Page 2 Cure by Jack Waddington

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Cure by Jack Waddington ( with response by Barry Bernfeld)

My take on the “Cure” for Neurosis

I felt the need to write a blog article in the hope that I can make clear my
feelings about what Primal Therapy is, and what it is capable of achieving.
There seems to be a notion out there that this therapy puts one into a state
of perpetual happiness, or at least contentment. This has not been my
experience. Simply put, all one is likely to get out of it is the
eradication of neurosis that affects our daily being.

What exactly is “cured”
1) Even when we are aware that we are acting out our unmet needs , those based in childhood, and despite this awareness we are compelled to act out anyway, past need will always trump will-power or good intentions.
2) Forever acting out our needs, projecting those needs onto others, even when we know we are, AND in fact don’t like that we are acting out those needs our compulsions make it all but impossible to stop.
3) Our natural immune system is over burdened and depleted. As a result we
are vulnerable and more susceptible to the ravages of disease (dis-ease).

Since Janov defined neurosis as the pathology of feeling there is the need
to know quite what is meant by a full feeling experience. According to
Janov there are two components involved in a  complete or full feeling and the first is the sensation and the other is the expression of that feeling. One simple
example is being pricked by a pin. The sensation (pin prick); the normal
expression for that sensation is “ouch”.

What neurosis does is quash (repress) the expression of the sensation. Our
most basic nature is perverted by countless childhood experiences until we
no longer say “ouch” when hurt.

It was the parenting process that tended to impress on children that they
should be seen and not heard. In other words don’t express these feelings,
especially crying or complaining. In fact, don’t even look sad or upset.
Real need and it’s expression are not permitted. Punishment or at best
distractions (TV, computer games, food) may be offered in its place.

Possibly this was a result of the parents/caregivers themselves being
overwhelmed  by their own old feelings (their own neurosis) that caused them
to do their utmost to prevent the natural and normal expression of feelings in children, particularly in baby-hood.

How all this came about in the very first place is a matter of conjecture.
I personally don’t feel humans were always so neurotic. It happened somewhere
along the way. I conjecture some 20 to 30 millennium ago. How and when I
know not, but there was a suggestion by a Cambridge professor of
Anthropology that as our species evolved into larger and larger communities,
basic neurotic changes in human nature began to develop.

Change is not easy. History teaches us that education or negative
consequences is not enough. Breaking the chains of neurosis must begin with
meeting children/peoples real needs. Unhappy, repressed parents will always
hurt their children despite love and good intentions. So on and on it goes.
Primal access to oneself is the only answer in my view.

What prompted me to write this article was that a Primal patient I know
suggested to me that there was no such thing as “cure” . I disagreed,
but upon reflection, I felt the need to define “cure” as i saw it. To sum it up …. The cure for neurosis is NOT the cure for all our ills.

Jack Waddington

Barry’s response…
First we’d like to thank Jack for his submission to the blog. Thank you
Jack.
Jack has been a tireless advocate of Primal Theory/therapy for longer than
any of us can remember. Your energy and enthusiasm is appreciated. I do have
a few comments and points I’d like to add to your article, so here goes:
I’m not sure the public notion about Primal Therapy is that it puts one into
a state of perpetual bliss or happiness. However, I get your point. Art
Janov’s Primal Scream, his first published work, written as it was in the
late 1960’s, does hint that after therapy, one might sit around while blissfully
listening to music rather than climbing the corporate ladder for instance . Maybe, but this was the 60’s and part of the cultural zeitgeist. I think we can forgive Dr. Janov for a little utopian wistfulness. There was also the fact that the first book was written almost as a diary of events unfolding and clearly much has been learned over these many years. I think our biggest problem in defining this therapy might be
that so many people think childhood experience or pain is passé. There has
been progress, but as a culture, and in psychology itself, the profound
impact of early life experience continues to be underappreciated. Jack’s
comments about acting ,out unmet need despite our intentions or awareness is
indeed one of the foundations of Primal Theory. Also, that the metabolic
cost of repressed pain overburdens our immune system (and all systems) and
ages us prematurely as it makes us vulnerable to disease. How we as a species become “neurotic” is a fascinating question and the growing field of evolutionary psychology will hopefully shed light on this issue. My own thoughts on this is that our capacity to postpone our reactions to pain, danger, and the unknown may have been the very thing that allowed us to reach the top of the food chain. Our larger brain allowed us to think, feel, and behave in several, sometimes conflicted, ways at once. Useful for survival in a dangerous world. Why do we store childhood pain? Why encode trauma within our bodies and minds? Again,the ability to postpone reacting/experience is an important tool in the survival toolbox. If a lion is chasing you, you don’t sit down and have a good cry. YOU RUN! Later, back at the cave with your loving family, you tell
them about the lion and  then you have a good cry! Storage of pain implies
retrieval. Why store pain (or anything) if not because it has value ? We
store pain (trauma) because it is either too big to experience and/or it is
not yet safe to feel or process a particular experience.  Primal Therapy is about creating that safety in my opinion. The safety to retrieve stored pain and reduce the metabolic burden of repression  while gaining access to our personal histories is part of our species DNA, our ability to postpone reacting to pain and danger  until
safe retrieval and experiencing it is truly possible . Still with the handy skill known as repression we may still pay a serious price. One that lasts a lifetime if not properly addressed.
As Jack clearly states there is a “cure” for neurosis i.e.: waiting until
it is safe and finally saying ouch! A disease of feeling, no more, no less. Once our feeling capacity is restored or on the mend, we do not find the Garden of Eden. Our painful  histories coupled with an often brutal and insensitive world  can make life not always easy and certainly not always blissful. I still believe that despite any difficulty acsess to our feelings and a chance at resolution is our best hope for finding both health and happiness. Love, intimacy,friendship, sex, laughter, pizza, rock n roll, beaches, pizza, yes again, make life worth living .

