Rhawn Joseph, Ph.D.
REPETITION, SELF FULFILLING PROPHECIES, REJECTION, DREAMING, & THE SEEKING OF FAILURE
LEARNING TO BE WHO WE ARE: THE POWER OF NAMES
When a child first learns his name he also acquires the ability to think and conceptualize himself in symbolic terms, as an abstract entity. By use of this linguistic symbol both he and others are able to refer to him and to think about him. Indeed, as the name is repeatedly applied the child begins to conceptualize that he and his name are one and the same, much in the same manner than the term "mommy" and the child's mother are in fact one and the same, at least in the abstract.
When the child hears and begins to use his own name the image of the Self becomes more firmly established and specific characteristics, also in the abstract, begin to be realized and applied to the developing self-concept. The child thus develops not only a visual, tactual, and emotional image of the self, but a verbal one as well.
Most of us were probably told at one time or another that "sticks and stones will break our bones but names will never hurt us." Most of us also knew that this just wasn't true. Children learn that certain names applied to them by their parents, siblings, or even neighborhood children can indeed hurt and leave tremendous scars on the psyche. "Stupid," "Idiot," "Pig," "ugly," "fatso," "asshole," "clumsy," "Good for nothing," "failure," etc., all leave their imprint.
Children learn who they are by the names that are applied to them and in the manner they are treated. Names, however, are initially applied by others. It is thus via the manner in which others interact with us that we begin to learn who we are and if what we are is good, bad, inferior, or superior.
We all require association with others as a mean of self discovery. We apply the names that others apply to us and begin to see ourselves as others describe us. Indeed, even in the privacy of our rooms we can easily visualize how we might appear to an outside observer. Our parents, our siblings, other children, and then later our friends and then our lovers become mirrors which reflect us. As we ponder ourselves in their eyes we learn to see who we are.
If mother tells us that our performance is "good" and "wonderful" then we are good and wonderful. If at 3 years old we are repeatedly told that we are strong and brave, we believe it and begin to live up to what we have been told, even if, in fact, we are not strong and brave, but merely like every other 3 year old.
We also learn who we are by comparison, via association and through our interaction with others. If in the first grade during gym we can run faster than our classmates (and this is verified by the comments of others) then via comparison we begin to decide who we are and how good we are; i.e. the fastest or slowest kid in the 1st grade; and this can in turn become a source of pride or shame.
Pride or shame, however, again requires interaction and association with others. One cannot feel shame or pride except in relation to others. We imagine how they think of us, what they think of us, and then begin to feel accordingly.
Take for instance a young adolescent masturbating in the privacy of his bedroom. He is neither thinking about what he is doing or judging it (although he may be imagining that he is doing something to someone else). At that moment he does not feel shame or guilt, just the pleasure of his self-manipulation. Suddenly his bedroom door swings open and his mother walks in. A look of disgust crosses her face. He has been seen touching his own body and enjoying it. Good heavens! How could he do such a thing? What a disappointment! What a pervert! How completely abnormal!
Immediately our young man feels guilt and shame, for now he sees himself in the eyes of another. Recognizing what his mother is probably thinking, he now applies these labels to himself, feels shame, guilt and embarrassment, and then later promises some deity, (or whomever) that he will never touch his own body again.
Vicki is riding her bicycle across the campus quad when turning a corner she loses control and falls to the ground. Immediately she feels like a fool and an idiot and is overcome with embarrassment. Sheepishly she gets up and to her surprise discovers that there is no one around. No one saw her fall. Immediately her feelings of self-reproach vanish. She rides away vowing to be more careful and no longer feels foolish or embarrassed because no one saw her.
Nevertheless, if Vicki in fact had a poor self-image to begin with and had been told by significant others that she was a "klutz" or "foolish" then she would probably have continued to feel foolish for falling and would probably visualize how her mother or father, or brother, or boyfriend would have viewed her on the ground. Moreover, needing to verify this self-image, Vicki would probably have felt compelled to tell her friends, boyfriend, siblings, or parents, about how she "stupidly" fell off her bike. She would do this because she would need to have her self-image updated and maintained by the reaction of others who would then verify and confirm her poor self-concept.
MAINTAINING AN INACCURATE SELF-IMAGE
Trying to win the good opinion of others so that a good and healthy self-image may be established or maintained seems rather natural. Surprisingly, some people have a bad self-image and seek to have that verified, reconfirmed and maintained as well. This is true even if the bad self-image is inaccurate.
In this regard, most people do not require an accurate self-image, but an image that is familiar. One with which they feel comfortable.
If Vicki, having been raised to believe she is foolish and clumsy, began to get feedback that did not fit this image, she would be surprised, unbelieving, and uncomfortable; because she would know (i.e. believe) that this positive feedback was inaccurate. Indeed, if her friends began to comment on how well she rode a bike, or how quickly she solved a problem and thus how smart she was, she might feel compelled to set them straight and might even argue with them. "No. It was only luck." If they persisted on complimenting her, she might even begin to avoid them and instead try to form friends with others whom she might feel more comfortable.
If Vicki felt badly about herself, then she would need to associate with people who would treat her badly, or, at a minimum., allow her to maintain her poor self image without challenge. If she had been rejected or made to feel guilty or inadequate as a child, she would later seek out friends and boyfriends who would make her feel likewise. The manner in which they treat her will enable her to maintain her self image; even if it were inaccurate.
THE CONSCIOUS VS UNCONSCIOUS SELF IMAGE.
Very young children tend to view their parents as powerful sources of love and security, and as mirrors of their true self. If mommy says I am "bad," then "I must be bad." If mommy and daddy treat me badly then I must deserve it. If "I" feel bad, then I must be "bad." If being treated badly becomes a normal part of life, children so raised will then unconsciously learn to expect to be treated badly by others even though consciously they may absolutely hate what is happening. Being bad and treated as such is part of their self-image and it needs to be maintained. Even when treated well they may "read between the lines" and see badness where there is none.
Conversely, those who are given love and respect as children will tend to believe they deserve love and will seek it out. If as an adult they are treated poorly this will seem unfamiliar and they will avoid those who behave in this fashion. It will not fit with their conscious or unconscious self-image. People who have a healthy unconscious self-image are thus able to marshal both conscious and unconscious resources so as to thwart and avoid the bad treatment or obvious misfortunes looming their way. Those with an unhealthy unconscious or conscious self-image are less likely to resist as they "halfway" expect for things to go wrong, for relationships to sour, or to be treated badly. When this occurs their unconscious, in the form of the Child and Parent actually conspires against them. Unconsciously they do not resist because what happens to them is perceived as familiar, normal and thus tolerable.
BLAMING ONE'S SELF AND SEEING REJECTION WHERE THERE IS NONE
Rejection can take many forms, and people who are severely rejected in childhood by their parents, siblings or other children, or who observe their parents frequently fight and argue (even if the don't lash out at the child) may in addition to feeling quite badly also feel bitter, hostile, and quite angry; feelings which they may turn back onto themselves. Underlying it all, however, is the fact that they are very sensitive, and may be easily hurt. Sometimes they turn the anger on themselves and become depressed.
