was dying. After almost being killed at birth trying to get out of my mother, I then didn't want her to touch me. I was afraid of her; I didn't trust her. Well, since then I have never trusted women nearly as much as I trust men. [Janov, op.cit., pps. 20-21]

California primal therapist, Stephen Khamsi, surveyed a number of his clients:

Needing help and having to struggle unassisted are common themes of clients re-living their birth traumas. Several subjects spoke explicitly about their mother's being out of contact or uncooperative with them, or of doing nothing at all to help. There is an indication that aggression may have become stronger when cooperation with the environment (i.e., the mother) seemed lacking. Several subjects reported feeling that they had a job to do, and aggression seems to have mounted when this mission was blocked. [Stephen Khamsi, Ph.D., Birth Feelings: A Phenomenological Investigation ]

Predictably, many subjects felt exhausted after completing a cycle of birth feelings, which lasted anywhere from several minutes to many hours or even days. Subjects had a range of experiences from pleasure and relief, on the one hand, to feeling angry, dazed, dead, helpless, or hopeless, on the other. There was usually a strong sense of relief - sometimes but not always pleasurable - for those who did experience a sense of emergence and completion. [ibid.]

Sometimes, when the client approaches his critical birth traumas he will do almost anything to avoid the suffering involved with reliving them. Psychologist Paul J. Hannig, Ph.D., writes about such clients:

His best escape is to withdraw and make it virtually impossible for anyone to jolt him into his imminent bout with death. He may find excuses to discontinue his therapy, miss groups or be a marginal participant. He has learned to "stay away" from people and feelings. In the schizoid and sado-masochistic personalities, deep personal contact with people or love-objects is intensely fearful because the mind remembers on a deep level what happened during that fateful birth period. The buried unconscious pain drives the person towards destructive life circumstances, all in an attempt to avoid feeling that near cataclysmic event of birth. It is at this point that therapy becomes exciting, challenging, creative and dangerous. [Feeling People, 1982, p. 162. ]

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