Barry M. Bernfeld,
Los Angeles 2016

 

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Remembering Summer part 5

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Remembering Summer part 4

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Remembering Summer

Perhaps it’s selective amnesia, but I cannot recall a Retreat that hasn’t been a unique and valuable therapeutic experience. However, recently I have found myself reflecting on my experience at our last summer Retreat, which for me, stands out even among the great ones of recent years.

As is often the case, we had an interesting mixture of attendees, patients from all over the world, from Australia to Japan, Europe and the USA. Ages ranged from 21 years old to patients in their 70’s, across the entire diagnostic spectrum. Primal Therapy has always attracted a broad range of individuals from all cultures and backgrounds. The unifying bond is the recognition that repressed feelings from childhood have had a major impact in their lives and that “Primal Consciousness” offers a roadmap back to themselves, a way to reconnect to the person they once were and can become again if they can learn to trust the wisdom of their deepest feelings.

In the history of human affairs, psychotherapy and Primal Therapy in particular, hold a unique position. The mission statement of Primal Therapy is to create a relationship and an environment of freedom and safety. To stimulate, articulate, feel, express, resolve and integrate our deepest feelings and losses, from past to present. To restore brain, neurological, hormonal, and behavioral balance in the service of living fuller lives, to tolerate the risks and perils of experiencing “now” through full attachment to the people in our lives. To live without pretense.

It is uniquely gratifying to witness at Retreats, experienced patients “mentor” newer patients in a very organic, informal way. No one is trying to mentor anyone, but mentoring and education via insight and kindness happens all the time. To see some of the newer patients be vulnerable and open up to intense emotion, perhaps for the first time, is powerfully dramatic and speaks to the atmosphere of safety and acceptance that is special within the Primal community. After all these years, I am still in awe of the impact of the 3-week intensive program and the Retreats, and the ways in which they can change lives. So, hats off, and a hearty “well done!” to everyone who attended.

I know very well that emotions are ephemeral; this is what makes us uniquely human. The good times never last, but thank goodness, the bad times too, ebb and flow and eventually give way to better times. Such is life. I accept this personally and professionally. Most of us have some ability to viscerally recall past feelings states. In fact, if you think about it, that’s a damn good explanation of therapy… connecting to previous feeling states . Primal people, in particular, cultivate this ability to access previous feeling states. In therapy we learn to do this, get better at this, outsmart defenses and allow grief. We call this “being open and less defended.” I’ve always thought that dialectically speaking, feeling pain should lead naturally to greater commensurate ability to feel non-painful emotions like joy, happiness, playfulness, calmness, gratitude and generosity to name just a few. I still believe this, but may have discovered a little speed bump, or hiccup that complicates our journey to mental health.

I’ve been curious for years why certain patients attend many Retreats, always do well and retain the visceral ability to recall how they felt while at the Retreat. They seem to be able to access the feeling of being at a Retreat and can retain this feeling with little difficulty. They may have a greater ability to use their Retreat experience and insight as they move forward in their lives following the Retreat. When the next Retreat comes along, time and circumstance permitting, they often choose to attend. But there is another category of patient that despite previous and profoundly important experiences and breakthroughs at Retreats, do not attend Retreats or do but very infrequently. Reactions range from disinterest to repugnance and hostility to the very idea of attending yet another Retreat.

I have often felt like the unwelcome Jehovah’s Witness knocking on doors just trying to discuss or encourage these patients to consider another Retreat. We have tried all possible ways to encourage some people including financial scholarships and often this is still insufficient to overcome their particular type of amnesia. Is it possible that some form of repression or affective amnesia prevents these patients from being able to retrieve the emotional progress of past experience, to reconnect with past experiences of well, connection? Experientially, neurologically, we are better calibrated to feeling painful emotions, so is it possible that important “positive” experiences are crowded out by grief ? I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s just run of the mill resistance to change and the general tendency to cling to the familiar. Maybe it is the obvious fear of intimacy or a resistance to dealing with the feelings triggered while navigating relationships. Regardless, it is curious that despite important, powerfully emotional and life affirming experiences, some patients are reluctant to put themselves back into that environments. Again, I want to stress that this is not due to lack of time or of financial obstacles. Curious indeed.

Life and research teach us that we learn by doing. The more we do, the better we learn. Any task, skill or capacity is best served by as much practice and repetition as possible. Play a “G” chord on the piano over and over and over, until your hand via muscle memory effortlessly forms that shape. Repeat for years and for other chords shapes and a piano player you will be.

Our nervous system can be calibrated for pain, better known as childhood, or with help, guidance, and a little luck, recalibrated to include pains counterpoints… love, joy, attachment and happiness. Sometimes the piano comes to us, but more often we have to make considerable effort. We have to decide we want to play music, buy a piano and most importantly, prioritize our lives to include sitting on that bench and making music. Over time, we become capable of new musical skills and the horizon is wide open.

Therapy itself involves a retraining of our capacities. Through access to our history we come to live in the moment and a less painful future becomes a realistic option. It seems foolish not to take advantage of one of our most potent Primal interventions – the Retreats.
The weeklong residential, total environment comes closest to matching the impact of our early lives with our families. As children, our families, our needs, our pain was 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The total immersion of the Retreat environment facilitates a depth of experience and access and intensity not available or possible anywhere I know of.

So please, next time we decide to organize a Retreat, don’t make me feel like I’m selling vacation rentals in Chernobyl! Man up or Woman up! And recalibrate your nervous system to include intimacy, fun, human connection, and emotional transparency. The ability to sleep on a mattress manufactured in 1923 is but one of the many benefits just waiting for you.

Barry

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