Article: Opening the Doors to the Self – Pain as a Guidepost
By Isa Gucciardi, Ph.D.
Summary: People’s inner experience can become hidden behind their pain for many reasons. An individual’s deeper inner experience at the root of their suffering can be accessed, understood, and transformed through Depth Hypnosis.
As we have seen, one of the most valuable tools in this journey to the encounter of the self at a soul level is the ability to create an atmosphere where it is safe. We must feel safe in order to remain present with pain long enough to be able to understand its origins. Within the framework of hypnosis, the path through pain or imbalance can reveal itself safely. It can lead us across the field of the pain through the psyche to the encounter with the self at a soul level. To begin this journey, it is important to examine the kinds of relationships we have with pain.
We all have different adaptations to pain. One of the most common is a habit which may be ultimately self-destructive, but which eases the pain in the moment. The remarkable thing about habits is that they often have the quality of masking even the origin of the pain they were developed to accommodate. In a way, they are the perfect anti-inflammatory, however temporarily effective and ultimately ineffective their anti-inflammatory properties may be. Not only do habits cool the pain, but they also make the conscious mind forget what the pain originally was and where it originated. Of course, the certainty that we will have to deal with the pain eventually one way or the other is also masked.
Because of this dynamic in habit formation, unraveling the nature of self-destructive behavior can be a circuitous task. One of the reasons traditional psychotherapy may get lost in these loops is because it begins at the outside of the matrix and tries to work its way in to the root of the problem. This approach can provide a faulty road map. It can be faulty, because everyone has a different, unique source of pain, which can manifest in similar types of external behavior. We can describe external behaviors, but this does not always help trace each individual path back to the internal motivation behind the behavior. No generalized system can do this.
The only way to truly unravel the matrix of self-destructive or compulsive behavior is to start at the pain which lies beneath the habitual behavior. This means getting the conscious mind and the various constructs that evolved to deal with the pain to step aside, even for a moment. This is exactly what hypnotherapy provides: a well deserved rest for the conscious mind. This allows the contents of the unconscious mind to be expressed, usually in images. The message it conveys are the keys to the pattern which underlies the external imbalanced behavior.
The process of unraveling and decoding these messages from the unconscious can be very threatening to the personality and its constructs. These are, in large part, developed precisely to mask the pain at the root of habitual behavior. When the personality and its defenses to understanding the true nature of pain are left to their own devices, they preserve themselves. They do this by evading the encoded messages the unconscious mind uses to convey its contents. We receive these messages on a regular basis through dreams, deja vu experiences, past-life recalls, or other-life bleed-throughs, and other anomalous (anomalous to the world dominated by the conscious mind) phenomena. We will look at how hypnotherapy provides a key to the process of decoding these images later in the book. For now, we are just looking at how our honest encounter with the pain at the root of imbalance can be understood as a path to the experience of the self at a soul level.
When we learn that there really is some type of pain at the root of our imbalance we can begin to allow ourselves to understand the nature and origin of it. This is the beginning of the process of shifting our relationship to pain. As this happens, the constructs the personality has created to avoid dealing with the pain become irrelevant. If the truth of the existence of this pain is irrefutable, then it is inevitable that the personality’s constructs, developed to mask that pain, begin to lose their foothold within the personality. This can be terrifying to the part of the self which operates solely on the personality level. And it can be threatening to the structures in which the personality operates, such as the family and religious, social, economic, and political communities the individual operates in. These structures have made adaptations to “manage” the pain that the loss of contact with ourselves at a soul level creates; they may even, in some cases, be designed to mask this loss. In some cases they are the cause of this soul loss.
If the pain of this soul loss is resolved, if we can be whole, those structures become less important to us. And we may decide to withdraw our support from them. If enough people do this, the society’s institutions must change. It can be extremely threatening to the entire matrix of the agreed-upon, cultural conscious-mind reality to have even one individual throw in his cards and pull out of agreement with the cultural realities. We have only to look at the dynamics of dictatorships and autocracies to see how true this is. If we discover a way to transform our relationship to our behavior by uncovering the origins or nature of our pain, we no longer need the habits or the constructs which the conscious-mind reality’s personality has created. These constructs are developed not only to support the habit, but they also become part of the mask we use to interact with the larger cultural reality we exist in. When the mask realizes the inevitability of its destruction due to the possibilities inherent in this transformation, fear arises. At the point where the source and nature of the pain is discovered, the personality’s mask may generate defenses in the form fear, denial, and doubt. This is natural. One of the main functions of the personality is to keep whatever is perceived as unacceptable unseen. When the need not to feel the pain is greater than the need to know the truth, these defenses are necessary. But as those needs change places, everything changes.
