Article: Opening the Doors to the Self – Relationships
By Isa Gucciardi, Ph.D.
Summary: We can learn about our relationship to ourselves and the nature of our essential self by understanding patterns in our relationships with others.
Recently I heard an interview on National Public Radio’s program Fresh Air, with the Dalai Lama’s official translator. The interviewer, Terry Gross, asked him if there were ever Western concepts he had trouble translating into Tibetan. The translator said the hardest concept he had ever tried to convey emerged from a conference on Buddhism and psychology held in the United States. He had enormous difficulty trying to translate the words which described the concept of self-loathing. It took him almost half an hour to find the words to help the Dalai Lama understand this concept. The Dalai Lama was unable to believe that anyone could be so separated from the self that he could loathe it. In his mind, this was utterly unthinkable. In his vast exploration of the human psyche through the context of Tibetan Buddhism, this was a concept utterly unknown and foreign to him.
This is the most common element I find at the root of dysfunction that people come to my practice for help with. This self-loathing, so foreign to a Tibetan living on the planet at the same time as we do, is utterly pandemic in the United States. It is also almost universally unacknowledged in most bastions of mainstream culture, including many psychotherapeutic models. Indeed, I was shocked to hear a well-known, Harvard-trained psychiatrist mention that he had been in practice for twenty-five years before he realized that a lack of love could make someone crazy.
The dynamics of this lack of self-love, this self-loathing most of us struggle with, can be most readily explored in the relationships we have with other people. Often, our dislocation from ourselves is mirrored in the dislocations we find in relationship with others. We can most easily learn about the phenomena which separate us from ourselves at a soul level by examining our relationships with others through hypnosis. It is true that many types of dysfunction can be ameliorated without the in-depth examination of this phenomena. Yet, for the realization of the true alchemy of the self for which hypnosis is such a potent tool, this aspect of our relationship with ourselves cannot be overlooked.
Understanding the messages contained within our relationships with others helps us understand the core issues within ourselves we must address. Often, it is only through the difficulties we experience in our relationship with others that we discover what we need to integrate within ourselves to become more whole. By using the issues we find in our relationship with others, we can shine a light onto the issues which keep us separate from ourselves at a soul level. As we begin to perceive the dynamics of these issues, we begin to understand the damage they can cause.
Sometimes it is hard to tell whether the dynamics of the external relationship create disharmony in our relationship with ourselves at a soul level or if it is the other way around. My clinical experience leads me to believe that we all have certain issues which keep us separate from ourselves at a soul level. We bring these issues with us as we incarnate, and these issues dictate what relationships we choose. The dance of two individuals with complimentary issues finding each other is repeated thousands of times each day. It is stunning to see how accurately people attract others who will act as a depth charge to bring to the surface those issues they need to examine in order to integrate more fully. Generally, this depth charge is experienced as pain.
Through compassion and understanding, we can allow ourselves to see and accept the dynamics this creates. We can allow ourselves to admit how we have hurt others and see how we perpetuate and internalize the damage and hurt others have caused us. All this hurting is a way of teaching ourselves and each other about the issues we need to look at to integrate into a larger understanding of the self.
The dynamics of the internalization of the issues contained in external relationships applies to more positive aspects as well. While it is equally important to embrace the learning we gain through our positive relationship with others and ourselves, it is generally not this aspect of the process which brings people into hypnotherapy. Often, it is how we have been unable to embrace these positive aspects which bring us to a search for ourselves at a soul level.
Both Jung and Freud, among others, have addressed the issue of projection of one’s inner conflicts onto others in order to be able to see and grapple with them. The trick is to learn to perceive the patterns where we tend to repeat and replicate conflicts within different relationships. This allows us to get a better handle on what is happening within the relationship we have with ourselves. Many people have presented theories which are supposed to address this issue, but I have found that many theorists tend to stay only at the transactional level of relationship. They describe its dynamics without actually taking whatever understanding can be gleaned at this level to the deeper issue of our relationship with our selves.
Part of the problem in many conceptual models is, again, that many theorists do not have a paradigm for the soul or a concept of the self at a soul level. They tend to focus on surface transactions. This may be because they do not believe there is a soul level of the self to relate external phenomena to.
I do not have a complete understanding of all of Freud’s work or all of Jung’s work. But I think Freud’s inability to see this larger context in which the personality operates is one of the reasons why Jung felt it necessary to split with Freud. Jung has gone farther than most theorists in fleshing out the context in which we find our waking consciousness. The maps he provides are invaluable in exploring our relationships to both our inner world and with others in the outer world.
