Question:-- What can we do if we are in feeling oriented therapy and we have little or no feeling? -- Doug Johnson

(Notwithstanding his M.D. Dr. Vereshack is not a licensed physician)

by Paul Vereshack, M.D.
Doug, before we start, it might be helpful to briefly discuss the two types of thought processes (linear and holistic) that I refer to in my response to your question.

There are two kinds of thought processes that are used by the brain. There may be others, and these two may be intermingled, but let us for simplicity, treat them as separate.

The "surface" conscious mind deals with ideas, one at a time. They are connected by logic. They come in a line, and hence, they are called "linear." This kind of mental function is the essense of conversation, and therapy conducted at "Level One" as described in my book, Help Me - I'm Tired of Feeling Bad . See Chapter Three. Eg. I see a door. It will take me to the next room.

The deeper levels of the brain, use a different type of mechanism to deal with information.

To process millions of bits of data almost instantly the brain scans huge amounts of information probably in wave fronts. Logic, as we normally understand it, is not the key thing here. This information is selected by association. Things come together because they are alike, not because they are logical. There is of course a profound underlying logic, but it is not readily apparent to the day time,"one thing at a time" mind. In the depths, everything can come at once, and all together; thought, feeling, body sensations, etc. and a marvelous over all comprehension, where we see the whole picture at once. Hence the name, " holistic" or "non-linear" function.


"These insights well up instantly, seemingly from the whole body. They move like a wave front or wall of comprehension, seeming to originate from the abdomen, chest, bones and muscles, moving upward into consciousness. They do not feel like thoughts; they feel like sudden illuminations. They have the quality of sun suddenly breaking through cloud, illuminating the darkened landscape around us in a single awe-inspiring burst of comprehension."
-- From Chapter 5 - Help Me . . .

This kind of brain function is so healing when accessed and treated in the right way, that it is the goal of all my writing, to make the techniques surrounding these processes, easily available to all of us.

For those of you who want to pursue this further, the proper name for deep process is "Primary Process Thought" and the surface process is called "Secondary Process Thought."

* * *

To successfully find feelings, we must understand what they do. Then we will know where to hunt for them. After that we can talk about developing some very special skills to draw them forward, defeating the ways in which they try to hide.

Lets take a walk through what seems to me, some ways, that the mind must necessarily function.

Information entering the brain must be assigned meaning. Meaning then in its turn is impregnated with feelings. Meaning is impregnated with feelings because only then are we bonded to it with the chains of steel which ensure our survival.

Feelings take meaning out of the realm of the theoretical and place it on the plane of biological necessity. If we feel strongly about something we start to think about acting on it.

Feelings are information about information. They are the experience of texture and intensity assigned by the brain, to the meaning of its information.

Feelings, therefore, have power. The power to move us and or our processes.

Feelings are also the great shorthand of the mind. When we process millions of bytes of information in a few seconds, we do so, not one thing at a time, but with wave fronts of comprehension..

Instead, the brain feeds us feelings, the sum and difference of all that it knows, as a simple initial and ongoing alerting system. This we can comprehend, and later we can process some of the underlay, in digestible chunks.

Feelings, therefore, have an intimate and powerful attachment to the wave fronts of deep holistic comprehension that have produced them.

Because of this connection, feeling oriented therapy is granted a special kind of power that no other therapy enjoys in quite the same way. This is so, because when appropriately accessed, feelings can lead us backward and downward and inward, away from the "one thing at a time world" of conscious thought to the deep brain's marvelous non-linear holistic experiential wave fronts that originally formed them.

In a sense, feelings are one of the great filing cabinets of the mind. Open the drawer of the feeling in any given situation and there it all is, in three dimensional colour , stereophonic sound and body presence.

Why don't we get it that way all the time? Probably because the systems we have in place are part of a buffering effect to keep us from being overwhelmed, especially when we are young; or to keep us from being paralysed with information when we need to function in a linear world, (ie. pick up the spear and throw it).

The external world exists in discrete parts ( is linear ): See the tree, climb the tree, pick the apple, eat the apple, get on the horse, go home. If we were confronted all the time with the ultimate meaning of "apple" and all its' levels of significance, we might sit under the tree and starve to death.

At our current state of development however we are being handed a great gift: The key to non-linear holistic mental function with all its health and wisdom potential.

Just before we go hunting for feelings let us sum up.

