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.
First we’d like to thank Jack for his submission to the blog. Thank you
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