Dr. Ulla Sebastian
From Horse(wo)man to Centaur
Healing the Split between Body, Mind and Soul
Evolution in Identity
A Clinical Presentation for the First Clinical Congress of
European Federation for Bioenergetic Analysis-Psychotherapy about
Body and Identity, May 1995, Rome
Print Version (PDF)
2. The Split Between Body, Mind and Soul
3. Procedures and Techniques of Integration
2.1 The Centaur
2.2 The body mind split as a result of sexual abuse
body functions and establishing boundaries
between Body, Mind and Soul
3.1.1 Separation and individuation as a frame for infant
3.1.2 Space, time and movement as frame of building up a
3.3 The use of symbols and body images as a tool in the therapeutic
3.2.1 Negotiating among the parts
3.2.2 Purifying the body and the energy system
3.2.3 Uniting body and soul
3.4 Making peace with one's life story
4. Cultural Implications
I would like to quote from a letter that I received a few
months after a two-week intensive therapy pro-gramme with a woman whom I
will call Barbara. One of my trainees in Germany had referred her to me.
"Every day I do my exercises on the wall (grounding and
growing feet as a preparation of Reich's orgasm reflex). I even get up
earlier for that purpose. After all kinds of helpful rituals such as stamping,
massaging my feet, grounding in a free stand-ing posture, I usually succeed,
at least for a few minutes, to feel my feet and lower legs and to experience
a grounded flow of en-ergy through my whole body. At the end I stand with
my knees slightly bent, the muscles vibrate and I check through all my body
and ask what organs and muscles would like to get relieved. I then send
the negative energy down through my kidneys into the earth, pull earth energy
up through my kidneys and send it to all those places in my body that badly
...I now understand that I can only take it in small doses
to perceive how numb my body is. It upsets me so easily. Soul and mind
stand there full of ac-tion, the body wants to join in, all three get going,
and then the body looses its mouth. It often can't speak and has forgotten
to feel itself. It feels like a dry sponge. Its neediness shocks mind and
soul, and it costs them a lot of effort to stay with the body. Sometimes
hor-ror just paralyses them; sometimes they just run off.
I bought Mantak Chia's book and practice the microcosmic
orbit and the building of a protective shield around me.
I am amazed how well these exercises serve me. The body
joyfully sucks in the tiniest drop of attention and affection and expresses
his gratitude through hours full of bliss. It feels as if the body acknowledges
every drop of attention with ten litters of bliss. But every time before
I can receive the gift of feeling I have to pass through the desert of numbness.
Today I had a strange experience. I awoke feeling grumpy.
The body felt heavy like lead. I was supposed to get my men-struation,
an event where I usually mutate into a snivelling sissy. There was not the
slightest chance to get feet or arms while I was doing my exercise against
the wall. How frustrating. I had been so proud about my successes so far.
Full of despair I went into the bathroom, darkened everything down, lit
a candle and put my feet into warm water. At least I got two warm feet scaffolds
(before they had been ice cold) but no contact to the rest of the body.
Although my upper and lower legs vibrated, I didn't have any feeling in
my legs. Down there were two warm feet scaf-folds, in between nothing and
up there a completely desperate residue of a body. I cried so deeply, I
felt so unhappy. And sud-denly something astonishing happened. All three
seemed to come together in this sadness, all three felt addressed. Suddenly
all the channels were open, and I could feel a very sad and very anxious
This letter stands for many of the experiences that I have
accompanied dur-ing the last four years. Most of the men and women I have
worked with are part of a spiritual community in the North-East of Scotland,
called the Findhorn Foundation. The Foundation is an educational centre that
helps people to find deeper meaning in their lives. I have been a member
of this Centre for four years, from 1987 - 91, basically developing the programmes
and training work-shop facilitators. In 1991 I started to work again as a
Bioenergetic Analyst doing individual sessions. An important reason for this
shift in my work was the ob-servation that many of the spiritually highly
evolved people actually were not in their bodies. As I started to work with
them, it became clear that many had left their bodies in young age in an
attempt to cope with sexual abuse.