There are many individuals who are plagued by an unconscious feeling that they are different, not liked, that others see them as flawed or undesirable, and that given the chance, others will reject and hurt them. Indeed, these feelings are so pervasive that almost every interaction, every comment may be scrutinized for slights, rebuffs and rejection. This occurs consciously and unconscious and the comments and actions of others need not be rejecting for often they will be interpreted in this manner and responded to as such. They will see rejection, or racism, or sexism, where there is none because this is part of their self-image and it must be maintained.
Brenda was often ridiculed by her parents, particularly her mother who would frequently withhold love and approval, and who would call her daughter terrible names if she disappointed her in some fashion, particularly in regard to areas of fashion, manners, and "good taste." Her mother, being a very vain and beautiful woman also expected her daughter to look similar and she would often supervise and criticize her daughter if she did not dress appropriately or look her best.
Since her mother was also extremely competitive, Brenda always came up short in so far as her mother was concerned and this was communicated either verbally or by looks, gestures, or tone of voice. Of course Brenda was always hurt by this treatment.
Later as an adult Brenda was also feel easily hurt. If a friend gave her a compliment she would reject it in a off handed manner. However, if the same friend made a helpful suggestion she would take it as rejection and would become terribly hurt and then angry.
Later, after she married, one of her husband's main complaints was that living with her was "like being on pins and needles. You have to watch every thing you say because you never know what's going to set her off."
In this regard, the Unconscious child not only suspiciously searches for rejection, but demands rejection and will create rejecting situations even where none exists. It may do this by being overly demanding of love and reassurance, or by behaving in a promiscuous, self-destructive, rejecting, cynical, hostile, irritable, accusatory, or down right mean and nasty manner. Sometimes, however, the person will treat himself in this manner and then feel very depressed. In any case, his relationships will suffer and his marriages will tend to be rocky and unstable.
FEAR OF SUCCESS & THE SEEKING OF FAILURE
THE SCAPEGOAT. Being unable to recognize the unconscious origins and their own responsibility for their own unhappiness and misery, members of a dysfunctional family often choose the weakest member of the family as a scapegoat. This is usually one of the children, or it may be one of the parents if he or she possesses an obvious undeniable flaw. Nevertheless, family members often come to believe that their problems are caused by this particular individual and then treat him or her miserably.
Children raised by rejecting, abusive, or neglectful parents tend to feel awful about themselves and may even blame themselves for the treatment they received or the fighting they observed (even if they themselves were not actually victimized). However, rejection during childhood and infancy often has nothing to do with the child but has everything to do with the mother and father. Of course, the parents may have also been treated badly when they were small. So who is to blame?
The mother is of primary importance in the nurturance and development of a small child because first and foremost, a tremendous biological, physical and emotional bond has already been in formation since conception. To sever or attempt to weaken these bonds can only lead to initial feelings of insecurity and confusion on the part of the infant. Although dads and others can make good surrogates and substitutes, the bond to the mother remains primary because it was there first.
In consequence, due to this bond which in turn becomes strengthened during the first year of life, mothers thus exert tremendous influences such that feelings of rejection and inadequacy often stem from her reactions. For example, some women although desperately desiring a baby, once they have it begin to resent it for preventing them from sleeping at night, going out and having fun or any possible ruinous effects the pregnancy and birth had on her body. It may also be seen as a burden due to the care that it requires. Of course, some of these are realistic and quite normal feelings; that is, so long as they do not come to dominate the mothers interaction with her child. Although a mother may not put these feelings into words, they are nevertheless expressed via body language and vocal tone, particularly if she feels this way quite often.
In some cases a mother may have desired a beautiful baby and instead got a plain if not ugly child and then unconsciously rejects it. In other cases, a mother may hate or dislike her husband and unconsciously transfer these feelings to the child who is both a product of him and reminds her of him.
Some women (like some men) do not like to be touched, hugged, or cuddled. Although not intending to be rejecting (and although they may actually love their child very much), this feeling of aversion is communicated via the right half of their brain. As such, the child responds accordingly due to its own right brain perceptual capabilities.
Some children, however, do not like to be touched, or they have suffered an abnormality within the limbic system and cannot respond appropriately. Unfortunately, if paired with a non cuddler mom, the touching and social stimulation they receive will be quite minimal. In consequence, related social abilities whither and the child as an adult can become a friendless, withdrawn loner. In extreme cases they can become socially and emotionally quite abnormal (due to atrophy within certain limbic nuclei as a consequence of deprivation).
Fathers too, however, exert tremendous influences on the young child and infant. A man may resent the birth of a baby because up until then he was the number one kid and now he has a competitor. If he has a son and the son is not particularly athletic or bright, the father may see this as a reflection of himself (of his own inadequacies) and may torment, ridicule, or otherwise emotionally abuse the child. Moreover, his own fun may now be curtailed and he may resent the financial burden the child places on the family. Consciously or unconsciously, verbally or non-verbally these feelings will be conveyed to the child who will then feel rejected.
However, in assessing blame one needs to look at a variety of situational variables. These parents may have been abused by their parents who may also have been abused. Or, these parents may have suffered a severe illness, financial disaster, been fired from a boss who was truly an "asshole" and be unemployed for a long time, etc., all of which cause an extreme amount of stress affecting everyone in the family. Although it is not right, often the weakest member of a family becomes a scapegoat.
On the other hand, sometimes the strongest child willingly becomes the scapegoat in order to fix the family and because he perceives than no one else is able, willing, or deserving of this role. He may become overly good and try to attend to the families needs, or overly bad so as to take the pressure off the family and thus diminish the uncontrolled uproar of their households. Such children feel if they do not become overly good or overly bad the entire family will fall apart and this possibility is more horrible than their own abuse, neglect, punishment, and rejection.
As we have seen, when subjected to abuse by parents or a family group, the victim often comes to assume the role assigned and begins to act and believe he is what he has been labeled; the Child/ego personality accepts and lives in accordance with the self-image provided. Hence, a child may act badly and not care, because he knows he is bad. If your self image is that of a failure, then you have nothing to lose by failing. You are only maintaining the image of your self that has been fashioned by the labels and treatment applied by others.
Even if parents do not directly communicate their difficulties, sometimes children perceive the troubles and conflicts their parents are experiencing and then personalize them. The child feels responsible, guilty and bad when no one has done anything bad to him.
SELF-FULFILLING PROPHECIES: THE CONSPIRACY OF THE CHILD & PARENT
Stephanie was severely rejected by both her parents as she was unwanted and her pregnancy was unplanned. Compounding this was the fact that she was truly an ugly baby who at an early age began to put on weight. Both her parents were alcoholics and when not neglecting her were criticizing and using her as a scapegoat for their own problems. Her father told her she was retarded, worthless, ugly and would be better off dead. Any success, anything she accomplished or showed interest or talent in, no matter how great or trivial was met with derision or contempt. In effect she was told that she was not only worthless and unworthy of love, but she would never amount to anything and would never succeed.