The Buddhist paradigm of the evolution of the self is also very helpful in fleshing out this other perception of reality: that we are more than our conscious mind tells us we are. This paradigm has been variously articulated by different schools of Buddhism; I will attempt to summarize it here in what is, hopefully, its essential form.
The idea is that we enter into the field of material existence to learn more about ourselves. We are here to learn how we are related to that state of understanding which is beyond words or concepts, but which is ultimately our essential self, or our experience of ourselves at a soul level. Through understanding this experience, we can even come to glimpse that which lies beyond our experience of self at a soul level. Some schools of Buddhism provide elaborate images to help convey these concepts. These images, when meditated upon or entered into in a state very similar to hypnosis, reveal teachings about the various paths which lead to that state where the essential self is revealed. In this process, it is important to keep in mind the nature of our experience in the external world. This reveals the road blocks we maintain from lifetime to lifetime in the ultimate realization of the nature of our essential self. Relationships with others are generally the tableau on which these roadblocks are most clearly revealed if we can remain attentive to the information they provide.
By entering into the images of self or other, or by entering into the emotions generated in relationship in a hypnotic state or a dream state, much the same information can be learned. The wrathful deities described in some schools of Buddhist thought may also be seen as the emotional states we must pass through in order to experience the self. These are the emotional states which arise in relationship to others and are more easily objectively understood in a hypnotic state without the defenses of the conscious mind. Once they are allowed full expression, the emotions generated in our relationship with others can help articulate our relationship to ourselves.
If we find ourselves embroiled again and again within the same emotional state from relationship to relationship, it is a safe guess that we are grappling with that particular aspect in our relationship with ourselves. Or, if we refuse to enter into relationships with others, we can learn about our relationship to our selves by exploring the nature of the block preventing us from creating relationships. By fully integrating and understanding these repeated patterns or blocks, first in our relationship with others, and then in our relationship with ourselves, we are able to continue our evolutionary path toward wholeness.
This evolution can be understood in many ways. Bill Baldwin, Brian Weiss, and other researchers in the past-life regression therapy field believe, like most Buddhist schools, that this particular incarnation in this body is just part of the road we travel to wholeness. The issues we are dealing with in this plane of material existence are those which we did not deal with effectively in that past or other life. Stanislav Grof states that all our issues with ourselves and with others are imprinted at birth. By returning back to our birth through hypnotic regression or holotropic breath work, we receive a map of the issues we need to understand. This understanding allows us to break the cycle of repeated negative patterns in relationship with others and ourselves.
I think everyone mentioned here is right. There are many frameworks which provide deeper understanding of the patterns lying behind or beneath the seeming chaos of relationships we find ourselves in. One way to understand these patterns is to lay the context of this lifetime within the framework of multiple lifetimes. Whatever issues we generate in our relationships with others in this incarnation are simply issues which were relegated to the unconscious in previous incarnations. These issues may get triggered, highlighted, or imprinted again by the nature of our birth so we are, in a sense, reminded of the work we have to do. Or, the issues we have to resolve in our relationship with ourselves may simply be highlighted again in our relationships- or lack thereof- with our birth family.
Insight and understanding about our relationship with ourselves as it is reflected in our relationship with others can be gained from looking anywhere along this continuum. Most often, that understanding comes from the emotions generated along the continuum. The goal of the work we do in hypnosis is to gently lead ourselves back to the river of feeling which is generated in our relationship with others. We can then allow ourselves to drink again the full emotional experience of whatever we have relegated to the unconscious. We generally refuse to remain conscious to that which we believe causes or could cause us pain. There are many situations, especially as children, when it truly may have been unsafe to feel the full impact of the betrayal or neglect of another. As children, and even as adults, we may lack resources or alternatives; often our only recourse is to ignore or forget what is unacceptable. But that which we choose to ignore or forget does not go away, it simply takes up residence in the unconscious. When we allow ourselves to revisit what we were unable to fully feel or what we found unacceptable in relationship with another, we take another step toward understanding what it is within ourselves that we find unacceptable. By revisiting the emotions generated in relationship in a safe and protected situation like a hypnotherapy session, we can safely examine what it is we find unacceptable in ourselves. By allowing ourselves to cross the boundaries we have created in order to experience the unacceptable in ourselves, we often find compassion and understanding for ourselves. This same compassion and understanding may not have been available or evident to us in the external relationship in which the feelings were generated.
