I hope I am not drowning the fish; I want to explore the nature of feeling so we can judge whether we are feeling individuals or not. What does it matter? Having access to feeling means access to a good part of yourself and that access means health; it means less repression and less unconscious forces nudging at you from inside.
Let us go back to some basic points: When the very first traumas occur in the womb (if they do), they are set down in many ways and in many brain structures. They also seem to be set in a certain wave length or frequency, (This is my hypothesis, not proven science. The science is not against it; it is just not “for” it). The traumas I discuss are nearly always deprivation of need. And those needs appear according to a genetic plan. They do not change; they do transform. Those needs are first biologic, next emotional and finally intellectual. They correspond in my scheme to the evolution of the brain from primitive brainstem to limbic to prefrontal cortex. The heaviest pain is the instinctual/biologic, those very early needs that mean life and death. Proper nutrition for the carrying mother, no smoking, no drinking or drugs and no anxiety (that is often hard to avoid), and subtly, really wanting the baby. As the brain grows new traumas build and evolve (elaborated) out of the first memory of pain (or noxious stimuli, if you wish). They enlarge the frequency base. The original imprint is compounded.
Deprivation of emotional need, to be held, caressed, looked at, talked to, won’t necessarily be a life and death matter but emotional deprivation can rob us of our humanity. Then we add more and more similar kinds of pain, say, constant parental rejection or indifference and we get a deeper pain, that I believe joins the frequency parade and intensifies it. That is, the new pains are compounding the original pains laid down near the start of life in the womb. These similar pains join together add to the imprinted frequency set down at the start of life. I believe that is one way they can recognize each other; old friends who band together. It seems that pain is pain, and the system doesn’t much distinguish among them; it spurs itself into action to hold it down, to repress. Just as the brain doesn’t seem to care what we believe so long as we have beliefs to suppress feeling. As deprivation of need continues and compounds it reaches more and more areas of the brain, including the cognitive, understanding the pain. More of the brain is committed to repression. The brain becomes a pain-dealing engine (see Morpugo and Spinelli’s work).What happens then? The feeling centers may send up all types of pain to the thalamus, the switchboard of the brain, for forwarding to the frontal brain to helps us understand our feelings, but if there is too much pain it is rerouted into the lower brain centers, the unconscious, if you will, where it creates havoc and physiologic symptoms. But the pain is always knocking at the door of the frontal cortex, trying to connect and resolve because that is the only thing that can let us relax—connection. But the gates against pain won’t let it happen. Unless the gates weaken (constant deprivation and neglect) and then a flood enters and overwhelms the thinking cortex, scattering cohesion and interrupting concentration, producing strange ideas and uncalled for suspicions. What makes the gates weaken? Too much additional load of pain. Don’t forget, the gates are always trying to keep pain away from conscious-awareness. That is what they do. We can talk about synapses and transmitters, but those are the details for what is an overarching reality; we block pain so as to function. And when we cannot, we stop functioning.We may spend a lifetime trying to fulfill needs; to be touched, sexual act-outs is one example. Or we may overeat based on starvation of proper nutrients while in the womb. Or drinking to kill the pain. Those basic drives to overeat, drink and drug often mean an attempt to quell first-line physiologic trauma, deprivation of life-sustaining input by first-line means. The most basic of all drives. First-line trauma (in the womb and at birth and just after), provokes first-line symptoms, and first-line attempts to repress---that is, feeding the body any sort of pain-killer. How many alcoholics have told me that drinking relaxes them and gives them that feeling of warmth they never had? No one takes drugs continually who is not in pain. Why would they? Drink and drugs would not “stick” because they are serving no great biologic purpose. We need to understand that in neurosis (heavy load of pain)they do serve a purpose and that is obvious; to help them get through life, even to function. Normals do not function well on drugs but neurotics (where pain dislocates the biologic system) can. They are attempting to fulfill a need, so basic that it makes any therapy or treatment feeble in response. Of course, for some it is considered a disease. It is so refractory, so difficult to treat, so early to start that if we are not armed with a theory of womb-life and infancy-life we can never understand it.So attempts at fulfillment are what I call symbolic. We are trying to fulfill a need so early that later attempts only pale. But of course, the person goes on trying to fulfill need, as he must. He never gives up, and if he does his body will give out from the effort to hold it all down. So the goodhearted in 12-step programs deprive him even more; deprive him of an attempt at fulfillment, even symbolic but at least it is an attempt. He is doing it because he is not feeling, not feeling the need and the pain that comes from deprivation. I know we have stop him drinking but how about feeling!?