It is understandable that the fear which may arise at this point can create disequilibrium. Fear occurs not only in ourselves as we experience the shift, but also in the larger cultural matrix we exist in. Fear is generated within the cultural institutions which deny or manage pain as their supporters realize the institution’s role must change. An institution which is designed to manage or deny pain must crumble if its members decide they no longer need it to maintain distance between themselves and their pain. This type of transformation can be far-reaching. At each level, constructs which have been created to manage this pain of separation must give way to new forms which are based in our honest dialogue with the sources of that separation. For the individual, the personality constructs must shift. For the institutions, their function must shift away from the management or denial of pain as a raison d’etre. Ultimately, the culture at large must reorganize itself entirely to remove the veils it maintains between the experience of the self at a soul level and that part of the self which interacts with the culture.
Because the truths about pain and the way we try to disguise it can be revealed through hypnotherapy, some view it with consternation. Hypnosis has been labeled suspect by many institutions within the larger cultural context. As we have seen, the legal establishment has labeled it unreliable and some mainstream religious communities have called it the work of the devil. Perpetrators of abuse who have managed to enter agreements of secrecy with those they abuse view hypnosis as a mortal threat to those agreements. I have had many clients who did not understand their parents fear when they told them they were beginning hypnotherapy come to understand it as the abuse is revealed. I have even had clients who have told me their psychotherapists had told them that hypnosis was dangerous. Dangerous to whom? Truth is only dangerous to those who are invested in a lie. When hypnotherapy is used ethically and consciously, there is nothing to fear.
The tragedy of the failure to embark on the journey toward truth is illustrated by one of my clients who came to me for help with his habit of compulsive overeating. He wanted to try hypnosis because he thought I could give him some suggestions which would curb his appetite. I prefer to try to understand the source of the pain and help begin the healing process from the inside out, rather than just putting a band-aid on the pain in the form of positive suggestion. So I asked him a few questions. At that point he revealed to me that he was receiving disability payments for a diagnosis by a government psychiatrist of schizophrenia. He also described in some detail the highlights of his emotional history. He also provided me with a write-up of the government psychiatrist’s diagnosis and solution to his problem. From what I could tell, the psychiatrist’s reaction to this patient’s pain was to discount, ridicule, and minimize it. A paraphrasing of the report is something like this:
“Patient believes he was raped and sexually molested by his parents. Parents deny this. He believes he is being abducted by aliens regularly. Paranoid. He thinks all people on the street are after him. Psychotic. Loses track of time. Has recurring episodes where he has visions of parents molesting him. He also dreams same. Diagnosis: schizophrenia. Recommend medication and disability payments.”
I could find nothing in the report or in the treatment records where anyone had ever taken the patients’ reports about his reality seriously. It seemed like the main goal of the government psychiatrists’ interaction with this patient was to neatly compartmentalize the problem. At no point that I could see was anyone willing to actually be present for the pain this patient was experiencing. No one believed that this pain was real, much less that it had a real source somewhere within the patient’s psyche.
Under hypnosis, the first image this patient had was the image of a tall gray alien. The second image was of himself as a baby in a crib, with his father standing next to him smoking a cigarette molesting him sexually. The hypnosis session went through other images related to a sense of shame which emerged from these two primary images. Most of these were centered on self-destructive external behavior – including overeating, compulsive sexuality, and episodes where he had experienced a loss of time. I took the information provided by his unconscious mind seriously. My approach was not, “Oh, you’re seeing aliens, you must be nuts,” but “So here is an alien, what does an alien mean to you?”