Emotions that are judged to be intolerable can be relegated to the unconscious at any point in our evolution. Generally, this happens if we find ourselves in situations where we believe that fully feeling the impact of the interaction contained within a relationship would destroy us. It is important to point out that many decisions to block the full emotional impact of a relationship are often made judiciously. They may be made by children who are utterly vulnerable to the damage that can be perpetrated by the members of their birth family or other adults in their environment. Equally judicious is the decision made not to fully experience a particular situation in extreme circumstances such as war experiences, torture, or starvation in a present or past life experience. It seems utterly logical to think or feel that we can be destroyed by exposing ourselves to devastating suffering. Although our world views or conceptions of ourselves may be destroyed through experiencing intense emotions, we are not. Part of the learning in opening to feeling is to understand what is affected and changed by strong emotion and what is not. The essence of being at a soul level is only informed by emotion; it is never destroyed.
One of the little tricks the self at the personality level plays is to tell us, “Don’t experience the impact of this relationship fully, because I am all there is and if I experience this fully I will be destroyed, then you, the larger self, will be destroyed.” This perception by the personality that it or its defenses to full integration with the greater self can be destroyed through fully feeling is actually true. What is destroyed is the personality at a surface level. By allowing ourselves to fully enter into the experience of relationship, vulnerable to any and all emotions it contains, we always find the path home to the self at a soul level and to wholeness. This is the part of the self that cannot be destroyed. When this part of the self is in contact with experience, the personality is no longer needed as an exclusive arbiter of reality.
Unfortunately, the core fear of self-immolation in feeling fully that most Westerners carry is the driving force behind almost all relationship interactions. What the personality didn’t tell us is that the unfelt feelings don’t go away; they just hide in the subconscious. These unseen or unfelt feelings drive all of our relationship interactions as they push to become seen and felt once more.
If we decide anger is an unacceptable emotion, we may go to some lengths to suppress a reaction of anger. We may cloak it in sarcasm (as an external reaction) or numbness (as an internal reaction). In this way, we can pretend that we are not angry. But anger remains behind the reaction used to veil it, and it seeks to be unveiled in order to rejoin the rest of the personality. Therefore, the hidden, unconscious anger will drive the person to become involved in situations where anger can be invoked and felt consciously. If the suppression continues through each attempt the anger makes to be felt, the “ante” gets raised with each interaction. Finally, there is a situation which is charged enough to reach beyond the veil to flush out the anger. The stronger our defenses to feeling are, the more “disruptive” these situations become in order to shatter the defenses. It can even get to the point where the hidden or suppressed emotion can only be flushed out through highly-charged and even potentially life-changing or life-shattering experience.
This is particularly true if our defenses to expressing the emotion at an emotional level are completely fortified. In this case, the emotion has few ways out. The most common recourse to expression is physical disease. This suppression of emotion is, in my mind, one of the geneses of disease. Even the Western medical establishment is becoming dimly aware of this progression of disease. In the San Francisco Chronicle of December 30, 1998, there was a report that the AMA had found a strong correlation between chronically depressed patients and heart disease. Chronically depressed people are generally suppressing a whole panoply of emotions. The only way they can become aware of them is to feel them physically because they have refused to feel them emotionally. This correlation is no surprise to anyone but materially-based empiricists.
In spite of the stakes involved in repressing emotion, this push to blot out entire portions of our experience is commonplace. I recently received an e-mail from someone who asked me if I could hypnotize him to forget he had ever been with other women so he could marry his girlfriend with a “clean slate.” I could only guess what emotions he was seeking to obliterate from his consciousness, rather than deal with them and gain the learning they had to offer. By trying to forgo this learning, he would lose the understanding these former relationships with other women contained to teach him about himself.
The emotional response relationships with others generates is almost always the issue which needs to be dealt with internally in our relationship to ourselves. If fear comes up in approaching intimacy with another, then I must consider what it is I fear about entering into that state of wholeness with myself. If anger comes up again and again in my relationships with others, it is likely I need to look at what I am angry at myself about.