That is where we come in. We help him do that. As he becomes feeling he has less need for symbolic fulfillment. Doesn’t that make sense? Pain = pain-killing efforts. No pain, no pain-killing efforts. It isn’t done in a day but our direction is always right. Feeling means no more blockage from parts of ourselves. It means access in all directions including the deep physiological. I have seen patients who have had no interest in eating, nothing gives them pleasure. When they recapture feelings they recapture taste and joy.
The unconscious is constantly moving upward and forward at an attempt at connection and integration. It is trying to be whole. The deeper the pain and the earlier it occurred the stronger the force of the memory and the more it battles against the defense system; and the more it provokes the thinking brain into action. Sometimes the person needs more thinking brain to help out, hence cognitive/insight therapy. The joint thought combination of therapist and patient helps push down feelings. But it is a lifelong affair.
We have seen and measured patients whose brainwaves are extremely fast. For them to even get close to feeling they have to be able to slow down to get down into the feeling/primal zone. They do that either by feeling some of the compounded aspects of feelings and/or taking painkillers and tranquilizers to push back the force of the feeling. It seems like for these individuals the brain is racing away from feeling as fast as it can. Her thoughts are going and going and she cannot seem to stop them.In each part of a traumatic memory lies a group of busy neurons working to join up with other likely neurons to coalesce into a feeling that is liberating. We smell mothers perfume, see the earrings she was wearing, the look on father’s face, the cloudy day, etc. I treated one young man who remembers that kind of scene; he could smell her perfume and saw her earrings so clearly. When he told his mother about this memory she was surprised at the accuracy of his memory as she lost the earrings when my patient was four years old. The more elements of the memory the deeper, more profound the feeling. “I remember when I was crying in my crib and daddy came in and had angry eyes and shouted at me to shut up. “ That whole memory came back to my patient only after he had felt many later less painful memories. It was a start of a lifelong fear of his father, and then of authoritarian men, in general. He was afraid to contradict his boss at work, a fear the worked against him, as he became anxious in his presence, and never knew why. So as all these pieces of a memory come together in a feeling, say, of hopeless and helplessness. The person is getting more and more of herself back, the self that was barricaded behind the repressive gates. What I have noticed is that those two feelings are behind so much early misery in my patients. We can theorize about what our basic feelings are but I have seen this over and over. Hopelessness/ helplessness is often the feeling when death or harm is in the offing and there is nothing the person can do about it. When we are strangling on the cord during birth, for example, or when mother smokes while carrying. They are the lifelong consequences of very early trauma. So when we say that depression over time can lead to cancer, we mean that the very repressed feelings involved in depression are also involved with the development of cancer. These are not two distinct maladies, in the primal sense, but different manifestations of the same cause. We can find this medicine for this disease, treating or finding many other avenues to treat a person, say for high blood pressure. but if we do not recognize the key fact of pain and repression we have a lifelong, unending task before us.So when a patient is fully plugged in she has a complete feeling; when it starts in the present goes back to childhood, then to birth or before, there is full access. She will then generally come back through the same route; back to childhood and into the present. I call this the three two, one, event, and a trip back to a two and three, This is what I mean by access. Often patients are blocked on the route backwards, as they should be. Defenses were setup at the time to keep the memories from completely disrupting consciousness. They come up again to hold back deeper aspects of the feeling. That is when we know the patient has had enough. Often, if the therapist has a stake at producing deep feelings in the patient so he can look good, the patient will be pushed beyond her ability and suffer. You know, a primal is a very dramatic event. And to be able to produce that in a patient seems to make the therapist seem omniscient and omnipotent. Someone who has himself doesn’t need that. It is like making the baby talk before he is ready so that the parent will look good; having such a smart baby.Incidentally, I have discussed