This type of dysfunction does not exist in a vacuum. It takes the complicity of many actors within the patient’s environment to keep this level of dysfunction in place. What would it mean if this patient’s father really did rape him? What would it mean if his parents did molest him? Would it possibly mean that his whole complex of overeating was an effort to reconcile what he knew to be his own irrefutable inner reality with the lies which his parents, his doctors, and his benefit administrator reinforced with every action? What would it mean if he discovered and integrated the source of his pain?
The main effect of accepting the patient’s experience of reality as truth would be that everyone involved, including the patient himself, would have to take responsibility for their part in perpetuating his pain. This is a huge undertaking. But it is clearly the work this person has to do if he is ever to be reconciled with himself at a soul level. If everyone faced the fact that he had been molested by his parents – either emotionally, physically, or sexually – he would have to reevaluate his relationship with his parents. This might mean losing their support (for whatever benefit it was). He would probably lose his disability benefits if was able to arrive at a state of integration with this level of pain. There would have to be a tremendous shift in the external cultural constructs around him if he asked the actors within them to take responsibility not only for his pain, but for their own. For them to be able to be present in an honest way for his level of dysfunction, they would have to look at the pain at the source of their own dysfunction. The initial dislocation on every level would be disorienting at first, but the reorganization around truth would ultimately benefit everyone involved. It would provide a tremendous relief from having to maintain a web of so many lies.
He was so used to believing all the ways in which those around him tried to minimize his authentic experience, that he was shocked when I suggested the possibility that the information he was receiving in hypnosis might be a basis for his internal reality. This reality included the possibility that the nightmares and the psychotic breaks might actually be a reflection of his authentic experience of abuse. The truth of his authentic internal experience (regardless of the actual events in the external reality) was overwhelming to him. It was hard enough to believe that these horrible events could have really happened. But more overwhelming was the task of facing the pain which was being managed by his parents’ duplicity and the complicity of the government psychiatrist in an honest way. When I asked him what it would mean if he validated his own authentic experience rather than believing everyone who ridiculed his experience as delusion, he was clearly overwhelmed by the possibilities contained in this shift of perspective.
At that moment, he had to decide if he could manage the confrontation of his pain at its source or if he preferred to remain in the chaos which the denial of that pain had created in his life. He had to decide if he could go through the transformation and the rebirth of himself that the integration of this information would generate within his sense of self. I could only promise him that the effort would not be in vain, that he would find new energy and regeneration on the other side of the process of transforming his relationship to this pain. I could not tell him it would be easy, I could not tell him that I had a little pill that would make it all go away. I could not deny that the dismantling of the undeniably complex matrix he had created to deal with his pain would be difficult. But I could promise that he would experience a diminishment in the gulf that was separating him from an authentic encounter with himself at a soul level.
This process can be understandably terrifying and many people would rather forgo the intimacy with pain it requires. Often, only those whose situations are so intolerable or those who can dimly perceive the light of regeneration at the end of the tunnel choose this path. This patient could not take that path. In making this decision, he could not see that the access to new resources of personal power the integration of the pain would provide him was worth the effort he would have to go through to obtain it. There was nothing I could do but support him in his decision to postpone the process of personal transformation. And truly, this was only a postponement. The journey home to the encounter with ourselves at a soul level is not an option. We can choose how and when we take the journey to a certain extent, but we cannot defer this encounter indefinitely.
While we must respect the individual’s limits in his ability to cope with the truth of his inner reality, we must not deny the value of pain. Sometimes, we learn to value pain only when it has become undeniable. This lesson is well illustrated in the case of another client of mine who decided to take the path to the transformation of her relationship with pain.
She came to me hoping to find pain relief through hypnotic suggestions for excruciating pain in her right arm. An army of osteopaths, orthopedic surgeons, physical therapists and internists had judged that it had no origin. Again, because I do not feel comfortable simply applying band-aids of external hypnotic suggestion to deep-seated problems, I asked a few questions about the development of the pain. These questions led back over her life; I was struck by her ability to manifest emotionally painful situations again and again. However, the manifestation of the pain in her arm was the first time the pain had manifested physically. It was clear to me that, contrary to what the physicians had said, that there was a source of this pain. And it could well lie within the emotional aspect of her being. It also seemed possible that the source of the emotional pain and the physical pain were one and the same.