I started to focus on this issue, and I have been working
with hundreds of people during the last four years within the Community
and a growing stream of people coming from all over the world. The Community
provides conditions that allow me to move right into the depth of the
core issues and to change the basic make-up of a person. Most community
members have already done a lot of work in coping with the impli-cations
of their life traumas before they came to the Foundation. They are at
a choice point that usually takes years in therapies to reach. They are
highly motivated and able to work on themselves, and they have a support
network that the therapist usually needs to provide. These conditions enabled
me to work with a broad spectrum of people and to explore and develop some
principles and techniques of how to heal the split between body, mind and
soul. I would like to share those with you. Some are part of the traditional
repertoire of Bioenergetic Analysis, some go beyond.
2. THE SPLIT BETWEEN BODY, MIND AND SOUL
2.1 The Centaur
Before I talk about treatment, let's define the problem.
To start with, let me remind us of the basic Bioenergetic model.
Healthy Humans are unified bodymind entities, symbolically
expressed in the figure of the Centaur. Healthy Humans act from the bottom
of their heart, consider the rational demands of a situation, give emotionally
appropriate re-sponses, feel well and balanced. We can also say that such
people are connected to the universe and grounded in their body, their
sexuality and their relationship to the earth. Such people are self-actualising
people (to use Maslows term), e.g. they find meaning in their life and
fulfil their life's purpose.
2.2 The bodymind split as a result of sexual abuse
Cultural and social conditions in our upbringing as children
usually prevent us from developing this harmonious way of being. There
are many factors that contribute to blocks or splits in our personalities
that have been widely explored in Bioenergetic literature. I would like to
focus on one theme that has been prevalent during the last years: sexual
I am not sure how familiar you are with the implications
of it. To understand the treatment, it is important to be aware of a few
Abuse is an attack on our emotional and physical integrity,
an abandon-ment or even an assassination of the soul. Abuse can range
from an energetically felt invasion into the physical and emotional space
through physical touch, molesta-tion and penetration up to torturous and
sadistic mistreatment. In a few of my cases people were actually not the
victims of abuse themselves but had picked up the abuse of one of their
parents during World War II, or they had witnessed abuse happening to their
siblings. The abusers range from parental figures to relatives to neighbours,
peers or strangers. The victims are mostly women but I have also worked with
a good proportion of men who have been victims of male physical penetration.
It is important to be aware of this spectrum when people come for treatment
with an abuse issue.
If somebody gets personally attacked, either continuously
or during a traumatizing event, the soul copes through withdrawal, freezing
or splitting. The bodymind entity, the centaur, gets split into a horse(wo)man:
the mind, and the horse: the body. The body becomes the object of shame,
especially if it experi-enced plea-sure during the abusive situation. The
mind takes over as a base of identity often riding the body into the ground
out of shame, guilt and punish-ment. The mind may not recognise this self-destructive
behaviour especially if it is supported by culturally accepted patterns
such as smoking, alcohol or medi-cal drug abuse, workaholism and sex or
relationship addiction in an attempt to avoid feeling pain and loneliness.
Life may become a desert as the body remembers the at-tacks
- even if the mind doesn't - and shies away from human contact. One way
to cope with this situation of loneliness is to develop the spiritual side,
especially because in most incidents of sexual abuse the soul has left
the body and is able to move into other realms of existence. Another reason
is that often the infant organism ener-getically takes on the energetic
pattern of the abuser, for example his body ten-sions, emotions and thought
forms. In psychology we call this mechanism 'iden-tification with the aggressor'.
This psychological process has an energetic base. One of the symptoms may
be an overwhelming sense of guilt that's out of pro-portion to the deeds
that the person has done. In the work it often becomes clear that the 'victim'
has taken on the guilt feelings of the abuser. Developing the spiritual
side in this context is an attempt to redeem this guilt.
Another possible outcome is 'sex addiction' as a replay
of the original situa-tion. If we look at sexual abuse from an energetic
point of view, we see that the infant organism gets overstimulated. The
energy of sexual arousal that can be held by a fully developed adult organism
overwhelms the organism of an infant or three year old child. As a result,
it develops a fragile ego. This internal struc-ture is called a 'borderline'
structure in the psychoanalytic literature. The sensa-tion of over-stimulation
gets stored in the memory of the infants/child's body. Because the experience
has been very intense and highly exciting, the body will look for that
pleasure again and will want to replay the over-stimulation. In course
of time, the body can get addicted to this way of discharge of excess en-ergy.
The mind as a moral entity usually does not approve of this type of be-haviour,
sentences the body for seeking pleasure and rejects or punishes the body.
This may be more true for women than men, as men can more easily jus-tify
this behaviour as being successful with the other gender. But it's only
a question of time until men experience similar kinds of frustration or
pain at be-ing used as a sex object if sex addiction is the coping mechanism.
