“Letter to Barry” by Shane Roberts prologue by Barry Bernfeld

I recently received this email from a long time Primal Patient of mine. I was immediately taken aback by the nuance and seemingly endless permutations of our deepest Primal feelings. This patient’s ruthlessly honest personal inventory detailing the damage done to him and the damage done by him to loved ones and others is heartbreaking. The painful childhood filled with hurt, anger, neglect and abuse, the Primal/Existential horror of what was done to many of us seems to have its mirror image in the scar tissue we may have contributed to in the lives of the people we love. This depth of Primal reality is not for the squeamish or faint of heart.           Barry Bernfeld
Letter to Barry”  by Shane Roberts 

Barry,                                                                                                                                                         This is the worst.

I was reminiscing about how I might have chosen someone who would have
been a caring, nurturing, supportive, partner to me.

Then I pictured all the women and girlfriends I have been with. I
remembered how I had been cruel to all of them and hurt them all. I
thought how this had undermined my opportunity for love.

Then Susan came to mind.

I spent three months dating Heidi in my sophomore year of high school.
She was 6 months older and a junior. Susan was a popular, beautiful,
petite, Jewish girl (reformed, her NY relatives were orthodox), who
made me feel more loved than anyone ever had.

I adored her. I couldn’t imagine life without her. I wanted her
forever.

I grew possessive, frustrated and angry. I hurt her. She left me. It
broke my heart. For years.

So I cried this morning about the lost opportunity with my one true
love.

Then like some deep sea creature, some monster of the deep, broke the
surface of my consciousness.

First all the women I have abused. Then everyone in my life who has
ever suffered.

Any time I might have offered refuge and comfort to a suffering
friend, lover or family member, and didn’t.

Barry I don’t think I would or could ever confess this to anyone but
you.

And I’m not even sure why I’m doing that. I don’t know what it serves.
Some need I have.

It just came rushing in. Anyone who has ever suffered anything like
how I have, if I might have held out a hand, slung my arm around their
shoulder, offered some bit of comfort, some reassurance that they are
not just alone. Alone with their pain.

I aspired to be that person. I certainly held it as an ideal. A
humanitarian approach to my brother and sister fellow travelers. To be
a kind person. A sympathetic person. A generous person.

I just didn’t know how. Just did not have it in me.

I feel like Lenny in Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men”. I don’t want to
hurt nothin’ but if I get excited and confused I squeeze the puppy too
hard and it dies. I don’t mean to kill it.

It’s the worst. It’s the worst pain I’ve ever felt. The worst.

I’ve howled and howled. I don’t know why but it is the worst. Nothing
has ever been worse. Not even the agonies of infancy.

This is definitely the worst.

I find myself posturing against the pain. I have to remind myself to
relax my body and breathe and not posture to grip against the pain.
Weird postures. Weird movements.

I’ve pictured catatonics in mental hospitals for years. They are no
mystery to me at all.

By the time I was ten we lived on one half acre with a horse coral, a
large swimming pool, huge yard, a large home in an affluent
neighborhood of Sacramento, California. Behind our fenced half acre
was a field with a modest shack of a home on it that we did not have
direct access to.

One summer a boy about my age and build (small and skinny) with ring
worm all over his scalp causing hair loss, showed up from the “shack
house” behind us to introduce himself and play. He was dirty and
shabbily dressed (about the way I would have been appeared a year or
two before, on our farm) and seemed lonely and eager for a friend.

I think I was intrigued at first, although somewhat put off by the
ring worm, and we played together the first time we met. I may have
played with him one more time and then he showed up at the window of
our back door one day.

I thought; “Oh god, this creepy kid is going to want to come around
and play with me all the time.” And I could feel his need. I froze in
the doorway of our kitchen staring at him. He waved and stared back. I
just stood and stared. Finally I walked away from the kitchen door,
away from him, and I never saw him again.

I felt ill. Sick inside. One of my worst memories ever. Always. I’ve
never forgotten. I felt like I took a poisoned dagger and just stuck
it straight into that kid’s heart. I knew I might be his only
“friend.” And I wasn’t his friend. I knew he desperately longed for a
friend and might have a hard time finding one.

I was wracked with guilt.

Another time I was walking the mile home from school and I saw three
boys bullying another boy. Pushing him down on the ground.

I thought that wasn’t right. Someone should do something. And I felt
weak and helpless. I should go stop those boys, not let them do that.
But I knew I wasn’t strong enough, or just too cowardly. I never would
have tried to stop them.

Some years later in high school two boys started a fist fight in the
hall. I stood back watching. John , an acquaintance of mine and
star of the varsity football team burst on the scene and broke up the
fight. I thought; “That was the right thing to do. Why didn’t I even
think of doing that?”

These are the incidents that came immediately to mind once I stopped
rolling around the house screaming with the shear agony of such an
awful revelation.

Instead of being a refuge and a comfort to people in my predicament,
suffering, lonely, longing for love, I was another blind self-absorbed
hypnotic, incapable of seeing them, empathizing, recognizing their
suffering, their need for a little comfort, some kindness.

That hurts so much. That hurts more than anything. Nothing compares.
That I just wasn’t there for people who might of cared for me, loved
me, been kind to me, but I drove them away, adding to their load of
Pain.

Oh god that hurts.

I feel so alone. So bad. So radioactive.

This is the worst. So far. This is the worst. I really hope it doesn’t
get worse than this.

Love,
Shane

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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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