We did several sessions together, including a prenatal regression and a past life regression, to try to understand the reasons why she needed the pain in her life. Each time, the only suggestion I gave when she was in hypnosis was, “We are going back to a time and place or situation which will shed light and understanding on the origins of the pain you are experiencing in your right arm.” Each time, I was asking the subconscious mind for the message it was trying to convey through the manifestation of the pain in the right arm. As is customary, the message was conveyed in the language of images.
During a past life regression she regressed to a time where she had been a monk in a place where there were high mountains. She found herself hiding in a place where there was a stone wall and a dirt floor. Through further questioning, it became clear that she was in a monastery. Politicians and soldiers had come into the monastery and were slaughtering all of her fellow monastics. The pain she felt in not being able to control the situation and save them from this fate was acute. Finally, the soldiers found her and took her out into a stone courtyard, yanking her arms behind her back and tying them tightly together. As the soldiers cut off her head, I asked her what the last thought in her mind was as she died:
Client: ” My last thought is: I have to remember this.”
Hypnotherapist: “What is the value in remembering this?”
Client: “So I can remember my religious teacher and his teachings about the nature of the soul.”
She had used the emotional pain of anger at herself for failing to save her fellow monastics and her physical pain of being tortured and beheaded to try to remember the teachings of her spiritual source. It is a convoluted way to remember such teachings, but who can account for the decisions we make under such extreme duress. By arriving at one point of the origin of this pain, the pain in her arm began to shift a little.
During a prenatal regression, one of extreme panic and a sense of loss of control (the same emotions which were attached to the images in the past life regression) she realized that the only connection she had to her mother was pain and panic. As an adopted child, this was all she had to remind herself of her birth mother, her physical source.
In both of these instances, it was pain which she chose to keep herself connected to the source of sustenance of her soul. If she had kept running away from the pain rather than facing it, she would never have been able to resolve the pain in her arm. By embracing the pain rather than fighting it, by listening to it rather than ignoring it, she was able to touch her soul again. By seeing her pain as her friend and not her enemy, she was able not only to free herself of the physical pain but to transform the way she manifested all types of pain in her life.
She saw how she had manifested the physical pain. It was impossible to deny it in the same way she had been able to deny the emotional pain she had created in her life. Both were only attempts to return to herself at a soul level. By embracing the physical pain, she was able to take steps to resolve the emotional pain. She realized that she could find and maintain a connection to her physical and emotional source of wisdom and power through other means. She also realized that the conscious-mind personality constructs she had created to maintain that connection through pain had to be transformed. She saw the choices clearly and she chose the path of transformation. It was a courageous choice.
This required considerable effort. She had to dismantle the personality constructs she had created to deal with the pain, a process which, in itself, was very painful. But she did come out the other side of it with a new connection to the source of herself at a soul level. This connection did not require pain to keep the lessons and needs of her soul active in her conscious life. The immense power and renewal she was able to manifest in her life through the process of the transformation of her relationship to pain could never have happened had she not decided to embrace the pain rather than ignore it.
This approach to imbalance is decidedly more involved than simply labeling the dysfunction and assigning a pill to it based on the label. But it is, ultimately, a much faster and surer route to the resolution of pain. The reason that many practitioners who rely on the compartmentalization of pain may fail is because their method of compartmentalization does allow the patient – and the practitioner – to ignore the pain. The focus of attention becomes centered on the label. The curative procedures may only apply to the label rather than to the patient. A client of mine described an encounter with compartmentalization of this type with a well-respected head of psychiatry at a major hospital:
“Her mind was laid wide open before me as she asked me utterly irrelevant questions about my problem. I could see little compartments with little labels on them, and she was trying to figure out in which compartment I belonged. The questions she was asking had more to do with the labels than with me and I realized I could not trust her or her process at all.”
While this approach does not serve the client in helping him to return to a soul-level sense of himself, it is safe for the practitioner. This is because the practitioner does not have to be present with the pain once it is compartmentalized. And the client may even think this is a safe course of action for him as well because he thinks the compartmentalization lets him off the hook for taking responsibility for resolving the pain. This is a path most people would understandably choose if they could. But the possibility of true self-transformation and self-understanding through the pain is lost. The client is cut off not only from the pain at the source of the problem but from the possibility of tracing the path to the self at a soul level that the pain provides.