3. PROCEDURES AND TECHNIQUES OF INTEGRATION
There are several steps that are important in clearing
up this situation and to start healing the split. We'll have to mature body
and ego functions and establish boundaries that got invaded during the
abuse. Before the client lets us do that, we often have to prepare the
body as a base of identity through purifying it from the stigma of the abuse.
We need to separate the energy system of the victim from that of the abuser,
and often we need to negotiate with the mind and the soul to accept the body
in its own rights as a base of identity.
Let me start with what's probably familiar to you from
the traditional tools in Bioenergetic Analysis
3.1 Maturing body functions and establishing boundaries
In cases of traumatic events, the infant development gets
arrested at the de-velopmental stage where the trauma occurred. Resulting
deficiencies can effect the general energy level, the body functions or
the psychological structure. An important part of the work is to re-build
what didn't develop properly. This re-education or post-maturation process
requires daily prac-tice to increase the gen-eral energy level, to strengthen
the body, learn self-assertion and boundaries in social interaction and
re-build and re-frame thought forms and perceptions about reality. The
aim is to empower peo-ple to find their own inner rhythm again, to take
charge of their life and to create a satisfactory reality.
There is a broad range of techniques available to do this
work, techniques for containment, early grounding, developing clear boundaries
on a body level and in social contact, and techniques to build up and
strengthen the core. I am not sure how familiar you are with those. I
published material about it in a book called: 'Psychoanalyse und Bioenergetische
Analyse' in 1983 (source: NIBA, Postfach 1422, 32588 Vlotho, Germany).
The key elements got published in 'Energy and Character" under the title:
'Developmental Aspects in Bioenergetic Analysis' some eight years ago.
For the purpose of this presentation, I would like to outline some basic
3.1.1 Separation and individuation as a frame for infant
Infant development, according to Margaret Mahlers' work
about the 'Psychological Birth of the Human Infant' proceeds along two
1. separation as the emergence of the child out of the
2. individuation as the maturation of autonomous ego-functions
such as recognition, perception, memory or the ability to examine reality
This process takes place during the first three years
and requires that the infant differentiates its body scheme from that
of the mother, practices its ego and motor functions and establishes an
object constancy and individuality. The first aspect focuses on social,
the second one on biological processes. Both are inter-related and can
be used for compensating frustrations in the other area. Matura-tion can
be influenced by social conditions in two ways:
1. The deprivation of vital needs can slow down the
development of specific body zones or lead to a chronic contraction of
those zones (for example the joints in the schizoid Character or the shoulder
girdle in the oral character or the long musculature in the rigid one)
2. Certain body functions can prematurely develop to
compensate for social stress. One example would be pre-mature standing as
an attempt to overcome the separation from the mother or to escape an unpleasant
symbiotic relationship with her. The premature standing competes with the
need for locomotion and exploration of the environment, and can effect the
ability to move freely in space or the co-ordination between legs, arms and
As I said, in case of traumas the infant development
gets arrested at the devel-opmental stage where the trauma occurred. The
inhibition or retardation in the maturation of a body function impacts the
maturation of the ego functions. To stay with the above example: Premature
standing leads to an uncertainty in the legs that expresses itself in tensions
in the ankles, stiffness of the knees as an attempt to keep the body erect
and stiffness in the long muscles (depending on the developmental stage
in which the traumatic events occurred). Consequently, the contact with the
ground could not get adequately built up. Because bodily and psychic functions
correspond with each other, it means the Self is 'standing' on insecure ground.
When we understand such maturation processes we can
use this knowledge to help our clients to develop those impeded functions.
We can provide a thera-peutic environment that will encourage the client
to take the space that has been invaded into his own possession. We can
summarise this process into four steps:
1. In contact with the material objects (the wall)
s/he can form her/his own body scheme. This means, s/he needs resistance
in order to feel her/himself, a principle we also use in containment exercises.
Mahler describes the bumping against objects in the practising subphase
as a necessity to strengthen the body boundaries that are necessary for
2. In a second step s/he can use this experience
in separating her/himself from the therapist as a home base as well as
learning how to defend her/his own ego against her/him. There is a broad
range of techniques of how to do that.
