Healing The Primal Wound With An Empathetic Holding Environment In Adulthood
We are wounded when our social relationships are not empathic, with the greatest effects occurring in childhood when our neurobiology and sociality are founded, our sense of self established.
To protect ourselves from feeling the primal wound, we create a false world and a false self.
The false world is one where goodness resides in some other, higher realm rather than in this one. We may have glimpses through peak experiences of Truth, Beauty, Wholeness, Harmony, Universality and the Oneness of reality, but we presume that this is outside ourselves. We distrust these experiences and instead idealize hem, projecting them onto the past, the future, a person, an idea. It’s much safer to do this than to surrender to the feeling of transcendence and incorporate it into our daily life. Why? Because “moments of surrender and vulnerability in our lives have been traumatic. Our trust was betrayed. Transpersonal surrender reminds us of this deep trauma and terrorizes us (Whitmore, 1991). We pull back to the desperation of staying strong against the feeling of Oneness and also feeling the primal wound. we exist in a self stifling world of addictions (see part 1). We get back to our addictions because they give us a sense of power over our woundedness and our oneness.
The primal wound often sculpts this false self, a survival personality, to hide the deeper experience of emptiness, isolation and worthlessness of the primal wound at the same time. People split themselves and the world into good and evil, moving between the attraction to each pole (see first in series).
Remember that you can imagine different scenarios and change your feelings. Imagine a happy time. How do you feel? A sad time. How do you feel? Notice how you can shift and how you and your experiences are separate. You are in your experiences but also separate from them. This is the I – Self distinction that psychosynthesists postulate. You can overdo one or the other. If you identify with the feeling only, you are overly tuned into the feeling, your egoic self. On the other hand, if you are completely divorced from your feelings and “above it all,” you are overly disassociated. The trick is to stay both in and out of your feelings, to participate in them but not be them. In other words, you are more than your feelings (or your thoughts). You are more than what you identify with, whether a team, an association, a political party, a country. You are a multiplicity of modes or mindsets, with multiple subpersonalites who can operate as persons.
“One can see here a central paradox of “I”—the more we are not immersed in any particular mode of consciousness, the more we can be open to, and enter into, all the many types of human experience. In other words, the more transcendent we know ourselves to be, the more we are capable of immanence.” (Firman & Gila, 1997, p. 61)
W. Ronald D. Fairbairn suggested we never move away from dependence. We were dependent in childhood but we are also dependent in adulthood—we merely shift dependencies. We are always dependent on others but also independent. “The dependent-independent paradox describes the fact that our very existence is totally dependent on a deeper Self. As many traditions say in different ways, the core of human being is no-thingness.” (Firman & Gila, 1997, p. 62). Neuroimaging studies confirm this “no-self” (Singer, 2011).
How do adults heal from the primal wound? Throughout life, we each need to be “held and mirrored” by an empathic outer environment but also inner environment so that our being keeps growing and unfolding towards greater unity (in diversity) of all parts of the self in connection with the cosmic Self. Ideally this occurs in each individual’s life of family and friendships, where one feels seen, understood and cared for. When it does not happen in everyday life, therapists can fill the role of empathic outer environment. Therapists provide empathic holding environment in which we can rediscover our woundedness, accept it and heal it, instead of running from it. Of course, it takes some fortitude to explore the wound, feel the pain and realize that one will not disappear.
“More than does Winnicott, Kohut emphasizes that these crucial empathic connections are not limited to childhood, but allow the unfoldment of a sense of self throughout the entire life span: ‘Self psychology holds that self-selfobject relationships form the essence of psychological life from birth to death, that a move from dependence (symbiosis) to independence (autonomy) in the psychological sphere is no more possible, let alone desirable, than a corresponding move from a life dependent on oxygen to a life independents o fit in the biological sphere’” (Firman & Gila, 1997, p. 47).
“This sacrifice of the ego’s primacy is but a recognition of a fundamental and paradoxical truth—that human spirit is dependent upon an empathic communion with Deeper Spirit, that our free will is dependent on a relationship with a Deeper Will…Jungians speak of encountering the archetypes of the persona (the public personality); the shadow (those contents repressed in forming the ego and persona); and animus/anima (the feminine in the man, the masculine the woman). Archetypes, like self, do not act solely from within the person, but have an external, interpersonal dynamic associated with them.” (Firman & Gila, 1997, p. 41)
The authentic personality is a unique expression of I-amness, in union with cosmic or common Self, shaped by individual differences and environments. To be integrated is not to lose or to play down or to be superior to the subpersonalities. To be integrated is to be more in touch with more of one’s subpersonalities, particularly the ones which have been feared, hated, and denied. And this enlarges the realm of our consciousness” (Rowan, 1990, p. 188). Some suggest that multiplicity is vital for spiritual development (Richards, 1990). Firman and Gila say that differentiation and multiplicity are conserved in healthy personalities.
We can heal our primal wounds but we always carry scars. Sometimes our scars give us insights that help others toward their own self healing.
3 How to Heal the Primal Wound
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