The task of identifying emotions and entering into them fully is not straightforward. Our relationships with one another and with ourselves are extremely intricate. They weave one set of emotions in one person through another set of emotions in the other. The resulting, observable interactions of the relationship often masquerade as something quite different than the core emotional issues. These core emotional issues are those each person has entered into the relationship to resolve. We find ourselves tangled in a web of skirmishes over territory, control, fear of intimacy, or any number of other surface presentations without ever understanding how we got there.
How can we begin to untangle this web unless we allow ourselves to feel what the relationship is presenting? It is possible the last time we got close to the emotion coming up again for understanding in our current relationship was in the context of a truly dangerous situation. We very well could have been in such a position, especially in that open, vulnerable child state where we had few tools for understanding what was happening in any objective way.
The child’s vulnerability to all types of emotion intensifies the power behind the mental decisions we make about reality as a result of an encounter or a denied encounter with strong emotion. These decisions, often made with little objective understanding, stay with us throughout life. They drive our interactions with others as we try to come to terms with the context in which these decisions were made. The emotional intensity behind the decision informs the defenses we create to deal with what, at the moment of experience, seems intolerable to experience.
Similarly, objective consideration of our emotional state is utterly impossible for most of us when exposed to life-threatening trauma as adults in this life or other life experience. These are situations where the best course of action is to leave the physical body and abandon the emotion wherever we can. It is understandable we would shut down feeling where we, however mistakenly, perceive we can be destroyed by fully feeling.
The degree of trauma generating these emotions and the level of repetition of this trauma define the distance we believe we must create between ourselves and our experience. This distance is usually filled in with different types of mechanisms which provide further defense to experiencing the emotions generated by the trauma. We have the capacity to create an enormous variety of psychic structures. They must all be negotiated in the healing process to bring the original experience back to integration with the self.
Unfortunately, all we generally run into in this attempt to return to the original traumatic experience is the defenses that we created to keep ourselves from feeling it. So we keep trying to return the original experience in relationship after relationship, and wind up only hitting the defenses we carefully constructed to keep us from getting at the original experience. Therefore, our main interaction with others is from the level of these psychic defense structures. This is hardly satisfying or rewarding, because we are interacting with the other only at the level of each person’s defenses, not at a soul level.
It is remarkable how we manage to find others with mirror images of our own psychic defenses to help us break through the barriers we have created for ourselves. Unfortunately, because few people realize this is the basis of their relationship with others, they continually create more pain and more defenses. This is especially true when the mirror images begin to reveal anything about the real pain at the base of the interaction.
Whenever this happens, relationships generally break down. This is because we do not realize that the authentic experience of the pain the relationship generates in us is actually the path back to the original context in which that pain was generated. If we can reach that original context, we can straightforwardly and honestly grapple with and resolve the emotions held within it to reveal ourselves at a soul level. This is an experience which is always available to us if we allow ourselves to journey to the other side of the web of unresolved emotion we have woven for ourselves.
This encounter with ourselves at a soul level is precisely what we are all longing for, whether we articulate it in these terms or not. Most of us can only dimly imagine what it would be like to be able to interact not only with ourselves at this level, but to know and understand others at this level through our relationships with them. What a different definition of relationship!
But before we can arrive at this level of relationship, we must begin to dismantle the roadblocks to that experience. Different schools of psychology base their entire existence on the description and prescription for one or two of the ways different structures or defenses are created. All too often, the conceptualizations of these mechanisms turn out to be imperfect, mechanical descriptions. They may be imperfectly understood without the context of the self at a soul level. And, in my opinion, they are almost always imperfectly treated with medication or external behavior modification methods.
My experience has taught me that all of these mechanisms, whether they be labeled “Obsessive Compulsive” or “Attention Deficit Disorder” or “Dissociative Identity Disorder” by the psychiatric establishment are the same thing. They are all different degrees of elaboration of that distance we have taken from the experience of fully feeling. What is not needed is an ironclad diagnosis. What is not needed is a further distancing from the emotional experience through medication. What is not needed is an imperfect adaptation to the distance through behavior modification. What is needed is a full and complete re-entry into the relationships or situations where we first and subsequently took the distance from allowing ourselves to feel.
We need to re-enter these situations, times, or circumstances in such a way that allows us to completely re-experience the relationship and the emotions it engenders. Hypnosis and age regression, combined with the tools of inner child work and soul retrieval, are excellent ways to accomplish this task. It is only by sailing fully into the storm of the relationship where the emotional experience was abandoned that we can reclaim that experience. We can then bring it home to the self at a soul level for greater self-understanding.