In contact with the therapists body the client can
establish the early bonding with the mother. If the therapist allows the
client to grasp for her/him with her/his feet and at the same time to push
her/him away s/he can learn to explore the world and feel supported at
the same time. The therapist can use the playing function of the legs (kicking)
to establish the clients right to care for space around her/him, and to
learn to regulate how close s/he allows others to come into her/his space.
On a symbolic level such an act expresses 'no', a separation from the other
3. In acquiring the ability to crawl the infant can
then move towards the mother as well as away from her, i.e. the child can
influence the distance that it will have with the mother and in this way
learns to regulate the distance that it needs to protect its ego boundaries.
Within the therapeutic process this means that the therapist lets the
client explore and choose the distance that's appropriate for her/him
in any given moment. Another option is to let the client push the therapist
around the room with both sitting back to back. This allows the client
to experience the permission to say 'no' within a playful contact.
4. Finally, the child can experience that it can
rise from a safe ground (the mother as symbolic figure for earth) and stand
at its full height. The ability to stand up straight signifies an important
change in perspective from the horizon-tal to the vertical dimension, that
serves as a strong impulse for the maturation of the ego functions (exploration
and understanding of the environment). The ability to move through space,
to take possession of objects, and to examine the distance from the mother
in an 'equal' position increases the ability to examine reality enormously.
With this comes an enthusiasm for the body that helps the child to overcome
short separations from the mother.
3.1.2 Space, time and movement as frame of building
up a body identity
Separation and individuation take place within a
time-space continuum. Both dimensions are so important for the therapeutic
process that I will outline some aspects in these areas.
In experiencing reliability and continuity, time
gets structured into the body as experience of rhythm, pulsation, tension
and relaxation, being awake and tired, hungry and satisfied, in short as
experience of vital functions. The experience of space requires boundaries
that the child acquires in an ongoing process of dif-ferentiation, passing
from a state of boundless symbiosis, through an intermedi-ate stage of a
neutral inward/outward space to a separation of the inner from the outer world.
Movement is the link between time and space. It includes
space through di-rection, time through tempo. Movement lies at the bottom
of the vital processes of life (pulsation, expansion - contraction, tension
- relaxation). In reaching out, in exploring the environment by crawling
and walking the child makes the envi-ronment its own and establishes in
that way its own inner space in a process of ongoing differentiation of
the ego functions. In claiming their own space, their own territory, humans
define their relationship to others.
Space has to do with three dimensions:
1. the capacity to experience one's body space:
bones, muscles and skin
2. the ability to acknowledge and defend one's
aura or electromagnetic field. In cases of abuse, this field has been invaded
and needs to get re-established
3. the ability to socially interact, to regulate
closeness and distance. The German word for this is 'tact', the same word
that's used for rhythm.
Time has to do with the ability to oversee our
own process, to place our-selves into a larger context, to work for rewards
that lie in the future or to plan long-term projects. Such a long term project
is, for example, the ability to stay in therapy or to follow through with
home work. Abused clients often experi-enced deep frustrations, insecurities
and threats around reliability, safety and continuity. In order to build
up qualities of perseverance, stamina or trust in their own future, the
therapist needs to create a safe, clear and reliable environment or setting.
If a body doesn't feel safe within the time-space
continuum, mobility and motility will be effected. Symptoms may be a lack
of co-ordination between arms, torso and legs in the temper tantrum or
an inhibition to move freely in all directions.
The most effective way that I have come across
to build up and integrate those functions is Reich's Orgasm reflex. The
Orgasm reflex is a movement that's common to all the cultures I have studied.
It is the basic movement in Af-rican or Indonesian Dance, the Spinal Cord
Breathing in the Chinese Healing Tao, the basic position in T'ai chi. It
is the movement of the Centaur, the unified expression of life in a free
body, pulsating in the rhythm of inbreath and outbreath, expansion and contraction,
love and fear, being with myself and being with others - a rhythm that embraces
all aspects of our existence. The flow and balance between inward and outward
movement, inner and outer reality deter-mine the quality of our being.
From that point of view, characters are nothing else but fixed postures
of this movement. An important element that considera-bly speeds up the
process of healing the split is to teach the body that natural pulsation
again. It helps the body to breathe properly, to build up the inner core,
to co-ordinate the functions and to re-integrate body and mind. I will introduce
you to that movement in my workshop associated with this clinical presentation.
Learning and understanding this movement and anchoring
it in their daily life is the daily practice and routine of my clients.