the biologic critical window, the time when needs must be fulfilled. A small aside: when the child is allowed to go on fulfilling a need that has ended its timetable we may find a neurotic result; that is, the child goes on nursing for too long due to the mother’s need, and becomes imprinted with it. Becomes fixated on breasts and sucking. But this is just a slight interruption in what I want to say. A feeling means an experience, and that means all aspects from psychological to the physiological to the neuronal; they all join in to make it a feeling. And to cure someone of pain and repression we again need an experience, not just a mental exercise bereft of those emotions that are stored in the brain. Some of us have almost full access to feeling; those who were fully loved with few great traumas in early life. They never come to us.The switchboard of the brain seems to be the thalamus, strategically positioned to inform the prefrontal area of what we are feeling. But imagine if you will that the operator is constantly plugging in aspects of the memory, the context of our feeling lonely and all alone. The brain is the operator doing what it can. It is unplugging emotional aspects of the memory because of their valance, and storing them for the future. It is plugging in certain aspects of the feeling while unplugging the emotional component. We need to plug emotions/feelings back in. Once we lock into a frequency where all three levels of brain function are joined, then a whole feeling means experiencing the pain on all three levels, the instinctual/physiologic, the emotional/feeling and the intellectual/comprehension; the feeling with its bodily dimensions meets feelings and and intellectual overview— putting it all together.Some of us can remember the details of our early lives but they are not plugged into the emotions. Others are permanently plugged into emotions with little cerebral counterpart. They are awash in pain that remains unconnected. Normally, the overall feeling gathers up all the disparate aspects and binds them into a whole, into what I call a feeling. If there are still aspects of the memory that are not reachable, such as the first-line, brainstem base of it all, then there is more to feel. To get well we need to stay on that frequency/memory until all parts are experienced and integrated. In psychoanalysis someone can remember every little detail of her early life but be bereft of its emotional component. Once there is access to the feeling it will largely take care of itself. That is, no special techniques by the therapist are necessary. But if we try to force a feeling or decide we know where the patient needs to go, then failure looms. I teach my therapist never, never to claim to know what a patient means when she says, I feel lonely. I feel afraid, etc. Because there are specific feelings underlying the sentences and only the patient and her feelings knows. That sentence may be linked into right after birth when she was not touched or held. Or at age one my mother died. Or at age four I was sent to preschool, etc. If we think we know what the patient is feeling then it means we know all the details of her life and what exactly was meant by the phrase, “I feel lonely”. If we think we know exactly where the patient has to go in a session and try to lead her there, there will be no cure. We can make notes in our head but we need to follow the patient, not lead her.So to help someone to feel we of course need the entrance to the feeling centers, the amygdala, hippocampus and finally the prefrontal cortex to bind all separate elements into an emotional whole. It is not enough to watch the patient cry and cry and think we have done some good; that crying must be in context and needs connection. All aspects must be linked together; linked by neuronal rhythms in the brain. Otherwise it is abreactive discharge which just releases the energy of feeling without its essence; the person is running off the energy portion of the feeling without knowing what it really is. Still, for the moment there is some relief so the patient thinks she is getting somewhere. She is going nowhere, literally. And we have measured the vital signs in feeling and in abreaction. In feeling the vitals move up and down in coordinated fashion, ending up near or below beginning baseline. In abreaction it is all sporadic, vitals moving in jigsaw fashion up and down but not going to baseline or below. When all elements are joined by specific oscillations of neurons we are on our way to health. The problem is that when the patient is repressed and suffers from this affliction or that, we go about treating the elements of the feeling, the manifestations, the grinding stomach or shortness of breath; we ignore the whole organizing principle which is feeling. We omit the repressed feelings that give rise to the symptoms. We omit the humanity of the person.