We must compassionately define and understand the defensive mechanisms with which we have littered the distance between feeling and ourselves. This task must be accomplished before we can fully re-enter the relationship and the emotions it contains. This is an important part of the process, because the defenses must be assured that it is safe to dissolve. We must be sure that it is only the defenses that are dissolving and not our essential being, no matter what our fears and lack of trust tell us.
It is important to fully participate in the dissolving of these barriers to the experience of emotion in our relationship with others. This process is often a mirror image of the barriers we maintain in relationship to ourselves at a soul level. By understanding this process of dissolution in relation to others, we can be more confident when it comes to the more threatening process of dissolving the mirror image of these barriers within ourselves. Much is to be learned here and applied at the next stage of integration with the essential self at a soul level. Once we have negotiated these barriers and once the fully-felt experience of the relationship with the other has been reclaimed, we can begin to understand what this dynamic has to show us about our relationship with ourselves.
Let me relate an example of this process. A woman I will call Karen came to me for help with a series of physical symptoms which caused her great turmoil. They had been found to have no organic cause through exhaustive tests by physicians. Psychiatrists had given her a label and some pills, which were of no help in alleviating her distress. As we began to explore the various physical symptoms, a pattern of unexperienced emotions to what she unconsciously considered intolerable situations emerged.
This information, the nature of the emotion she could not tolerate in the experience of her relationships with others, was an affront to her all-competent, “in control” conscious behavior. Hypnosis was definitely in order to breach these conscious adaptations to this behavior. First, we negotiated the terrain of her defenses. The main defense she had developed was the mask of confidence and control. This maintained the distance between herself and her unfelt experience. It is important to restate again that these defenses were placed there for a very good reason. In this case they afforded protection from what she could only perceive to be a very hostile environment in the abuse of her childhood.
Once we arrived at her unfelt experience, she was able to go through a series of regressions. She re-entered the primary relationships where she had made the decision not to feel, and she breached those decisions to embrace the feelings that lay embedded in the relationships. We unwound a long-standing, repeating pattern of abandonment and the pain it generated in relationship after relationship. We followed this trail through her psyche to all the different situations and relationships where she had attempted to resolve the emotions behind the abandonment, and she was able to see how she had never allowed herself to fully experience these same emotions in the attempt to contact them by repeating the abandonment. She saw how she had, unfortunately, in each situation, only added more mortar and brick to her “competent, unfeeling, and in control” mask. This happened as each relationship gouged the intolerability of experienced emotion deeper within her psyche. Finally, because she was unable to resolve these issues by feeling them on an emotional level, her higher self forced the issue by making the pain manifest on a physical level. She was forced to deal with the emotional pain in a physical way because she had managed to evade experiencing the pain on an emotional level. Her magnificently-wrought control defenses precluded any hope of this. When she could no longer move parts of her body, she realized she had to confront what was keeping her immobile: the unfelt emotions.
There are numerous types of regressions that can occur when engaging with hypnotherapy, including age regression, past-life regression, and birth regression. My focus here is what the tangled, unfelt emotions in relationships with others told Karen about her relationship with herself. We traveled through layer after layer of anger, sorrow, despair, and anguish. These emotions arose from the experience of having been abandoned at birth by her mother, living in several foster homes as an infant, and finally being put up for permanent adoption. And she was adopted into a family where she never felt that she was permitted to show any negative emotion about anything at all, much less about any of the events which brought her to that family.
But the ultimate issue was abandonment. It was not until she had explored all the ways in which she had been abandoned by others in her relationships with them and felt all the emotions she had tied up in the physical symptoms that the physical symptoms began to disappear. But, in my mind, the most important learning she experienced was all the ways she had abandoned herself by not allowing herself to feel and experience. This central theme, the abandonment of the self, emerged as the core issue she brought into this life. Her lesson was to see the nature and dynamic of this abandonment and to allow herself to reunite with the self fully and integrally. The dawning of this insight and the profound nature of the learning she had chosen in this life could never have been experienced or understood had she not allowed herself to return to all of her unfelt emotion frozen in sometimes ancient relationships. If she had accepted the pain killers and labels her physicians and psychiatrists had handed her to deal with her problems, she never would have had the profound, spiritual unfoldment and understanding which lay on the other side of her pain.