For purposes of feeling oriented therapy, feelings can be seen to have the following properties:

1. Feelings possess power, and therefore may be considered a field of energy.

2. Feelings are the field of energy which bond us to the meaning of information.

3. Feelings are the field of energy which initiate and accompany activity, mental and or physical.

4. Feelings are the field of energy which orient the compass of our awareness; they attract and hold our attention.

5. Feelings are the field of energy which can melt or fracture the mental mechanisms of defence.

6. Feelings are the field of energy which can organise and or retrieve the wave fronts of holistic information which originally formed them. They are the filing system of the mind and body.

7. Feelings, and the information attached to them, when appropriately released can lower tension in the mind and body, dissolve dysfunction, and expand consciousness.

Now we know what feelings do and where they lie in the depths. They lie in and around the meaning of information, and in and around the initiation and maintenance of behaviour, whether that be mental or actual physical behaviour.

Before we talk about how they hide, we must acquire some tools to find them.

* * *

First and foremost, feelings are a sensory event. We don't think them, we experience them. In fact, thinking keeps them away during the direct act of searching.

Thinking, naturally and instantly reduces the holistic to the linear, and has thus kept human kind out of its own depths from the arrival in our species of the "thinking brain."

For this reason the single most powerful tool we can create to search our own depths is, Non Intellectual Feeling Oriented Focus.

Not only does this kind of focusing, which we might abbreviate to the term Sensing Focus, defeat linear consciousness, and aim us toward our own depths, it has power.

Sensing focus has the same kind of power that feelings themselves have. Sensing focus can and does draw information toward itself. It draws feelings and sensations toward consciousness. Therefore, sensing focus is one of the very few conscious acts that we can control which will provide us with our entry point ( "The First Doorway" ) into the unconscious. The second doorway would be the feelings and sensations themselves, coupled with our techniques as outlined in my book Help Me - I'm Tired of Feeling Bad. formerly entitled, The Psychotherapy of the Deepest Self.

"Sensing Focus," means, opening our awareness to feelings and body sensations, while actively turning off our thoughts. For instance, when we lower ourselves into a swimming pool , if we really go down into our bodies and focus on our skin we can become aware of different temperatures at different depths. Thinking in this moment dilutes or supresses the intensity of our awareness.

So it is with focusing on feelings. When we let our awareness move through our body searching for physical, or emotional responses we must shut down our thought processes to fully enter and remain in these sensations. This does not mean that thoughts will not come to us. They may and they may be very illuminating. What it means is we don't use our thoughts, to try and figure things out, or to manipulate the experience. We are in a receiving mode, not a manipulating mode.

This kind of Sensing Focus is absolutely the central and most crucial, active element, of the work that we can do on ourselves. Where then do we apply this feeling microscope of Sensing Focus?

Like a photographer in the forest, we can aim this "camera" at anything which moves. ( Feelings, remember, are associated with movement. ) We can even aim it at things that are standing absolutely still. Stillness is just as vital a field of activity as motion. This will be helpful to us when we can't see any movement ie. no feelings. Where there is absolute stillness in the mind (zero feelings) there may be enormous significance bound down to absolute quiet.

Refining The Microscope of Sensing Focus

1. Present Focus:

It is one of the great paradoxes of feeling oriented therapy that in our attempt to get into the past, we must in some senses not use it directly. We must instead focus on present feelings. Why? Because they and they alone have the immediately available energy and power that we need to melt defenses and precipitate us backward into real early feelings.

Current rage at someone, if handled properly ( See Help Me. . . ) will connect with and ignite early rage. Going to an early event directly with our conscious ability to remember usually ignites nothing. Thus if a therapist puts us consciously into a memory and then urges us to rage, this process will call up pseudo compliance, and "manufactured rage." This can look very impressive but it is deadly false, in that it isn't the real early feeling, and it creates even deeper defenses. This is why anger work, grief work, etc. can be so harmful to our overall journey.

Be glad that someone or something is hurting you in the present. They are handing you the only effective "drilling equipment" you may ever have.

2. Intensification:

If you are on the edge feeling, you can build up the intensity of your focus by enhancing its' non-linear power. Build up the sensory impact of the scene, whether it is internal or external.