It brings up feelings and memories that need to get worked through but
it also helps them to stay grounded and centred so that they can integrate
the feelings and build up inner strength. The challenge in working with
sexually abused people is to get to the stage where they have the self-discipline
to do the movement daily. Daily prac-tice is a key factor for success.
It provides the continuity to habituate the natural pulsation.
I may have to face a whole range of other problems
before this can be done. One challenge may be that the client does all
the exercises but nobody is at home. In many cases all three parts (body,
mind and soul) have developed a separate identity as was the case with
Barbara, the woman whose letter I read in the beginning. That makes the
body work much less effective, or even impossi-ble when the body work actually
deepens the split. The challenge is how to inte-grate the parts, or at least
make them willing to co-operate.
To meet this challenge, I have been developing
techniques that reach beyond the traditional approach of Bioenergetic Analysis.
They follow certain principles but you as the therapist need to adjust
them to the circumstances of the client. I can only outline the principles
here, point your awareness to the issues involved and leave it to your own
exploration and practice of how to apply the principles to concrete cases.
Let me say in general that you as the therapist should not use any techniques
that you haven't explored profoundly and found yourself capable of doing.
3.2 Co-operation between Body, Mind and Soul
3.2.1 Negotiating among the parts
I will use Barbara as my case example because the
work with her embraces the most important elements of this type of work.
Barbara, 39 years old, came to me for a two-week
intensive therapy programme through one of my trainees in Germany. She
was full of anger and hate towards her father who had sexually abused her
during her puberty, and towards her depressive mother who hadn't protected
her against the father. She had un-dergone a Client-Centred therapy for five
years with the aim of increasing her ability to engage in close relationships.
The incest was not treated in that ther-apy. In a letter she wrote to me:
"At the moment, I am feeling miserable. I desperately
search for my identity. And I want to come home into my body. Every-day
I have to watch how the old Barbara disin-tegrates into many pieces. There
is so much pain in me that I just get numb. Who am I?"
I met a very slim but well proportioned woman
who looked like an 18 year old adolescent. She had been anorectic during
her puberty trying to prevent the development of a female body. She told
me that they (her mind, body and soul) had decided to trust me as the mind
had failed to run Barbara's life in any satis-factory way. Her mind, her
body and soul had de-veloped a separate identity. Her soul had left the body,
the mind was running the show, and the body was more vegetating than living.
I started to negotiate with all three of them
in an attempt to create a new in-ner balance among these three parts and
help them to integrate. I told the mind that had morally sentenced the
body, that the body functions according to the principles of pleasure and
displea-sure and can't be made responsible for the sexual abuse. We negotiated
that the soul and heart would take over the mind's role and lead the "team",
and that the mind would support the soul through its sharp perception in
creating safe situations with others, especially men. We also agreed, that
both: the mind and the soul would nurture the body and support its devel-opment.
The soul agreed to return into the body and to fill it with life again after
we had purified the body.
A successful negotiation is a key factor in establishing
a commitment of the client to her/himself in doing the daily work that's
necessary to heal the split, and in establishing a new balance among the
parts that is a pre-requisite to allow the body to mature.
It actually isn't as easy as it sounds. It's
like a peace-making process between hostile camps that takes some stamina
and expertise in having the parts dialogue with each other. The therapist
is the negotiator who understands the different perspectives and languages
of the parts, acknowledges their gifts and contribu-tions in coping with
an impossible situation and serves as a mediator between them.
There are some elements in the process that can
promote or hinder successful negotiations and co-operation between body,
mind and soul. The most important ones have to do with the body.
3.2.2 Purifying the body and the energy system
The body carries the stigma of the abuse and
is often made responsible for it especially if there was pleasure involved
which, by the way, is the hardest part to look at and admit. The fragile
ego feels often threatened with being over-whelmed by the neediness of the
body or its striving for pleasure. The body therefore is seen as dirty, unreliable
or hostile and needs to be punished or at least kept in chains, especially
if anorexia or bulimia is involved as one of the coping mechanisms. Actually,
all of the about 15 or 16 clients with eating disor-ders I have worked
with had an oral abuse in early infancy in their background story. Oral
abuse means that the baby was forced to suck the penis, and then got invaded
and overwhelmed by the erection. In some cases the movement of the aroused
penis and the sperm nearly suffocated the infant.