Another example of how experienced emotion can lead us back to the self can be observed in the case of a man I’ll call Rick. He came to me after having seen a succession of psychologists, psychiatrists, physicians, and other hypnotherapists over a period of ten years to help him reduce a problem which had been labeled sexual compulsive/obsessive disorder. He had seen a behaviorist who taught him to imagine he was indulging in his compulsions just when a policeman or other authority figure entered the picture. This did help in reducing some of his behavior for a short time, but he was still left agitated and seeking some outlet for his agitation. A psychiatrist had prescribed a drug for him, which helped him somewhat by reducing his desire to act out his compulsions, but the drug was expensive and left him feeling very tired. Another hypnotherapist gave him suggestions to help him enter a trance to divert his attention to a pleasant scene whenever he felt his compulsions getting out of control. This helped some of the time.
After our initial interview, it seemed pretty clear to me that all of this behavior was a compensation for a sense of powerlessness. I gently questioned him around this subject and, although the idea he ever felt powerless first seemed utterly impossible to him, he eventually confessed to having felt powerless in his early relationships. Again, we negotiated the defenses to the experience of powerlessness through hypnosis and entered into these early relationships. He entered many different situations and relationships and allowed himself to feel the anguish and shame at the debasing abuse by his early family members. By doing this, he was able to transform his relationship to his sense of powerlessness through fully feeling. He was able to find some peace from his compulsions.
But the most important learning from this process of re-entering into relationship to experience unfelt emotion was, again, the understanding he gained about his relationship to the authentic power of the self. It was not until he allowed himself the full range of emotion he felt in feeling powerless at the hands of others that he was able to see the ways in which he disempowered himself. He did this by separating himself from the experience of his power even as he separated himself from what he perceived to be intolerable emotions. As he was able to restructure his sense of self based on this understanding, he was able to experience the authentic power and courage he had not allowed himself to touch. For he had separated from his power even as he had separated from the intolerable emotions. When he was able to allow himself to bridge this separation by going through the pain of powerlessness, he was able to touch his power again, and his compulsions diminished permanently.
Another example of the way we seek to flush out the feelings we have either refused or been unable to experience in prior relationships can be seen in the relationship between two people I will call Peter and Jane. They came to me seeking help in understanding the fiery dynamics of their relationship through past-life regression. Through one lifetime after another of incompletely experienced emotion, an interesting dynamic emerged. Based on each person’s pool of unexperienced emotion, each had a different, yet utterly complementary set of emotions he or she was seeking to flush out and experience in relationship with the other. The striking complementarity of their issues brought them together and had kept them together, locked in a dance of strife and turmoil they could not find their way out of.
By identifying the underlying patterns from their subconscious through hypnosis, the conscious manifestation of those patterns began to take on a more coherent form. This pointed to the relationship each of them had with their own separate issues of individuation in this incarnation. Jane’s relationship lesson with herself involved learning to trust her connection to herself at a soul level. Peter’s relationship lesson with himself involved learning to have more compassion and less judgment of his anger in order to resolve his deep-seated anger with himself at a soul level. Both were looking for triggers to the experience of the emotions around these core issues in life after life with one another. These triggers could be found in the quotidian tasks of the day, such as shopping, where a simple decision over what to make for dinner took on cosmic weight. The basic pattern underpinning all these day-to-day interactions is as follows:
Jane fears (but unconsciously seeks) connection.
Peter seeks (but unconsciously fears) connection.
Peter establishes a connection.
Jane begins to trust the connection, but feels she has to be in control of the connection in order to continue to trust. She begins to make more and more impossible-to-meet demands to test the connection.
Peter resists the control she is exerting by failing to meet simple promises. This gives him a reason to not only try to re-exert control, but to prove he is right to be angry with himself for having failed to keep his obligation.
This gives Jane a reason not to trust him and an excuse to break the connection.
This gives Peter a reason to vent his anger.
This proves to Jane that connection is dangerous.
This proves to Peter that his anger is unacceptable and so he is unacceptable.
They are both sent back to their opposite corners.
Jane fears (but unconsciously seeks) connection.
Peter seeks (but unconsciously fears) connection.
…Until the next dance begins.