I am lying in my little iron cot, in my old boarding school at age ten. I see the rough textured walls, I feel the rough Hudsons Bay blanket around me, I hear the voice of the unloving school nurse down the hall, I hear the breathing of the small boys all around me.......Get the idea?!

3. Attitude:

I have a very strong hunch that attitude may be the most important part of working toward regression if it doesn't come naturally to you. ( It never did for me. ) How we approach our unconscious is crucial. For example, if we want to start remembering dreams, we must give our deeper self a clear and steady emotional message that this is really what we want !!!

We do this with our behaviour! We put a pad and pencil on our night table. We tell ourselves just before we fall asleep that we want a dream. We quickly scan back whenever we awake to check for dreams or fragments. We immediately write them down using the penlight that we have thoughtfully provided for ourselves. In short we behave in a focused and dedicated manner. The unconscious sees this and is sooner or later impressed. Dreams will come within one to four weeks. It sees that you are in a true hunting mode.

I believe that hunting for feelings is the same. Tell yourself at the beginning of the day that you want some feelings in the present! As you proceed though the day, pause before and during events to conduct a sensing scan. Go to your desk, your bathroom, your car, if something comes up, or just "check out" for a few moments where you are ( not if you might endanger yourself ). Write something down if you haven't got time in the moment and hope that it stays within your reach. This is the kind of attitude that impresses the unconscious. After all, it is trying to " protect you from pain " that you don't want ! So it really really needs to know your true attitude.

For all the attitude adjustment skills you need you really should read Help Me. . .Chapter Twenty-Three, and the First Purity of Therapeutic Work in Chapter Twenty-Four.

4. The Problem of Pushing Too Hard

Endless and varied push on the deeper self can tighten down your defenses. Give yourself a break. Don't move from therapy endeavour to therapy endeavour for months on end. Don't hack and smash at yourself with harsh exercises. The unconscious can get more stubborn than you can.

Ongoing work is the hallmark of the wisdom journey. It is a life set, not a case of dynamite. Be gentle and loving toward yourself. Settle in for the long haul.

I do recommend, however, as a exercise, that you move toward those things that you might normally avoid, such as an irritating person, a T.V. show that you don't like, etc. Stay in their range and use those feelings that would normally push you to leave. They are gold.

Most especially I recommend a well run therapy group where the therapist is feeling oriented, and not frightened, self justifying and talkative in his or her approach. If the therapist keeps moving away from everyones feelings, get out, or be prepared for a great waste of time, and no help when you finally get really angry about it.


How and Where Feelings Hide:

The book Help me. . . spends almost its whole time accessing and processing feelings. It does not, however. spend enough time on the question that Doug has asked, about not having any or having very little feeling. Let us keep going and focus more closely on this.

After reading this section, it might be helpful to read Chapter Twenty, The Devices Forces and Trickery used by the Unconscious to Keep Us Out of Our Own Brain.

Repression and Denial:

In my own early work I was absolutely astonished to discover that in some of my re-experiencings, feelings came forward that I clearly remember not having at the time of the original event. This taught me to be careful of saying that I don't have any feelings about something. Regardless of what I thought, they were there! As I so often say, " The brain hates pain", and will act instantaneously to push feelings away and down into the unconscious with amazing speed and precision.

This is true repression, and leaves us with zero feelings.

We know now, feelings must be there, before, during, and usually after, a significant event. If we caused the event, it was our feelings that did it. If someone else caused the event, and that event had meaning for us, there must be feelings attached to it, which, (having the power to initiate processes within us), triggered our repressive defences and shut themselves down.

Events then, and activity, are the rocks under which feelings hide. They give away the location, where we can apply our Sensing Focus. We can apply it at the start of, or during any significant action, or event inside or outside of our mind.

  • Eg. I am visiting my mother. I stand at the garden gate. I empty my mind of thoughts. I feel the texture of the gate against my hand. I feel the wind on my face. I see the outline of the house, and the windowof my old room. I put thought out of my mind as a search tool but I welcome old thoughts if they come by themselves and I stay in my feeling focus, standing there for one to three minutes. I may do a whole body scan for feelings or sensations, etc.

  • Eg. I am in a dream, where I am visiting my mother. I am standing at the garden gate. I am feeling the texture of the gate against my hand.......

Eerie isn't it how life and dreams are not that far apart? ( Hhmmm... might make a good article.)

The Familiarity of Feelings:

Because feelings have always initiated and accompanied behaviour, they are old and closely associated friends. So much so that they can be invisible.