Stephanie, however, had two major talents: math and computer programming, fields she excelled in while in high school. After graduating, however, she did not pursue college but began drinking quite heavily (i.e. modeling her parents) and drifted from one low level job to another (living up to their descriptions of her).
When she finally was referred to my office (for counseling after an industrial accident) she underwent a battery of tests which revealed her extremely high aptitude for math and programming. When I encouraged her to take some classes in these fields in college or to pursue a related job she responded adamantly that although she loved doing math and programming she just wasn't any good and would never be able to get a job in these fields. In fact she seemed incredulous that I would even be making these suggestions. They did not fit in with her self image.
Similarly, when we talked about college she was completely convinced that she would not be able to do well. When I pressed the point, she began to make up excuses as to why she would not be able to attend (i.e. cost too much, takes up to much time, wouldn't be able to work, etc.). When I persisted she began to challenge the accuracy of my tests and perceptions.
In other words, the possibilities I presented and the abilities I told her she possessed seemed so unfamiliar that she became extremely uncomfortable and had to invent a number of reasons that would enable her to maintain her poor self-image. Her left brain began to confabulate. When this didn't seem to be working she simply negated my test results and opinions. She was a failure and that was that and I was wrong to think otherwise.
Nevertheless, several sessions later, after discussing with her the concepts of the Unconscious Parent and Child I asked her, who is telling us you can't do this? You or your father (i.e. unconscious Parent) or the Child within? In truth it was both. Her Parent was saying you can't succeed because you are worthless and stupid and the Unconscious Child stated exactly the same thing.
Of course, her difficulties were deeper than just this. Failure was a way of life for her. It was familiar, safe, comfortable, and predictable and in this regard completely normal. To attempt to change her life was comparably scary and frightening simply because it would be abnormal for her. There is little security when traveling uncharted waters. She already knew who she was, although that self-image was inaccurate, and although she was unhappy, she was comfortable with that image.
For Stephanie, even the possibility of success was so unfamiliar that she expended considerable effort avoiding it. Hence, both her unconscious Parent and Child conspired to insure that the comfortable familiarity of her early self concept was maintained and that any possibility of positive growth would be derailed.
WHO IS IN CHARGE: THE CHILD, PARENT OR CONSCIOUS SELF?
A major question, particularly for individuals who are unhappy and suffer from frequent emotional and social difficulties is: "Who is in charge? Who is making the decisions? Who is controlling my behavior and emotions in this situation? My Parent, Child, IDfant, or the Adult rational aspects of my conscious/unconscious mind?" When this question can be asked then the first major step toward gaining positive control over one's life can be made.
How can you tell if the Parent or Child has been activated? First by the intensity of one's emotional reactions. The more intense, or the more one feels out of control, or the more one acts childish or critical, the more likely it is that unconscious forces have come to the fore. However, this does not negate the reality of just causes for emotional arousal or even outbursts. If your house is on fire both halves of your brain and mind are going to be upset. These are reasonable and rational emotions.
It is when irrational emotions come to the fore that unconscious Parental or Childish influences should be suspected. The non-logical/irrational or exaggerated nature of one's feelings and response to others usually stamps the origin as unconscious. For example, if one is feeling depressed "for no particular reason" or is suffering from other destructive, pessimistic thoughts, this is usually a clue that the Unconscious Parent is for some reason belittling the Unconscious Child. If this is the case one should ask, "Why?" and then be on guard that possibly something good (e.g. a job promotion, a date with an attractive man/woman) is about to be sabotaged.
Another clue may arise whenever one feels extremely hurt, insulted, or rejected by some really insignificant statement made or action performed by a boyfriend, loved one, or even someone of little significance. If a young man ask a girl to dance and she says "No," and this is a crushing blow, then he is probably responding to the pain of the long ago. It has very little to do with this girl. If a man takes a woman out and then fails to call again as promised and this causes her terrible feelings of anger and depression, then she is probably responding to the pain of the past. It has very little to do with this fellow. If a simple comment from a loved one sends a man into the throws of despair and he feels overcome with feelings of rejection and anger, then his Child has reached out and interfered with his life.
In general, every person whose unconscious Child has been sorely injured will have difficulties in matters of love and success simply because the Child is still hurting and easily stirred. That is, the person will be expending energy to meet the needs of the unconscious Child in the form often of a repetition compulsion. The person will be continually attempting to overcome the hurt or to achieve the love that was denied when he was a child while simultaneously feeling undeserving of such love.
FROM GENERATION TO GENERATION....Children who are abused often becomes abusers when they grow up. Children who were molested sometimes molest other children when they become adults.
Indeed, these conditions are sometimes passed on from generation to generation. A child neglected or rejected or abused by his parents may in turn allow his internalized Unconscious Parent to treat his or or her own children in the same manner. His Unconscious Parent tells him it is OK for parents to mistreat their children. People learn by example.
Sometimes these bad early experiences and their effects on future generations is not so straightforward. If the Unconscious Child feels rejected it may feel that others cannot love him. When this person has children these feelings contaminate his ability to be a good and loving parent or to accept affection from his children. Indeed, he may erroneously feel rejected by this children and then increase his own inappropriate manner of responding. If severe, then his child will in turn behave in some inappropriate fashion with his children.
In some cases, individuals who dislike and reject their own parents in turn may unconsciously reject their own children and then have disturbing dreams where their children are hurt or killed. A mother who hated her father, may possible reject her son. A father who was rejected by his mother may unconsciously reject his daughter.
LEARNING AND REPETITION
Learning who we are requires not only association with others, but repetition. You are called the same name over and over, treated in the same manner, and engage in the same activities, day after day and slowly an image of the self is formed.
When names are applied to us over and over, we learn that that is our name. When we find we can perform a certain action over and over, we gain confidence in our ability and define ourselves accordingly. Practice makes perfect, because through practice (repetition) an ability or capacity becomes refined and easier to perform. If you do or say something enough times, it becomes second nature, like a reflex.
Among children the process of repetition is abundantly obvious and sometimes a source of irritation for parents. However, the childish need to repeat things over and over is thus a natural part of being alive; like having two legs and using them for walking. Children like to repeat what they see, hear, experience or observe. They may ask the same question over and over, sing the same song, say the same rhyme, want to hear the same story, or watch the same movie two or three times or more at one sitting and then want to see it again and again the next day.
Children like to learn. Through learning and repetition children begin to gain mastery over themselves and their environment. They learn who they are and what their capabilities may be.
Infants who find that a sock can be removed, whereas a foot cannot, discover the boundaries where the self begins and ends. However, they also take delight in this new ability to perform some new action, to affect and control their environment. They then begin to do the same thing over and over. Babies may take their socks off as often as their mothers are willing to put it back on, throw their cup on the floor each time it is placed back on their high chair, throw their bottle out of the crib, etc., over and over again. By doing this they learn self mastery and how to control and influence their world. Repetition is the essence of learning and it is through repetition that we learn who we are.