Allowing ourselves to feel is actually a very simple method of resolving many manifestations of imbalance. Sometimes, I think my whole practice is just helping people feel again. The amount of fear we carry with us from relationship to relationship is staggering. Our society has become a massive exodus from this fear: buy this car, wear these clothes, marry this rich guy, and you will be never have to feel anything but happy again. But this diminished acceptance of feeling just compounds the cruelty and abuse we tolerate in our relationships. Because we are blinded to our feeling of distress by following the dictates of material culture, we cannot imagine the level of distress we inflict on others. And so the cycle begins again. We reel from relationship to relationship, hoping and yet fearing that the dynamics of the relationship will finally touch all the feelings we have banished to the subconscious. If we can just learn to allow ourselves to be in the authentic experience of emotion, we can allow the understanding which emerges from it to lead us home to the self.
Our relationship difficulties often spring from seemingly innocuous triggers. These triggers make conscious the material we have purposely made unconscious. This decision was usually made at some point when we determined we could not safely experience the emotions involved in interacting with reality. Yet we know we must eventually bring the fully felt experience back to the self at a soul level in order to glean what can be learned from the process. Relationships serve as exquisite triggers to this information. This is because we must return to any experience again and again until it is understood and integrated. Relationships with others allow us to do this.
It is already difficult enough to perceive what our emotional entanglements with others in present time are trying to reveal to us about ourselves, but the process of entering into the territory of our past relationships and the way they reflect our relationship with ourselves is even more complex. First, it is important to realize that we are not just one aspect of our being. There are many parts of us which are, in fact, at different levels of maturity and understanding. We have all seen the stereotype of the brilliant college professor who perceives and understands theoretical and intellectual complexity with ease but who functions at the level of an embarrassed thirteen-year-old in social situations.
Although most of us can conceive of two spaces simultaneously, we find it hard to imagine two times existing simultaneously. Jung realized that “There are worlds within my mind which cross the boundaries of time and personality.” These are the worlds which we must open to in order to understand our past decisions to feel or not to feel fully. These worlds are contained within the context of relationship. They haunt our current relationships with others and reflect our fundamental relationship with our selves.
But how can we create a path to illuminate these three relationships: our relationship with others in the present as a reflection of the emotional issues with others in the past, which are both reflections of our relationship with ourselves throughout time? I have found that using the paradigm provided by inner child work addresses the way various emotions present themselves in each of these relationships simultaneously.
It is unfortunate that the idea of discovering our inner child has been the butt of so many late-night talk show comedians’ jokes. This is an extremely powerful tool for addressing emotional realities experientially rather than intellectually. There is an enormous difference between understanding an emotion such as anger intellectually, and actually allowing the anger to course through our veins and learn what it has to teach us on emotional and spiritual levels. Inner child work allows this latter understanding to emerge fully. Some schools of Buddhist thought recommend the entry into the images of the wrathful deities through meditation in order to understand deeply the nature of emotions. In hypnotherapy, we must allow ourselves to enter deeply into the relationships where our emotions are frozen. We do this in order to understand what led us there and what can lead us out.
The following is a recreation from notes taken during a regression where the tool of inner child discovery was used to help a fifty year old man. He had come to me because he kept experiencing numbness on his left side which had no organic cause according to the many tests he had undergone at a local hospital. He was also experiencing the breakup of a marriage which had left him completely confused. The most remarkable thing we discovered in exploring the numbness in his body was that he had literally no capacity to feel anything at all in any of his relationships. The idea of experiencing joy meant as little to him as the idea of experiencing fury. It was as if he was missing a whole set of colors in his relationship to the world. There was black and white- awake and sleeping- but nothing else which colored his emotional world. I knew we had to find the way back to feeling through the numbness. After several sessions of pure hypnotic suggestion that it was safe to feel, we had the following session.
At the beginning of the session, he reported that he had not been able to get a particular tune out of his head, but that he could not remember when he had ever heard it. After hypnotic induction, I asked him to keep humming the tune until he received information about it. This information could come either in the form of an image, or sound, or word, or set of words, or just a feeling, or intuition.
C: I see a little boy lying in front of one of those old radio sets.
T: What is he doing?
C: He is listening to music.
T: What is the music like?
C: He is listening to this song in my head.
T: How is he feeling as he listening to the song?
C: It is a sad song.
T: How is he feeling as he listening?
C: Sad, I guess.
T: Where is he feeling this sadness in his body?
C: In his left shoulder.
T: What is that feeling in his left shoulder like? Is it hot or cold? Or tense or loose?
C: It’s tense. It’s hard.
T: How is your shoulder feeling now?
C: Tense and hard.
