November 4, 2002
Accessing Early Trauma
Although I have given some guidelines for accessing feelings (The White Rabbit's Tips on Primal, February 25, 2002), early traumas require special focus.
I used to believe that accessing early trauma was not essential; however, I am finding more and more that present-day problems and patterns are rooted in these formative periods. Although this material does not normally rise for resolution at the beginning of therapy, every issue seems to bear some aspect of its stamp. At the right time, it will be able to be engaged and released.
In the early periods of life (from conception through birth to infancy), the middle and upper brain are not fully formed and do not register information clearly, if at all (see Early Experience, October 21, 2002). Traumatic overload is imprinted, however, within the cellular systems functional at the time - muscles, tissues, organs, and the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). The ANS consists of the spinal cord and brainstem portion of the brain and automatically regulates (without thinking) essential body functions such as heartbeat, breathing, and digestion. It is also the translator of visceral, life-and-death responses.
This is one reason why traumas occurring at this time often have a life-or-death desperation to them. They do not have typical emotional quality and words because the mid and upper brain, which translate emotion and thought, are not fully operational at this time. A human at these stages is more of a primitive animal organism than a typical rational human. At this stage, expression is physical and non-verbal.
Panic attacks, with their aura of life-or-death dread, usually originate from early trauma. So do many homicidal impulses, suicidal impulses, and a host of extreme and unexplainable sensations of terror and discomfort. Psychosomatic symptoms of the body center (heart, lungs, digestion, elimination) are often related to early trauma because these areas are fully operational - and imprintable - during this developmental period.
When awful feelings like these arise, we can either dump them on others, dump them on ourselves - or feel and express them for the sensations that they are. Unfortunately, the fact that these feelings don't have words and aren't accompanied by typical emotions is often confusing. They often arise as compelling urges to move or make sound in unusual ways. There is almost an "ancient intelligence" to them, as if something very important needs to happen.
These old feelings want us to writhe, squirm, twist, turn, bend, curl, kick, stretch, shake, and moan, growl, whimper, squeal, hum, cry, or wail. If we can allow ourselves to follow these urges and witness them with full sensation, the painful feeling-memories stored in our bodies will emerge and release. This ancient process can be very frightening and painful. Support is almost always needed in order to feel and integrate it. Working on this material alone is often disintegrating.
Another peculiar thing about accessing early trauma is that these primals will also involve the whole brain. Even though the traumas are imprinted in the lower brain centers, as adults, re-experiencing activates both the mid and upper brain as it occurs. Often someone experiencing a birth primal will sob with sadness and say things like, "she doesn't want me!" Although a baby can neither express poignant sadness or speak, an adult in the present can. When we feel, for instance, the awful struggle of being born to a distant mother, the other parts of us can express themselves as well. This seems to be a natural, integrative, whole-brain process.
The key to Primal Integration is acceptance of the whole person. If we are tormented by powerful feelings, it is only by avoiding them or acting them out on others that we get into trouble. If we can trust our natural systems and express what our body needs - without judgment - healing can happen.