Unfortunately, some people first learn to control their mothers and then later in life try to control their girlfriends and then their wives. The Child within never having found true self mastery continues to seek self security in the control of others.
THE BRAIN, LEARNING & REPETITION
TRAUMATIC REPETITION & NERVE CELL ACTIVATION
Children can often be observed reenacting incidents which were emotionally troubling to them. They may make two dolls fight, draw pictures, tell stories, engage in certain violent play activities, or they may start fights with other children or behave in an inappropriate sexual manner, all of which contain and repeat the theme of the original trauma such as having been beaten, molested or having viewed and experienced some terrible event.
By talking or playing, be it an adult or child, the need to repeat and reexperience may be due to unresolved unconscious forces repeatedly demanding entry into and thus conscious attention. In young children it is also related to the immaturity of the frontal lobe which is unable to inhibit these urges. Repetition, in part, is also due to an attempt to achieve mastery over the event, by controlling it. If the experience is troubling, the child (and later, as an adult) lessens its significance by reducing the tension associated with it, for example, by talking about it and thus placing it under the yoke of language.
However, we are also compelled to repeat because at the very level of our brain,
the nerve cells involved in that particular experience have become more complex and more sensitive and are thus more easily activated. Like a bad habit that we cannot extinguish, it thus becomes easier to think about the bad event, repeatedly.
AXONS & DENDRITES. LEARNING & MEMORY. 1. Different regions of our brain communicate via nerve cells called neurons. The neuron (or nerve cell) transmits messages to other nerve cells via a nerve fiber called an axon. Neurons receive messages via their dendrites.
Each neuron contains an axon and several dendrites. Axons can be quite long and sometimes travel considerable distances to other cells. The corpus callosum, for example, is made up of millions of axons. Dendrites, although very short in length are quite bushy and form what have been referred to as dendritic trees with many spines and branches.
Axons make contact, at the synaptic junction, with the dendrites of other cells. Dendrites, because of their extensive branches, can receive messages from many axons as they have very extensive receptor surfaces. Axons, however, transmit impulses only to a single dendrite.
Axons fire in response to an "all or none principle." That is, it either becomes sufficiently activated and fires or it does not depending on if it's firing threshold has been surpassed. For this to occur, the "resting potential" (e.g. it's base level of activity) must be increased in order to surpass this threshold.
When the axon is triggered and fires it releases a chemical transmitter. The dendrite has a receptor surface which acts to receive chemical neurotransmitters released from the axon of a different cell. If sufficient transmitter is released, the dendrite becomes activated and will allow information to be transmitted to its cell body which via it's own axons may relay the message to the dendrite of the next cell. However, although a dendrite and cell may become stimulated, if the threshold for axonal activation is not surpassed, the axon leading from that cell to the next dendrite will not fire. If the axon is sufficiently activated, it will release it's neurotransmitters.
The chemical transmitter acts on the dendrite, the cell body, and it's axon, by increasing activity until the firing threshold is reached, at which point it ignites and discharges. If the receiving dendrite, cell body and its axon are insufficiently activated, the impulse received fades such that information transmission stops with that cell. However, for a brief time period, the cells remains slightly activated such that it remains close to firing.
Due to this principle, although a single impulse may not cause the cell to fire, since the dendrite and neuron have been partially activated (such that it is well above it's resting potential), if a second or third low level impulse is also received (such as from the same axon or a different axon making synaptic contact at a different branch of the dendrite), there is an additive effect and the threshold will be easily surpassed and it will fire.
When brain cells are insufficently utilized, the tend to die and drop out. However, those which are repeatedly exercised, often grow larger and the dendrites they possess become more extensive. Moreover, new axons may grow connections to the new dendritic branches of these very active cells. This is, in part, how learning and memory is made possible. As more and more information is assimilated and learned, more and more cells become associated and interlinked thus enabling mental processing to become more complex and elaborate.
In addition, an axon which is repeatedly utilized for information transmission, will increase it's supply of neurotransmitters. Conversely, a dendrite which is repeatedly stimulated not only becomes more complex, but each individual receptor surface (at the synaptic junction) may become more extensive so as to take advantage of the increased amount of neurotransmitter available.
A dendrite and neuron that is repeatedly stimulated will also become "potentiated." That is, it remains activated (albeit below firing threshold) for long time periods, even when there is no activity occuring. Hence, when a stimulus is received, the neuron is more likely to fire.
Due to these many changes, although the firing thresholds remain the same, when the receiving cell is already partially active and now much more sensitive, its threshold can be surpassed more easily. Moreover, due to potentiation, and since there is so much neurotransmitter available a highly active neuron can now fire with minimal stimulation. The cells involved can now become activated with ease due to the physical and chemical changes which have occurred between them.
Such conditions can be produced artifically as well, such as via the administration of various drugs such as narcotics. That is, the dendrites may become more extensive and the receptor surface will increase as well. However, since an axon is not producing these chemicals, this requires that the drug be administered more often and at higher doses. It is in this manner that some people become addicted to drugs such that they soon need more and more. There is an increase in the nerve cell receptors which respond to that drug which now has to be periodically replenished in greater amounts.
As noted, in learning situations there often results increased intra-cellular complexity. Other cells may grow nerve fibers into this area and all cells involved may become more complex as they undergo physical changes to accommodate the increase in activity occurring. That is, a dendrite will attract the axons of other cells to it which then makes contact so that even more information can be exchanged and processed.
With repeated use and with the alterations in dendritic growth, the receptors surface, the amount of neurotransmitter available, and the number of axons contacting a particular dendrite, it now takes very little to cause one cell to activate a second cell and so on, so that the same message becomes more complex as well as repeated again and again. There is an increase in the the number of synapses, the number of different cells making contact, the amount of transmitter available, as well as an increase in the resting potential of the nerve, all of which requires that fewer or less powerful signals be transmited in order to cause activation. By repetition and practice it becomes easier to perform a certain action until finally it becomes like a reflex as it takes very little to trigger a response. Indeed, this is how some habits are also formed. Practice makes perfect.
However, eventually, with rapid repeated firing, a depletion of the amount of available neurotransmitters occurs, cellular activation ceases, and the response or activity ceases or becomes haphazard. At a behavioral level, we could say that fatigue set in.
The same thing happens in regard to certain thoughts and even complex actions. The more often we produce the same thoughts and entertain certain feelings, the more often will they be experienced in the future as it now takes very little to set off the whole chain of events. Eventually, however, we reach a point where we can think about the subject no more, at least for a while, only to discover later that we are again dwelling on the same subject matter.
Nevertheless, when certain cells repeatedly communicate, a circuit of experience is created. That is, an assembly of cells becomes associated via their interconnections (which becomes stronger with use) and due to the physiological and chemical changes which have occured complex actions can be initiated in an effortless and routine fashion. For instance, in using the toilet a whole sequence of associated actions take place which are so well learned that one need not even think about the different steps involved; e.g. unfastening clothes, etc. The entire circuit of experience is activated and occurs almost in reflex fashion.
