Saturday, February 26, 2011

Intellectual Avoidance of Body Sensations

‘You’re waffling,’ Sasi announces, over my shoulder.
‘This reads like intellectualized nonsense to me darling - like you can’t just say what you feel’ She admonishes me.
‘You just want a quick fight, for the kiss and make up.'
‘No! Seriously Mr. Therapist! Why do you write in such an intellectual, twenty words are better than two way?’
‘What! You think we’re in group therapy here?’ I say.
‘Ooow! There’s a defensive reaction darling, did I touch a button in there?’ She say’s while ruffling my hair.

‘Because that’s the way it fucking felt - that’s why!’ I announce, an old painful image filling my mind.
‘Where are you?’ Sasi asks me.
‘What! Are you Mrs. Therapist now?’
‘Come on darling, where were you?’ Sasi whispers, placing her hands gently on my shoulders.
‘Please don’t ask me to go there in your presence sweetheart,’ I plead.
‘Then maybe its time to have that session with Angus, you tell me you’ll get around to it one of these days,’ she suggests before kissing me on the forehead.

A few days later:

‘Hello my friend,’ says Angus with such a calm serenity that always unsettles me in the first few seconds of our encounters, I sighed taking a long deep breath.
‘Ah! Contact of the intimate kind,’ Angus quips.
‘I’m stuck, something needs to come out,’ I say.
‘At last, I’ve been wondering when this day would come,’ Angus tells me as he reachs over to gently touch my arm. I feel the impulse to recoil from this expression of warmth from my mentor, hating this old negative reaction.

‘We should talk about that reaction,’ Angus says. “Shit!” I think to myself, convinced I had not shown any external signs of discomfort.
‘Well I guess I could say what reaction, but that would be really childish, wouldn’t it?’
‘Well that’s where it comes from.’
‘I think I’m close to really feeling it, it’s near the surface,’ I tell him.
‘And it feels like you will fall apart if you let it out.’

‘Yes!’ I say nodding my head.
‘You will feel humiliated and deeply embarrassed if it happens in front of another human being?’
‘You know the trauma theory; you have to revisit it if you want to truly resolve it.’
‘Shit Angus, I can’t see it as trauma, nothing horrific ever happened to me.’
‘It’s simply a question of degree David; a sensitive self can be traumatized by continuous emotional abuse, as much as a one off or multiple physical traumas,’ Angus tells me.

‘I guess I agree with that, I’ve said it to others often enough myself, but when you’re dealing with your own stuff, it just! I don’t know! - It worries me, there may be as much uncontrollable rage down there as there was in him, that I’ve internalized him so much, I am him.’
‘And you’re constantly fighting that part of you, holding it back.’
‘I guess so, I worry that I’m just as critical as he was, I just dress it up as care and concern.’

‘And you won’t risk the possibility of deeper loving intimacy with another human being, fearing the kind of rejection your parents inflicted on you, you‘re even shocked that anyone could love you,’ the words evoke images of my father and the sudden freezing shudder.
‘Why is that? Why does that involuntary shudder I get with the memory of his voice and his stance towards me feel like a miniature death?

‘Because it is a miniature death in the way, your own father treated you with disgust and contempt.’ I put my head in my hands as he spoke, unable to look at the old man and drawing in a deep breath before speaking.
‘There was such utter contempt in his eyes at times, such bitterness in his voice.’ Angus leaned forward again and put his hands on my shoulders,
‘I know,’ he said softly, ‘I know,’ and I began to weep, very softly at first, almost imperceptibly, with Angus gently holding onto my shoulders.

Containment is a particular gift Angus has, the ability to provide an atmosphere of almost womb like security, where another human being feels safe enough to expose their inner core, its a technique of therapy that few manage to do flawlessly. As the seconds passed my weeping turned to sobs, and Angus held me and this very special encounter within the depth of his amazing compassion.

The phrase “wounded healer” most certainly applies to Angus, only those who have experienced the processing of their own deeply felt pain are competent with such delicate transference work, the slightest loss of empathy or insensitive body movement can shatter the ambience of the moment and the chance for emotional healing is lost as the exposed self shrinks back into the safety of its internal cave, my sob’s grew louder.

‘Where are you?’ Whispered Angus and I swallowed involuntarily as I tried to speak; trembling as I uttered the words.
‘Outside the front door.’
‘What do you see?’
‘Its black, small and dirty.’
‘What do you hear?’
‘He’s coming!’
‘Are you frightened?’

‘Not now no!’ I flinched, a small movement yet Angus felt it through my shoulders, he’s been waiting for this encounter for three years now, he knew as soon as he met me there was an unconscious fear reaction, blocking my ability to do really good therapeutic work, and Angus knew it must affect my few close relationships.

‘What’s happened?’ Angus whispered.
‘The door’s opened, he’s standing there looking at me,’ I say, involuntarily flinching again.
‘And now?’ Asks Angus.
‘Peas! You idiot peas!’ I jerked violently backwards almost breaking our contact.
‘He hit you?’ Angus whispers.
‘Yes! Yes!’