One part of the negotiations aims to absolve
the body of all guilt. The first thing I do is to check if the body has
taken on the energetic pattern of the abuser. I ask my client to go into
the body of the abuser, if possible, and experience his muscular tensions,
thoughts and feelings. This may sound impossible for you, and it may surprise
you that nearly all of my clients are able to do that, often to their own
surprise. It's not so surprising anymore if you remember that part of the
survival tool kit is a highly developed sensitivity to the energy of the abuser,
and weak body boundaries. Most of the people with a background of abuse ori-ented
themselves through an intuitive knowing when they were in danger. They have
been able to 'read' the moods and intentions of the adults, and we can use
this ability in the therapeutic process.
I ask my clients to imagine a figure 8 and to
move the two circles into a com-fortable distance from each other. This
procedure indicates to me if the inner differentiation has reached a point
where the client can see the 'other' as an en-tity separate from her/him.
If the two circles stay attached or even move into each other, the following
procedure is not appropriate. The client needs to build up more of her/his
inner structure before the following very powerful advanced techniques
will benefit her/him.
If the clients can separate the two circles of
the figure 8, I ask them to create clear boundaries around the circles and
to place the abuser and themselves each into one of them. I ask them to give
the whole pattern (body tensions, feelings, thoughts) a shape and to give
that shape back to the circle of the abuser. If it works, they experience
a substantial relief in themselves but also a loss of iden-tity as the
structure of the abuser has become an integral part of their own en-ergy
system. Taking out this structure is like a severe operation and leaves
the client feeling physically exhausted and in need of a time of recovery
after such a session.
The underlying principle of this work is that
I can't take anything out of the energy structure of the person without
replacing it. The substitute is a symbol of a pure good energy. Depending
on the situation, this symbol may come from an inner good figure (a parent
or an inner guide) or the abuser himself.
In case of a malignant abuse I use the inner
guide who takes over the protec-tive function of the super-ego without the
criticising aspect of it. It's a parental figure who loves the client unconditionally
and supports him out of this spirit.
If the abuser has been the father, there is often
a love connection between the father and the daughter. In these cases, the
father crossed the boundaries out of love. The outcome of that type of abuse
differs from the implications of sadistic torture. In these cases I ask the
client to ask the father for a gift of the pure in-tention of the love he
wasn't able to give out of his own human limitations. I ask the client to
let this gift enter her body and to fill it. This is usually a deeply emotional
moment as the client receives from the 'inner' (introjected) father the love
she has striven for all her life. It frees her from the thought form that
she has to pay with sex for the love she wants. I then ask her to give him
a gift of her understanding as giving and taking needs to stay in balance.
I explain to her that the old pattern still holds a lot of power, and that
she needs to repeat the integra-tion of the symbol into her body every day
for the next weeks. In this way she makes sure that the new information gets
strong enough to replace the old pat-tern.
I then check what's left in her own energy system
as a result of the trauma, and usually choose a symbolic bath to purify
the body from all guilt. Having done this, mind and soul are usually then
willing to accept the body as an equal part in the negotiations.
3.2.3 Uniting body and soul
The next step is to ask the soul to return into
the body. I do this in a symbolic way. I ask the soul to take on shape
and to enter the body, and then I make sure that its energy is filling
all parts of it. This can take considerable time because very often the
whole body or parts of it have gone numb.
Barbara for example had several abdominal operations
removing cysts and separating the womb and the intestines that had grown
together. At 35, she had an ectopic pregnancy. The belly was a wounded area,
and it took some time and effort to bring some vibration and sensation back
into this part. The other prob-lem was that she couldn't get any sense of
her feet and lower legs. It took a few more months to connect the feet with
The next step are agreements about how to nurture
and re-build the body. In case of eating disorders, this involves very
concrete steps about how to deal with food. On an inner level, I use the
"inner smile', a technique that stems from Mantak Chias Healing Tao and
aims at bringing relaxation, warmth and a strengthening energy into all
parts of the body.
3.3 The use of symbols and body images as a tool in the therapeutic
At different parts in the text I referred to
the use of symbols and body im-ages. From a developmental point of view,
body images are an important bridge in building up a body identity. If the
body gets severely invaded, people leave their body as a survival mechanism.
One expression of it is an escape into fan-tasy, an escape into the world
of the mind. Fantasy products are not related to the reality of the body
while body images or body symbols capture the essence of a bodily function
or a bodily expression. Using them helps the person to get in touch with the
body as a base of identity.