It was this circuit which was apparently triggered in the seizure patient already described, who would expose himself and urinate. This individual always performed essentially the same act because the seizure was repeatedly activating the same assembly of nerve cells and thus the same circuit of experience; that which controlled the unzipping of his pants, the grasping of his penis, and urination.
THOUGHTS, VISUALIZATION, REPETITION, & THE TALKING CURE
Via repetition we not only learn, we gain control over our behavior and the environment. By repeating certain thoughts and by visualizing we can gain control over our feelings and past experiences. If that which we wish to subdue is not amenable to persuasion and physical force or has already occurred and is beyond our ability to alter, then our only recourse is to think, visualize and talk about it; like talking about the fish which got away.
Unfortunately for some, they instead engage in repression or denial and chose not to discuss what has occurred. Essentially, the frontal lobes, in attempting to protect the brain and mind, engage in massive inhibition.
Nevertheless, whenever most of us have been traumatized or have had a tremendously enjoyable experience, we tend to want to talk about it, to reexperience it, and possibly analyze its significance and implications. In the case of trauma, it is especially important to talk out ones feelings for this eventually lessens their impact --like blowing off steam-- and lessens the tension associated. This is why psychotherapy (the "talking cure") can be so important and helpful. The mind is now made conscious of the unconscious forces demanding attention.
In fact, by talking about what has occurred we now change the circuit of experience be it based on something from the past, or some current trauma. This may occur by focusing on different aspects or possible meanings of the experience, by tying in past events, or future hopes and desires. In this manner, that which was so troubling can be experienced in a different fashion and thus a new assembly of interlinked ideas, feelings, thoughts, meanings, and thus nerve cells can be formed. We have taken control by changing the experience, and by repeatedly therapeutically visualizing or talking about what has occurred. The firing threshold of of this new circuit of experience is thus lowered such that now we can think new thoughts and have different feelings about what has or will happen.
This is also why it is important to visualize (as well as think about) what one wants to occur or the goals one wishes to achieve and avoid negative thinking patterns. The cells involved become linked and easier to activate and our ability to perform efficiently and effortlessly perform that action, be it harmful or advantageous, is maximized.
Sometimes, however, a trauma, or emotional pain, never become consciously expressed except indirectly. This again is sometimes a consequence of the limitations involved in transfer between the two halves of the cerebrum as well as the frontal lobe (the right frontal lobe in particular and thus the unconscious Ego) acting to prevent information reception or processing in the left, conscious half of the brain. Rather, the pain and bad feelings continue on an unconscious level with a life of their own at the central core of our being. These feelings continue to be replayed over and over, unconsciously, creating havoc with our lives and relationships.
However, in this regard the "talking cure" and the use of "free association" can also be helpful. This is because events occurring within the unconscious half of the brain can trigger the formation of thoughts in the language dependent regions of the mind through information exchange via the corpus callosum. Although these left brain thoughts may be off base or only indirectly provide hints as to what is really occurring, they are nevertheless linked to the central core which has stimulated their production. By following these associational links and hints a skilled therapist can then interpret a persons thoughts so that the underlying core can be extracted and made conscious. Indeed, the stimulation of thoughts and words by unconscious processes is what is presumed to take place when administering an "ink blot" or "word association" test.
In that these troubling experiences occurred during a particular time period at the hands of particular people they are associated and emotionally interlinked to a centrally disturbed core --like spokes to a hub of a wheel; what Jung has referred to as a complex. Consequently, any future experience which in some manner resembles or reminds us of one of these bad early experiences can inadvertently trigger one of these emotional spokes and activate the entire complex. Indeed, it is possible for anything remotely resembling hurt or emotional pain to activate the entire circuit of experience. Like a bad habit, the unmet needs and associated pain will be experienced again and again.
The formation of these complexes are not limited to childhood experiences but can also occur during adulthood as well. For example, consider "Penny," who after much inner turmoil and confusion decided to undergo an abortion. Afterwards she feels sad, cries for a few days, and then slowly forgets about it. Weeks and even months later she finds that toys in a store front window, little children playing, the sound of a child's voice, make her feel uneasy and even a little bit depressed. They do so because through association they are linked to a complex. The children, the toys, all remind her (at least unconsciously) of the baby she aborted. Hence, the originally experienced turmoil, guilt, confusion, and depression become activated and reexperienced to varying degrees.
Associational linkage of external experiences can activate memories from the past or even by seemingly unrelated ideas; although, in fact, they are related. Lucy mentions to Paul that her roommate just got a new "kitten." He immediately remembers that he has to buy "dog food" and some "milk." Dog and kitten are associated because both are animals. The "milk" and "kitten" are associated because kittens drink milk. The notions of "milk" and "dog food" are conjured up because, although forgotten, they remained activated needs. Hence, these memories were easily triggered.
Prior to being triggered these memories were based on impressions that had been pushed out of consciousness. In this regard they are unconscious. Unconscious verbal memories, however, are not stored in the right brain, they are stored via the hippocampus of the Limbic System and within that area we have described as the primary unconscious. However, since it is a verbal memory, it is stored in the left hippocampus which is located in the left temporal lobe of the left brain. Similarly, visual, emotional memories are stored in the unconscious mental system maintained by the hippocampus and Limbic system but in the right half of the brain. Hence, verbal associations can call forth unconscious verbal and even emotional memories since the right and left Limbic System are subcortically linked and communicate together.
When Lucy mentions to Penny the new baby kitten she becomes depressed and upset. Penny does not think of milk or dogs, she is reminded of her aborted baby, because a kitten is a baby. She then feels and recalls her emotional pain. In fact, children, bicycles, school buses, teachers, nurses, and so on may be incorporated within a single abortion complex.
A complex can act like a magnet which draws associations to it. The stronger and more powerful the complex, the more associations it will attract such that seemingly divergent and quite unrelated events and experiences cause emotional upset. For example, a few weeks after her abortion Penny is going through a drawer and sees a piece of chalk and soon feels depressed. The chalk is associated with school, which is associated with children, and so on. Related memories and feelings are easily triggered through association.
Arnie was madly in love with Roberta. It was a whirlwind romance and he was swept off his feet as had been so many men before him. And then, a few month later, she suddenly dumped him and refused his calls. He was devastated and he just could not stop thinking about her.
Moreover, everything would remind him of "Roberta." If he saw a red car or a convertible he would remember her in her red Ford mustang convertible. In fact, just the color red would sometimes create the same domino effect within his mind. If someone mentioned the make of an automobile, such as "Chevy" or "Pontiac," he would immediately think of "Ford" and her Ford mustang. In fact, if someone just said, "lets go for a ride," the entire string of associations would again lead to "Roberta."
If he heard a certain song on the radio, he would remember that he had heard it once before in her company. If someone mentioned he had gone to a concern, he would suddenly remember that Roberta loved listening to rock and roll. Everything reminded him of her, and everything made him feel sad and depressed. He loved her so!