‘You’ve been here many times David; you’ve seen this scene in your minds eye so many times.’
‘Yes! Yes! Yes!’
‘React now, don’t shrink back, tell him! Tell him how you feel,’ Angus says and I suddenly jump up, shouting.

‘I can’t! I can’t!’ Angus followed me as I tried to step away, tried to break the connection, break the emotional state that exists in the atmosphere between us. Angus has been in this position many times before though, when an injured self becomes desperate for the safety of that dark inner place, where it can’t be touched by the harsh light of reality.

A reality it has become convinced is very dangerous, Angus knew that if he allowed this moment to break down, if he turned away from the flood of emotion that was about to burst through, it may be years before I would risk this again.  He moved closer and put his arms around me, drawing me in and standing his ground, ready for anything and in a firm voice he said.

‘Tell him!’ I erupted, pulled back slightly and looked straight into the old mans eyes screaming.
‘Fuck you! Fuck you! - You stupid fucking moron! - I’m your son, your son!’ I tried to pull away again in another effort to break the moment and flee back to my inner sanctum, but Angus held me firm looking into my eyes with a deep sense of compassion, inviting my trust. Apparently I grabbed Angus by the throat.

‘You stupid fucking moron, you’re my father, my father, what’s wrong with you!’ I hissed,
And then it came, the flood of emotion that had been bottled up for over fifty years. I cried so hard I must have sounded like a howling animal, I shuddered and swayed so much I almost collapsed to the floor and it took all the old mans strength to hold onto me. Apparently the wailing lasted only a few seconds, it could have been minutes for all I know, and as it subsided into deep sob’s I sank to my knees with Angus holding on.

I remember a sense of coming back into the room, as if I’d been away somewhere, I was confused about what had just taken place, it felt as if I’d been in two places at once, as if some emotional worm hole had opened up and transported me back to 1958.

I remember light growing brighter around me, confused as to why everything had gone dark while I was under, and I remember thinking, "why under?" The only thing I remember seeing in there was the old mans face and the instant he became my father and I tried to throttle him.

‘I’d like to get up now,’ he‘d said, and poor old Angus struggled to his feet, me too and we sat down silently smiling at each other for a moment or two.
‘Tell me what you’re feeling,’ he asked.
‘A bit light headed, I’m not sure what I’m feeling right now, the strange thing is I don’t want to talk, I’m just happy to be in this moment, strange for someone as hooked on words as I am.’

‘Perhaps the split between your mind and your body has experienced some healing and you need to honor that with simple presence.’
‘Yes! There seems no need to even think let alone talk and there’s a kind of contentment I’m not sure I’ve known before.’
‘Touch me,’ Angus asked, which caused me to emit an involuntary laugh, before leaning forward to touch the old man lightly on the hand, finding a pleasant surprise in my ability to touch without the usual cringing anxiety normally evoked unless the person was a lover.

‘How was that?’
‘Different! There was definitely less frozen hesitation.’
‘How do you feel as you say that to me, what else comes up?’
‘I feel very relaxed, calm, and something else though, some vague foggy image of my father standing over me with clenched fists.’

‘Tell me what you remember about the peas?’ As soon as Angus mentioned the peas I twisted in my chair as the memory of that moment flooded back.  In 1958 I was seven years old and had been sent to the local store to buy a can of peas, and being an anxious boy lest I suffer my father’s rage, I duly forgot and brought beans home instead.

As soon as my father saw the can of beans in my hand he snatched it away and brought it down hard on the top of my head. ‘Peas! You idiot, peas!’ He screamed at me, then slammed the door in my face leaving his son with blood running down one check and whimpering softly as I walked back to the shop feeling terribly frightened, humiliated and dreading the return journey.

‘Your father could have killed you that day,’ Angus tells me and we talk about my earlier acknowledgement that he’d terrorized me, how a fearful shudder reaction had appeared not long after the incident with the peas, how at times it felt like he really wanted to devour me with his rage.

Of coarse I wasn’t devoured, just deeply affected within my autonomic (animal) nervous system, and an unconscious expectation was formed, I‘d sensed so much of my life through such a density of innate terror, it was like a blanket over my perceiving senses, it is my neuroception as Stephen Porges might say.

I spent the best part of my life unconsciously avoiding core sensations by using intellectualized thinking to distance myself from the sensations of my body, and years of 'talk therapy' could not penetrate the unconscious defense of the autonomic (animal) nervous system described by neuroception.

Polyvagal Theory is recommended for those wanting to learn about the triune brain & nervous system, the hidden motivator of our behaviors. 

What sensations of core emotional energy do we modulate through the mind in our love affair with thinking and e-motive symbols expressed as words.

Have we become far to distanced from the essence of life, the raw instinctual energies the civilized mind tends to acknowledge only after an emergency?

What price do many pay for denial of the animal energies that fuel the human mind, do we believe in evolution yet deny the animal within?