In this process of trying to circumvent pain, the typical therapeutic approach mirrors the adaptation to pain which the larger conscious-mind dominated reality has adapted. The therapist may not be able to step outside culturally-accepted ways of looking at pain, so it is difficult for true healing to take place. As illustrated above, a person who truly transforms himself in relation to his pain may no longer be a willing participant in the culture’s agreements which are designed to mask pain. In lieu of transformation, therapeutic approaches may just become descriptions of the problem.
Without the soul and its still point to return to, every description of every psychic, organic, or psychological imbalance is just that: a description, rooted nowhere and going nowhere. The big problem with this concept is that imbalance does not arrive and function in a vacuum. It has a very real and active reality within the individual psyche. The psyche has, as its center, the still point of the experience of the self at a soul level. Just because a particular school of thought does not recognize the existence of the self at soul level does not mean that it does not exist. The evidence that it does is clear when it is understood that all imbalance yields to the power contained within this still point when confronted honestly.
The goal of therapy should be to find the individual wherever the dysfunction has led him within the matrix of the psyche. Exploration of all of the facets of our psyche, not just those involved with the conscious-mind reality, must be permitted. This process is often best accomplished with as few externally-generated labels as possible. External descriptions and lectures about the dysfunction can have little therapeutic effect on the resolution of the dysfunction. This is especially true when these descriptions only refer to a small sliver of the greater reality of the self. The individual must come to the realization of the true nature of the dysfunction himself in order to see that the realization leads home to the soul. If we do not take the opportunity that the path which leads through the source of imbalance provides, we lose a chance to experience ourselves at a soul level.
Unfortunately, this process is impossible when the defenses and constructs of the conscious mind are still engaged and even supported by the interventions of society. Hypnosis allows us to see beyond these barriers and imagine an external reality which reflects ourselves at a soul level. This new understanding of reality may or may not have the furtherance of the current cultural paradigm as its goal.
Freud ran into this problem when he began using hypnosis to treat what he referred to as female hysteria; he reports on his efforts in one of his early papers, “On Female Hysteria.” The truth the women, mostly from the upper class, revealed under hypnosis had the potential of dismantling the whole web of lies the members of their class depended on to maintain male domination. This truth was that they were being sexually abused by male members of their family; the strain of hiding this truth was the root of their dysfunction. And this truth was laid bare when the veil of the conscious mind’s constructs to safekeep the actuality of the abuse were lifted through hypnosis. Had Freud persisted in the unveiling of this awful truth, the members of upper class Viennese society would have perceived him as a danger to their ability to maintain their status quo. They would have denounced him, called him a liar, or hounded him out of their midst; in any case, his budding medical career would have been seriously sidetracked.
He could not face such ostracism, so he fabricated a twisted model of female hysteria. This postulated that the phenomena women were reporting in hypnosis were really the basis of a deep-seated wish that they would be sexually abused by their male family members. This horrendous fabrication, this abject failure on the part of Freud to be honest with himself, his patients, and his surrounding society dominated psychotherapeutic models for half a century. Rather than face the truth, Freud abandoned hypnosis. He realized the bombshell effect the truth of the widespread nature of incest in late nineteenth century Vienna would have. Forcing everyone involved to take responsibility for the truth was too daunting a task. To demand this would have jeopardized not only on his own professional survival but the survival of all of the male-dominated institutions of that time and place.
Hypnosis, in the hands of a hypnotherapist who is willing to face the psyche with total honesty, allows the constructs of the conscious mind to rest. It helps the client remove himself for a moment from the confines of the conscious-mind dominated society. This allows the true mechanisms of the psyche and soul to emerge. When the subconscious mind is allowed to express itself, it readily pinpoints the source of dysfunction and allows the individual to discern the path toward the integration of the dysfunction with the larger self. The information and understanding which can set the individual on a course toward the understanding of the workings of his soul easily and readily emerges in hypnosis. The only task is to listen.