Essentially, everything was able to remind him of her because in some tangential manner they were linked to a "Roberta Complex." Anything associated with Roberta would extend throughout his psyche like the arms of an octopus, like spokes to the hub of a wheel. Because this hurt was still so intense, anything that in any manner associated with one of these "spokes" would trigger and activate the entire complex (i.e. "Chevy"="Ford"="Ford Mustang"="Roberta's Ford Mustang"="Roberta") and he would become depressed. In this regard it is important to note that complexes and other neurotic emotional disturbances are not necessarily rooted in the long ago.
As pertaining to complexes formed during childhood, all are linked to the central core we have referred to as the Child ego personality. If the Child is hurting then its influences can be quite powerful as all related associations go on alert and stay in that manner for years. Its memories and feelings can sometimes be easily activated via associations experienced during adulthood.
Sometimes, however, traumas are so deeply buried and the actual memory and the disturbed core of the complex is so deeply submerged and hidden that it is extremely difficult to actually regurgitate the original incidents which have led to a lifetime of hurt, anger, or insecurity. We may feel hurt and in pain but don't know why; a pain that continues to wrack havoc in our lives and relationships. Search and analyze as we may, the source of our problems cannot be given up by the memory banks of the right brain and Limbic System. Like the roots or core of the tree, their overall existence is buried within our depths and it is truly hard to look that far inward. In some instances these complexes were formed so early that they are wholly associated with the primary unconscious mental system maintained by the Limbic System.
Often these original traumas that continue to influence our lives are stored in the memory banks of Limbic nuclei located in the right half of the brain, memories which the left brain of the adult cannot gain access. Because adults utilize a set of codes which tend to be temporal-sequential and language oriented, it is quite difficult to access these early memories. The key to the code has been replaced by a new key and a new code. As we've noted, those keys and codes utilized by adults cannot open those which were utilized by children and these early memories remain well kept secrets.
This is why it is particularly difficult to recall a series of connected memories of events and experiences which occurred before age 4, although fragments certainly can be accessed and reflected upon. Thus, much of this material, although present, remains hidden within the memory banks of the right brain, and unrecognized by the conscious aspect of the left half of the cerebrum even though the whole brain may hurt.
THE ROYAL ROAD TO THE UNCONSCIOUS?
THE ORIGIN OF DREAMS
Frequently traumas are repeated not only in our thoughts but in our dreams. Dream imagery is predominantly a product of the right hemisphere, although it may be stimulated by thoughts and concerns of the left 2. Similarly, complex visual hallucinations also are reported more often with right brain irritative lesions which result in abnormal activation 3,4. Even day dreams reflect certain peak levels of right brain activity coupled with reduced levels of left brain activation 5. This is why the conscious half of the brain seems to be completely overwhelmed when a daydream is experienced. The left brain is at a low level of arousal and is flooded by right brain generated feelings and imagery. It is this same difference in dream production and brain activity which accounts for the fact that most dreams are very difficult to recall. This is because they are locked away within the right half of the brain. It is the left brain which cannot recall the dream.
DREAMING AND HEMISPHERIC OSCILLATION
Up to five stages of sleep have been identified in humans. However, dreaming largely reflects the oscillation of two distinct sleep states. Dreaming occurs during a sleep stage referred to as "paradoxical sleep." It is called paradoxical, for electrophysiologically the brain seems quite active and alert, similar to its condition during waking. This indicates that a considerable degree of mental activity is taking place. However, the body musculature is paralyzed, and the ability to perceive outside sensory events is greatly attenuated. If not for this paralysis we might walk in our sleep and try to act out our dreams.
As is well known, the formation of vivid, hallucinatory dreams is also associated with rapid eye movements such that they eyes seem to dart about as if looking at and following something. Rapid eye movements (REMs) occur during paradoxical sleep. By contrast, periods associated with lack of dream activity, or the production of non-visual, verbal, thought-like dreams, occurs during a stage referred to as "slow-wave" or synchronized sleep 6,7. This has also been referred to as non-REM sleep (N-REM) as the eyes remain fixed.
Most individuals awakened during REM report having dreams approximately 80% of the time. When awakened during the N-REM period, dreams are reported approximately 20% of the time if at all 8-10. However, as noted the type of dreaming that occurs during REM vs. N-REM is quite different. For example, Non-REM dreams (when they occur) are often quite similar to thinking and speech (i.e. linguistic thought), such that a kind-of rambling verbal monologue is experienced in the absence of visual imagery. In this regard, such activity probably should not eve be referred to as a "dream." It is also during N-REM in which an individual is most likely to talk in his or her sleep 11. In contrast, REM dreams involve a considerable degree of visual imagery, emotion, and tend to be distorted and implausible to various degrees.
The production of REM is correlated with high levels of activity within the brainstem, occipital lobe (where visual information is first analyzed), and other select brain regions. Electrophysiologically the right brain also becomes highly active during REM, whereas, conversely, the left brain becomes more active during N-REM. Similarly, measurements of cerebral blood flow have shown an increase in the right temporal and right parietal regions during REM sleep and in subjects who upon wakening report experiencing dreams. These results strongly indicate that there is a specific complementary relationship between REM sleep and right brain activity 12-15.
Since most dreaming is associated with right hemisphere activation and low-level left hemisphere arousal, it thus occurs during a period when the left brain is more asleep and less aroused as compared to the right which paradoxically behaves as if it were wide awake. The paradox is this the brain is in deep sleep when by it's activity, it seems completely awake; hence the term paradoxical. In some respects this is similar to the experimental condition when the left vs right brain has been anesthetized in preparation for neurosurgery.
As we all know, it is sometimes very difficult to remember our dreams in the morning, although some innocuous event later in the day might trigger its recollection. In this regard it is interesting to note that if awakened during various sleep stages it is easier to recall one's dreams if they are still in a right brain mode of high activity. Conversely, it becomes progressively more difficult to recall one's dreams as one spends time in or awakens during N-REM, which is associated with high left hemisphere and low right brain activation. That is, as the left brain becomes more active and the right decreases in arousal, the left brain is unable to access the dream dreamt by the right brain. Thus are dreams really forgotten, or are they locked away in a code which is not accessible to the speaking left hemisphere during waking?
DAY DREAMS, NIGHT DREAMS, AND HEMISPHERIC OSCILLATION
There is some evidence to suggest that during the course of the day and night the right and left brains oscillate in activity every 90 to 100 minutes and are 180 degrees out of phase --a cycle that corresponds to changes in cognitive and intellectual efficiency, the appearance of day dreams; i.e. day dreaming, REM (night dreams) sleep, and, conversely, Non-REM sleep 16-20. That is, like two pistons, it appears that when the right brain is functionally at its peak of activity, the left brain is correspondingly at its nadir and that these shifts occur throughout the day. This would suggest that during the course of every day, there are time periods in which one is best able to utilize their right vs left brain.