T: Can you take some breaths into that place in your shoulder, and as you exhale, just allow any sounds or words or images to rise and come out with your breath.
After about 5 minutes of this breathing, a tear appeared on his cheek.
T: What are you experiencing?
C: The little boy is so sad.
T: What is he sad about?
C: He hasn’t eaten in two days. He’s cold. His mother hits him when he complains.
T: What decision does he make about these feelings?
C: Don’t feel. It is just cold. That’s all.
T: I’d like you to go there now to that room where the radio set is. I’d like you to go in as an adult, bringing with you all of the knowledge and experience you have gained in your life and see that little boy lying down in front of the radio. How do you feel when you see him?
C: I feel sad.
T: How do you feel about this little boy?
C: I feel really sorry for him.
T: What would you like to do?
C: I want to keep him warm.
T: What would be the best way to do that?
C: Hug him.
T: So just allowing yourself to put your arms around him and draw him to you. How does he feel as you do this?
There is crying for about five minutes.
T: What do you want to say to him?
C: That it’s okay.
T: What’s okay?
C: It’s okay to feel the sadness.
T: What do you want to tell him about his mother hitting him when he complains?
C: That it’s not okay. That it is not his fault that he is hungry.
T: How does he feel when he hears that?
There is crying for another little while.
C: He feels better.
T: What do you want to tell his mother about hitting him?
C: I can’t talk back to her.
T: Just allow yourself to speak to her now as an adult with all of the knowledge and understanding you have gained from your life. And allow yourself to know that her higher self is present as well as the part of her you already know. What do you want to say to her?
C: It’s not okay.
T: What’s not okay?
C: It’s not okay that she is hitting the boy.
T: How does it make you feel that she is hitting him?
T: Where are you feeling this sense of being mad in your body?
C: My left arm.
T: If that anger in your left arm could speak, what would it say right now?
C: I hate you.
T: Can you say that again?
C: I hate you.
T: Can you say that again, a little louder?
C: I hate you.
T: What else do you want to tell her about this little boy?
C: You hurt him. I hate you for hurting him.
T: How does your mother react when she hears this?
C: She is shocked that I am talking back to her. She is angry.
T: How does she feel when she sees how badly hurt this little boy is.
C: She feels bad.
T: What does she say?
C: I’m sorry.
T: How does that make the little boy feel?
T: What can you see about your mother from this perspective that you could not see as a little boy?
C: She is scared.
T: Scared about what?
C: She is scared that there is no food.
T: How does that affect your understanding of what happened here?
C: It wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t the little boy’s fault.
T: What isn’t her fault?
C: It isn’t her fault that there is no food.
T: What isn’t his fault?
C: That he complained.
T: What do you want to tell this little boy about expressing his feelings?
C: That it is okay to express them. He isn’t bad if he expresses his feelings.
T: How does that make him feel?
The session went on for a bit longer in this vein. These are the lessons he drew from this session:
That he was not alone. He was able to call this child home to the self at a soul level. He was able to allow him to feel the full support that he had to offer the child by coming from another time and space than where the child had been frozen. This allowed him to be there for himself as an adult in his relationship with others in a way which did not require him to “freeze” other people out of his conceptual understanding of the world. It was okay to allow himself to feel. He could allow himself to feel more than just the cold, or numbness. It was safe to express those feelings by allowing his side to “thaw.” Many more feelings came tumbling out of the numbness in later sessions and the numbness began gradually to subside. He was not “bad” for having feelings. This realization was central in helping him approach himself in later sessions. Once the fear of his “badness” was resolved in later sessions, he was able to see how this fear of feeling his badness kept him from feeling anything.
We were also able, in later sessions, to explore how this fear of feeling anything would make him “bad” and how this perception was preventing him from feeling the love he had for his wife. By allowing himself to feel the love and caring he had for this little boy, he was able, in later sessions, to break through to experiencing love for his wife in a way he had not encountered before.
None of these realizations which touched so many aspects of his being could have been made on so many levels at once without the use of the inner child paradigm. The changes he was able to make in his life from the snippet of a tune that this child had heard could never have been affected so quickly or so profoundly without the application of this set of tools.
The importance of understanding ourselves through the lens of relationship becomes even clearer when we consider that these relationships are not limited to the time and space contained within conscious-mind reality. As we expand our knowledge and understanding of other parts of our being, we open ourselves to the information they have to offer us about the nature of the self at a soul level.