I use symbols and body images on the level of
the body, the mind and the spirit.
1. On a body level, I ask the person to give
shape to parts of the body to help them to get in touch with them. For
many women it is difficult to bring energy into the pelvic area. They often
picture the pelvis as a black cave. In such a case I ask them to take a
(symbolic) torch and to start to explore this cave so that we can find
the story that's hidden in the dark. I use (imaginative) pipes to help
the energy move through blocked joints. I ask body pains and aches to take
shape so that we can explore the gift of them and substitute the pains through
a more mature expression of their meaning. A common example are headaches.
Their gift is often the permission to withdraw. I interpret the mechanism
in a positive way and affirm the client's right to have space, or to choose
their own timing for communication or sex. On the body level I show them
techniques that strengthen their 'no' and give them an assertive, nurturing
inner guide that sup-ports the inner (psychic) structure in its right of
2. The inner guide or the round table of inner
guides is a highly successful technique on the mental level to build up
inner strength and a sense of identity that embraces body as well as ego
functions in an integrated way. Inner guides replace the critical, judgmental
'super-ego'. They are a kind of inner parent that supports the client in
an unconditionally loving way and teaches them how to love themselves.
Those inner guides are linked to the core of positive human values that
replace the confused programmes and values that our culture passes on to
3. In the beginning of the session I ask the
client to let her/his higher self take shape. The higher self is a bridge
between the soul and the mind, an expression of the true self or the core
of each person. Working with the higher self of the client encourages
her/him to take responsibility for his/her own healing process. Our own
inner core has the information of how we may best proceed in healing the
split between body, mind and soul. In asking the higher self to take shape
I express my willingness as a therapist to explore together with the client
his/her own unique way of healing and to offer my knowledge and expertise
as a serv-ice to his core. In co-operation with the higher self I receive
the necessary in-formation about how to guide the therapeutic process, or
how to apply the basic principles that I have outlined above.
3.4 Making peace with one's life story
The building up of this integrated identity
may take several years depending on the severity of the distortions. We
need to have a certain strength before we can really look at our life story
and release and integrate the feelings, pains and limitations that we had
to face as a result of it. If we go deep enough and work long enough, we
reach a point that I call a 'choice point'.
Barbara had reached such a point in her life
when she came to see me. I told her that she could choose to keep attached
to her parents through anger and hate, or use the energy that was bound
in these feelings to strengthen her own inner core and build up her boundaries
and her own life. I helped her to see clearly the damage that had happened
to her life through these events but also to see that her inner goodness,
beauty and light and not her "badness" had drawn these events to her.
She understood that she had the choice to stay miserable or to turn those
weaknesses and deficiencies into inner strength, using her experience
to help others to cope with similar situations. She chose the latter.
So we went onto a journey together into the
memory bank of her body to see clearly the situation as it was and understand
the predica-ment and role of each participant in that event. The child
inter-prets the happenings according to its mental capacities and emotional
dependency of the time of the events. As adults, especially after some
years of therapy, we become more able to accept our limitations as human
beings. In as much as we develop understanding and com-passion for our
own limitations can we accept that parents are not perfect, either, especially
if the abuse happened out of love and not sadism. At that point we can make
peace with our life story and use the intensity or our feelings to build
up our own life. Barbara chose that step into freedom, and saw herself in
an inner image as a round, full woman. After some struggle she was able
to let that image fill her body.
When she left after two weeks, she felt that
the abuse was healed but she was also aware that it would take many more
months to rebuild the structure on all levels. She had agreed to do the
work, and has worked since then many hours daily. Her letter gives testimony
to the work that still needs to be done. What's important though is that
she has all her energy available to do the re-structuring work, and when
I visited her therapist for supervision, she felt alive, had explored a
new relationship and made new friends.
4. CULTURAL IMPLICATIONS
Let me finish with some cultural implications.
The people I have been working with during the last four years come from
many cultures, and I can often see how their life story is interwoven with
a long chain of the same family history and cultural patterns. In changing
their own life programmes they interrupt that chain of abusive or oppressive
behaviour and can start a chain of mutual respect, joy and fulfilment in
their interactions with friends, life partners and children. I personally
believe that we in the West have the economic condi-tions and freedom to
change victim situations with all their implications, into psychological
strength. This is a privilege that includes the soul obligation to make our
own lives so fulfilled that we can share our riches out of abundance with
those who are in need. I hope that my presentation contributes to this goal.