In fact, shifts in cognitive abilities associated with the right and left hemisphere have been found during these cyclic changes during the day and after awakenings from REM and N-REM sleep. That is, by measuring brain activity during sleep, and by waking people during certain sleep phases and testing them, correlations between the type of test (right vs left brain) and brain sleep and dreaming activity have been established. It has been found that performance across a number of tasks associated with left brain cognitive efficiency is maximal during N-REM, whereas, conversely, right brain performance (e.g., point localization, shape identification, orientation in space) is maximal after REM awakenings 21,22. Moreover, left hand motor dexterity was superior to the right when awakened during REM and that the opposite relationship was found during N-REM, i.e. right hand superiority. This indicates that the right brain is more aroused and more capable of efficiently processing information during time periods when dreams occur, whereas the left brain (and right hand) dominates during N-REM periods 23.
Some investigators, however, have claimed that it is the left and not the right brain which is responsible for the production of dreams. In support of this notion some have pointed out that when the left brain has been damaged, particularly the posterior portions (i.e. aphasic patients), the ability to verbally report and recall dreams also is greatly attenuated. Of course, aphasics have difficulty describing much of anything, let alone their dreams. Indeed, evidence presented in support of this supposition is just not very convincing.
Nevertheless, it certainly seems likely that the left brain does in fact make a contribution to the production of dreams. That is, just as the right brain is responsible for the visual, pictorial, emotional, hypnogogic aspects of dreaming, the left brain too mediates a peculiar form of dream activity; the dreaming in words and thoughts. Hence, just as the left brain mediates language and the production of verbal thoughts, it is also responsible for producing much of the verbal commentary that accompanies visual dream imagery. If as part of a dream, we are speaking to another person and we hear that person talk and understand what they say, this is made possible by the left brain. The right brain cannot understand complex conversations, even that which occurs during a dream. Hence, the left brain, although at a low level of arousal, is still able to function to a limited degree and thus provide the speech we hear and speak while dreaming. Moreover, like the ego-centric child, the left brain participates, comments, and explains the activity initiated and maintained by the right half of the brain during sleep as well as during waking. Otherwise we would not understand what people say as part of our dreams. The verbal monologues produced by the left brain as an accompaniment to the visual dream produced by the right brain may in fact trigger even more dream material.
Dreaming, some, including Freud, have argued, acts as a form of wish fulfillment. However, as some wishes and desires are unacceptable to the conscious self image, and thus the left half of the brain, some impulses can only be presented in a disguised fashion. Presumably, this is why some dreams are so difficult to comprehend or even to remember. They represent hidden and disguised impulses.
As previously noted, the frontal lobes act so as to inhibit the transmission and processing of information within the rest of the cerebrum. The frontal lobes are also associated with the conscious and unconscious aspect of the Ego. The Ego often acts as a mediator so that some impulses can be expressed and fulfilled but in a manner that is acceptable to both halves of the brain and the limbic system. One might presume that the frontal lobes, and thus the Ego (at least as conceptualized here), would also play a role in the formation of dreams. In this regard it is noteworthy that frontal lobe damage not only can results loss of restraint such that a person acts on their impulses without regard for consequences, but that with severe damage, dreaming is almost always abolished. Is it possible that with removal of the Ego, the need for impulses to be disguised during sleep in the form of a dream is also abolished?
CREATIVE PROBLEM SOLVING & RIGHT & LEFT BRAIN MISCOMMUNICATION
Just as verbal thoughts and the production of verbal commentary can be stimulated by the right hemisphere during waking and dreaming, the left brain can stimulate the production of right brain dreams and thoughts. That is, the right brain and the unconscious mind, often attempt to interpret and analyze not only what is occurring socially and emotionally but attempts to put into action ideas and thoughts generated by the left brain as well. It is due to these forces that creative solutions suddenly burst forth into the conscious mind, or problems are probed or solved by dream imagery.
However, just as the left brain has to sometimes guess and make interpretations of right brain generated feelings and desires, the right brain has to do likewise. This is most apparent during waking. For example, you are sitting in the living room, engrossed in what you are reading when it suddenly occurs to you that you might need a marking pen. You put the book down and proceed to get up. A few moments later you suddenly find yourself standing in the kitchen staring into the refrigerator. You can't remember why you got up but you know you're not hungry, so what happened?
The left brain thought of obtaining a pen for writing and then completely abdicated dominance to the right brain which then proceeded to maneuver the body through space all the while trying to guess at what it was the left brain desired as this information was not available to it. It decided to go to the refrigerator and then psychically nudged the left brain to grab what it needed. The left brain coming back on line then surveyed the scene and wondered what was going on. Both halves of the brain were now confused. You then sat back down, picked up your book and remembered the pen.
That the unconscious mind and right brain attempt to analyze their surroundings is often most apparent during sleep and dreaming. However, this goes on all day as well. For example, although sensory perception is restricted, the right brain may respond to a sensation experienced during sleep by creating a dream to explain it. However, when this occurs we sometimes dream backwards.
A case in point, we dream we are walking in San Francisco lugging large bags of gifts. Feeling tired we set them down on the sidewalk We look for a bus and see a cable car coming towards us. As it pulls up the conductor begins to ring its bell. The sound of the bell grows louder and jolts you awake. Someone is ringing your doorbell. In this regard, the hearing of the bell seemed to be a natural part of the dream, and it is. What seems paradoxical, however, is that the dream seemed to lead up to the bell so that its ringing made sense in the context of the dream.
The dream did not lead up to the bell, however, for the bell initiated the dream. The dream was produced, so as to explain in the unique language of the right brain during sleep, the sound of the bell. The bell was heard and the dream was instantly produced in explanation and association. Since most dreams often last only a few seconds (although they may seem to take place over the course of hours) and since the right brain does not analyze in temporal and linear units, the sequence of events is not all that important, that is, to the right half of the brain.
Indeed, this is just yet another reason why dreams often do not make sense to the left half of the brain and conscious mind. The non-sequential, simultaneous and parallel arrangement of the dream is not comprehensible to the left brain which is dependent on temporal-sequential language for understanding. Indeed, it is due to the non-temporal, often gestalt nature of dreams which require that they be consciously scrutinized from multiple angles in order to discern their meaning, for the last may be first and what is missing may be just as significant as what is there.
Fortunately, backward dreams are the most easily comprehended because the left brain recalls the dream from its ending forward, and then like a reflection from a mirror reverses all that is perceived so that it makes temporal-sequential sense.
One noted dreamer dreamt he was in 18th Century France in the midst of the French Revolution. After a trial in which he was been found guilty he was being led down a street lined with yelling and cursing Frenchmen and women on either side. At the end of the street were the gallows where he could see the heads of various political criminals being chopped off at the neck. Mad with fright he felt and saw himself led up the stairs and his head being placed in the yoke of the chopping block. The executioner gave the signal, the crowd screamed its approval, he could hear and sense the blade falling and with a loud crack it struck him across the neck with such a jolt that he awoke to find that his poster bed had broke and that a railing had fallen and struck him across the side and back of his neck.