  • Eg. My father is walking into the room. I don't feel or should say "notice" the small burst of anxiety in my stomach.

  • Eg. I am starting to caress a woman. I don't notice that I am feeling quite small and childlike. I do know that my lovemaking has always lacked a certain power.

Feelings That Are Completely Congruent With Behaviour:

  • Eg. I am pulling my car out into traffic. I do not feel my heightened alertness.

  • Eg. I am in a minor dispute with a friend. I do not sense the hardness entering my voice.

  • Eg. I am lying in a primal room. I have no feeling, but I have never felt quite this safe before.

Rationalizing Feelings Into Invisibility:

We often neutralize feelings by putting reasons to them before we realise that they are there and we can study them. The little "talking ourselves out of " by justifying and reframing events, takes all our little doorways away from us. This has of course become a therapy industry, around the power of thinking positively and reframing the meaning of things, so we come out on top. We don't. We come out cheated of a chance to grow. (Have a look at Chapter Ten.)

  • Eg. I have ended a relationship quickly, because my girlfriend doesn't listen to me.

  • Eg. I dropped a bowl of soup on my wife when I was walking around her at the table. She was sitting too far back in her chair.

Feelings Can Be Super Mild:

A very mild feeling may go unnoticed but once focussed on can prove to be very rich in texture. Mild feelings do not indicate a lack of power to organise and call forward deep material. In fact as your skills deepen you may get great satisfaction out of noticing them and utilising their subtle qualities.

  • Eg. I always feel just slightly "funny" when I speak to your friend. Well maybe not "funny" actually, a little scared. In fact now that I focus on it, I don"t trust him at all. He sort of reminds me of my uncle etc.

Feelings Can be Super Strong:

The problem with super strong feelings is that they tend to push us into activity. And then we lose their real power.

  • Eg. Boy! I sure told that guy off.

  • Eg. I just walked out of the meeting. "The hell with her!"

Almost the whole of our conscious life is a dance that we do on top of our feelings, hence my introduction to Part One of the book when I say, "All knowledge and Activity above the abyss (feelings) is the Knowledge and Activity of Avoidance." Oh dear, I have misquoted myself.

I would like to add one last crucial tip. Ask those close to you, to monitor your behaviour and speech. Tell them to let you know when you seem to be in a feeling.( Sometimes called being," in reaction." ) Whenever they think you are over or underreacting, let them say a key phrase to you such as "Are you in a feeling right now?" This must always be done very gently because it clashes with your defenses. It can easily be used as a weapon to hurt you. Watch out for this.

At any rate, Doug, thanks for the question, and let me know if in a few months any of this is helping.

Remember: Check out the warnings in the book. Don't use these exercises, without adequate therapeutic companionship!


Dr. V.

You've mentioned somewhere that you were involved in Bioenergetics at some point, as well as in Primal yourself. How much and in what ways do you integrate bodywork with your sensate focusing orientation in your practice, if you do? Was this branch of the work not so important for you personally?


Dr. Vereshack's response: I am deeply gratified to see how carefully you are using the book, Doug. I love the English languge and I love clarity. When I wrote that book, I tried to make every phrase, every single word flow and count. Like a submarine, I wanted every joint and rivit to be water tight. How lovely it is to know that indeed it bears very very careful scrutiny. There have been books like that in my life and I have been so grateful to the authors. Now I can offer something back.

If you remember the six parameters along which we focus you will recall Specific Body Sensations, and Diffuse Inner body States. It came to me at some point that when we feel, it is almost always a set of sensations coming from our bodies. It's quite amazing actually that the more you concentrate on feelings, the more you realise this.

I dislike overemphasis on any one thing but I talk to my patients about doing what I call Body Scans. In fact I see my work as a body oriented therapy simply because everything seems to come that way.

I have known several bioenergetic therapists and at one of their parties even met Lowen. I have never followed this path directly, but always return my patient's awareness back to their bodies after a therapy sequence to instill in them the notion of how successful work always shifts the body. No body shift means no real work accomplished. Sometimes this is very subtle, but it is always there as a lightening of tension. Eugene Gendlin's Focusing talks of a "Felt Shift" without which there is no therapy. It's all the same thing.


Dr Vereshack is the author of an online book entitled Help Me -- I'm Tired of Feeling Bad

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