Primal Therapy and Repression
Repression, at its most fundamental level seems electromagnetic in nature. This has been my experience:
Early on in my primal training I recalled a recurring dream . In it, I was alone in a small country house. I was eight years old at the time. It was dark, with moonlight coming through a window. Eventually, I would learn that this was a traumatic time in my life.
In my dreams, I would silently ascend the bedroom stairs. My feet floated above the stair treads as I ascended in the moon lit darkness. I started intentionally recalling this image…over and over again. After a while, I noticed a chill washing over me. And, I noticed something else. “I” was observing myself from a point along the farthest point of the downstairs living room ceiling.
This ignited my curiosity, since it was my first conscious experience with what some who meditate call “the watcher”. I knew that this experience signified dissociation. This further excited my drive to experiment. In my mind, I tried moving the point of awareness that was on the ceiling toward the image of the floating boy on the staircase. What would happen, I wondered, as they approached one another? Could I merge them? As I attempted to merge them, I began to feel a force. It felt exactly like I was trying to push two like-poled magnets together. As I continued pushing the two things together, the repellent force increased and I began to experience that chill feeling I had earlier described. I repeated this experience many times, but never achieved a merging.
Our nervous system learned how to use this universal electromagnetic force to help separate consciousness from the physical distress of our traumatic experiences. Since we know that information flow within our nervous system is two-tiered, involving movement from its instinctual level to its conscious level, the automatic prevention of flow of traumatic information into consciousness must require an instantaneous change in polarity within the information field. This shift is called repression.
Repression is both a blessing and a curse. Because of it, our bodies absorb and record the physical distress of trauma, yet we can survive into adulthood , unaware of that distress. Our curse is that, as we move through our lives, the embodied distress can become active within us. And, as it does, it begins moving toward consciousness. This approach feels distressing. So, the pressure of repression forces it away from consciousness once again. Since this distress had to do with a threat to our survival, we get defensive. Since this distress is unconscious, we mistakenly react as though the people and situations around us are the source of that distress. This is apparent in the behaviors associated with the anxiety disorders, chronic anger, and compulsive emotional withdrawal.
During the course of our lives, we learn by trial and error how to add behavioral repression to our arsenal of self- protection. These behaviors form our adult personalities. Repression makes effective therapy difficult. Because we automatically distance ourselves from our uncomfortable feelings…the sensorimotor artifacts of our early traumas.
Various painkillers: alcohol, drugs, medications..all help to further repress our emerging distress. Learned, self-soothing behaviors do the same. But, unfortunately, they also keep the discomfort embodied. The discomfort becomes chronic, requiring painkillers and compulsive behaviors once again.
The way out of trauma disordered behavior is to learn how to connect to the distress that is being signaled to consciousness…rather than blocking those signals. Whenever your traumatic feelings begin to emerge….
“Stay present, and continue to be the observer of what is happening inside you. Become aware not only of the [discomfort] but also of ‘the one who observes’, the silent watcher. This is the power of Now, the power of your own conscious presence. Then, see what happens.”… Eckhart Tolle.
What happens is a primal. This term describes a cognitive connection that is made, as a primitive survival reaction finally makes its way to consciousness.
I think back to my experiments with consciousness and the palpable repulsive force that I experienced when trying to merge with the dream image of myself as a little boy. The force could not be overcome by ego-driven effort, just as you can’t make the like poles of two magnets make contact.
Since connection DOES occur in therapy, the repulsive force field of repression must collapse somehow. Or, a reversal in polarity occurs. This collapse then allows the trapped survival reaction and consciousness to come together. Could it be that the willful act of “containing” the distressing artifacts of prior trauma …allowing ourselves to endure and observe the discomfort within those artifacts for a sustained period of time…is what achieves the collapse of the repulsive force field?
Having achieved a primal, we relax into our bodies a little. We gain insights, as new neural connections are made. Positive changes can be measured with stress testing, vital sign measurement, and fMRI brain imaging. Most important of all, these incremental positive gains are permanent. These things speak to me of cure, rather than just symptom management.
The process that Tolle described above is profoundly powerful yet simple. He believes that "it could be taught to a child, and hopefully one day it will be one of the first things children learn in school". As adults, we can learn this process by choosing to fully and actively participate in processes such as Fear Memory Integration.