Dream patterns. Although dreams probably serve a number of purposes, and at times are highly improbable and bizarre, they often reflect something significant about the mental and emotional life of the dreamer, as well as other issues of concern to the right (as well as left) half of the brain. Experimental studies have shown that when subjects are awakened repeatedly during REM over the course of several days, and then report their dreams, an evolving thematic pattern, like an unfolding story, can often be discerned. These patterns sometimes reflect mental-emotional activity concerned with the solution of particular problems being currently faced.
One experimental subject (reported on by Dr. Cartwright and her colleagues 24) noted that "after being woken many times and seeing three or four dreams a night, I could realize there was a certain problem being worked out, like coping with responsibilities that were thrust upon me, but that weren't necessarily my own but I took on anyway. It was working out the feelings of resentment of taking somebody else's responsibility, but I met them well in my dreams. A good thing about spending time in the sleep lab was you could relate a common bond to some of the" dreams. Similar bonds and patterns were, of course, recognized by Freud and Jung many years ago.
DREAMS & REPETITION
Due to their right brain association, it is perhaps not surprising that emotional traumas are often replayed and analyzed by the unconscious mind via right hemisphere dream imagery. However, since the right brain utilizes a form of language which the left brain does not speak, dream imagery often seems completely incomprehensible to the left half of the brain, even when the left brain is providing the accompanying narrative or dialogue.
For example, Sara's parents fought, screamed, yelled, and argued almost non-stop, even before she was born. There was pushing, shoving, slapping and constant threats of divorce. However, both her parents treated her fairly well. Nevertheless, being brought up into this battle was extremely traumatic as Sara felt she had no control over what was happening around her. Her world was being turned up side down and was in complete chaos.
Sara, however, seemed to be a wonderfully good little 4 year old girl, except for the fact that she often woke up at night screaming about the creek which she dreamed about almost nightly. According to Sara's mom, the little girl was afraid of a very big creek which ran near their house because she had been told that hoboes lived under the bridge and to never go there without her mommy or daddy. I had Sara tell me her dream.
Sara: "I'm walking on the sidewalk near the big creek and go to the edge and stare down at the big rocks at the bottom. All at once the whole world starts to shake, like it's turning upside down. It's trying to throw me into the creek. I get scared and start to be afraid and start grabbing at the trees and bushes to keep from falling into the creek and onto the big rocks. Sometimes I see this hole and I crawl in. Then everything is OK. Sometimes I fall. Mostly I fall and fall and fall and I can see the big rocks and I know I'm going to fall on them. When I fall on them I wake up cause it hurts."
Sara also had another troubling dream where she went riding on her bike and when she came back to her street, her house was gone. Every house on the street was the same, including the neighbors. But when she asked about her family, no one knew what she was talking about and no one recognized her.
Although the symbolic content of these dreams was not apparent to Sara or her mother, one need not be a psychologist to decipher their obvious meaning. Sara's emotional world was literally being turned upside down and was in chaos due to the horrible fighting engaged in by her parents. She was terrified of losing her home and the catastrophe she perceived as befalling her family. Her very identity and functional integrity as a person was at stake, for if she lost her family she lost her Self.
The imagery involving the hole that she climbs into is also very interesting in that it suggests the desire to return to the safety and security of the womb. However, to symbolically recreate a womb by dreaming of a large safe hole would require that you possess some memories of that experience which the dreaming right brain then taps into when it experiences certain traumas. Certainly, this little girl did not consciously know what a womb was, nor was she (or her mother) able to make sense of this part of her dream. Hence, either this pre-birth experience was registered in memory (presumably via the hippocampus of the Limbic System) or the hole in the earth that Sara climbed into was merely that, a hole. This is possible because often dreams mean exactly what they seem to mean. There is no hidden meaning.
It is important to emphasize that the mental activity which we observe in the form of a dream does not cease upon waking. Right brain and unconscious mental processing, including all significant memories and feelings, continue to influence day time functioning as well. However, since the body is not paralyzed as it is in sleep, the person can now act on his dreams as well as dream them.
REPETITION & THERAPY FOR THE CHILD WITHIN
Children frequently experience the same dream over and over. Like much of their experience it represents the need to repeat and to attempt to gain mastery of what is occurring in their young lives as well as the influences of unconscious forces repeatedly demanding entry into consciousness.
Just like the child that we were, the Child which continues to live within us all, within the confines of the unconscious mind, has this same desire to repeat. If the unconscious Child is hurting then it usually repeats experiences, feelings, and emotions, and recalls certain memories which were highly significant and traumatic. Consequently these traumas, and any feelings of neglect, rejection, or worthlessness continue to reverberate throughout the unconscious mind in the form of repetition compulsion, which is consciously experienced as depression, mood swings, and cycles of misfortune.
Such cycles will only continue until the trauma and associated feelings are dealt with at both a conscious and unconscious level. To accomplish this a person needs to learn to talk about his feelings and what is causing him difficulties, unhappiness, anger, or depression, as well as to feel them and allow freely associated thoughts, visual images and emotions to be expressed. By allowing one's mind to wander unchecked among one's feelings and the pictorial images, one can become an active participant who can influences or counteract these feelings rather than a passive recipient subjected to unconscious forces and childhood experiences. This also allows one to gain insight and understanding as to the seemingly hidden self.
That is, like responses to a ink blot or word association test, or like a dream or a memory that is seemingly forgotten, when these processes are allowed to occur without inhibition and internal censorship such as by free associating in words or images, these lost thoughts, feelings, images and memories can not only be recalled but allowed to emerge fully into conscious and unconscious awareness where they can then be recognized for what they are.
Later, by thinking, talking, and visualizing, and free associating with the aid of a skilled therapist, the various complexes and their associations can be recognized, altered and new meanings assigned to what effects us from so long ago. New circuits of experience can be created.
A bad experience can cease to be something that "happened to me," or no longer viewed as accurately reflecting something personal or unpleasant about us. Sometimes things happen which have nothing to do with us personally but everything to do with the people who are dishing out the unpleasantness. They might treat anyone in a similar fashion if given the chance. As pertaining to traumas and bad experiences, by taking responsibility only for our particular contribution and not feeling badly because someone else acted badly, these experiences can become something we can manipulate, reinterpret, analyze, and bring out into the open via my thoughts, feelings and images. This changes the experience and changes the circuit in the brain that has been formed around the experience and allows it to be dealt with by both halves of the brain and mind. The circuit now includes our interpretations, analysis, and the new meaning we have. Although we cannot change the past, we can change what it means to us. The original experience thus becomes altered and increasingly under control.
In this manner, memories and bad feelings, including the complex core we have identified as the Parent and Child need not remain well kept secrets of the right brain. They can be recalled and dealt with by both halves of the cerebrum. It is in this fashion that people can gain mastery over themselves, establish inner harmony and thus gain control over their own lives. However, control, harmony, and self-mastery does not come spontaneously. One should think positive thoughts, visualize positive experiences, over and over again in order to overcome and change the meaning of the past and extinguish the need to repeat and reexperience the pain from the long ago.