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(The Mind/Body Connection)
Too often in the fields of medicine and psychotherapy, we treat symptoms as if they were the disease.
We diagnose the problem by describing the symptoms, and the cure is equated with removal of
symptoms. For example, back pain is seen, not as symptomatic of a deeper problem, but as the
problem. We treat it with surgery or muscle-relaxing medication. Depression is seen to be the
problem to fix, and Prozac is the treatment of choice. Asthma? Allergy shots. Heroin addiction?
Methadone. We are overlooking the cause.
Specialists divide human function into physical and psychological ailments. The symptoms observed
in one realm are treated in isolation from the other, rather than being seen holistically. What is the
secondary gain from back pain, and how would resolving that effect remission of the symptoms?
What emotions are kept suppressed through the depression, and how would releasing them effect a
“cure” more permanent than Prozac?
In a particular individual, many apparently isolated symptoms may in fact be intricately related to the
same source. An alcohol problem, poor relationships, low self-esteem, ulcers, and diabetes may all be
symptomatic of insufficient neonatal bonding. Migraines, neurosis, phobias and adult sexual
dysfunction could all begin at birth with anoxia, oxygen deprivation. Treating and resolving the
symptoms as a system
rather than in isolation from each other may be the most effective approach.
And the methods of treatment that combine the physical and psychological, the body and mind, may
be the most effective tools to use.
Every emotional hurt has a bodily counterpart. One way of understanding this “cross-referencing” of
hurtful, painful or traumatic experience is the “taxon” system proposed by Jacobs and Nadel (1985).
The experiences of early life or of traumatic moments are not recorded as conscious, explicit
memories but rather as visceral and emotional reactions, termed the “taxon” system. Severe or
prolonged stress can, by suppressing hippocampal functioning, create memories dominated by
affective experience with little capacity for categorization (Gray, 1982; Nadel & Zola-Morgan, 1984;
Sapolsky, et al, 1984). These memories are organized on a somatosensory level, as somatic sensations
(body memories), behavioral re-enactments, nightmares, and flashbacks (O’Keefe & Nadel, 1978).
In other words, somatic symptoms that are caused by emotional trauma are best treated
psychologically. “The task of therapy with people who have stored terrifying information on a
visceral level is to help them remember the fragments stored in the taxon system and re-categorize
them in the ways that ordinary memories are stored, by attaching context and meaning” (van der
Kolk, 1993, p. 232). The first task in treatment, of course, is to access the visceral memories, and
some form of mind/body intervention is necessary in doing so. Research by van der Hart and
Nijenhuis (2001) shows that recovery of trauma memories begins
with recovery of lost procedural
(unconscious somatic conditioning) and semantic
(unconscious categorization, generalization)
memories, followed by
recovery of episodic
(occasion specific) memory.
The field of psycho-neuro-immunology is documenting how psychical memories and patterns are
stored physically, and how emotional experience affects physical functioning; that is, how cells have
PNI - The Mind/Body Connection – Page 1
consciousness. The body’s immune system is profoundly affected by one’s emotional experiences and
memories through the secretion of neuropeptides. This occurs through interaction between the
sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The first is responsible for sexuality, work, and
creativity, and is related to doing
. It determines vigilance, alarms, alerts, mobilizes, and initiates
impulsive behavior. The second is responsible for restoration and maintenance of body organs, and is
related to creating and maintaining energy, or being
. It lowers the vital signs, slows movement,
initiates feelings, and is dominant in deep sleep or in recovery from the stress response (Janov, 1983;
Mindell, 1998). Some people have habitually suppressed the parasympathetic “antidote” to the stress
hormones, and are nearly always in an activated stress state. The type “A” personality pattern has
become involuntary for them, and may lead to various stress-related illnesses or anxiety-related
symptoms. This is the posttraumatic stress response (PTSD).
Humans have the autonomic response, the nervous system functioning independent of consciousness,
and the voluntary nervous system, which is readily controlled by the conscious mind. The autonomic
system is important to growth and healing, because some of our psychological problems have become
embedded in this involuntary level of body functioning. Prolonged anxieties and fears create chronic
cardiopulmonary disease. Insidious or toxic shame depresses the immune system (Janov, 1996).
Addictions, which begin as voluntary nervous system “self-medications,” eventually come to affect
the body on the involuntary level. Thus psychological problems become somaticized out of the
voluntary control of the conscious mind.
The process can begin with pre- and perinatal trauma, where infants are in a state of tension resulting
from an overactive sympathetic nervous system and an excess of stress hormones. Noradrenaline sets
the system in action for fight or flight. The hypothalamus is activated and kept in an overload
condition. Cortisol triggers the inhibition of action and depresses the immune system. The inhibition
of action syndrome produces apnea, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and upper respiratory damage. It
produces emotional damage in suppressed energy, lack of trust, and an inability to form attachments
and bonds. The infant becomes tactile defensive, pathologically passive, with rigid musculature or
lack of muscle tone. Thought processes become aberrant because of pain and a sense of futility and
abandonment (Rice, 1986). This biological “fight or flight” response may have been adaptive in
helping the infants survive birth trauma, but may last much longer than needed. This increased
sympathetic effect may account for the sleep disorders commonly observed in birth-traumatized
The “antidote” is parasympathetic stimulation within the hypothalamus, producing an alpha wave
state similar to meditation or deep relaxation. Dr. Walter Hess termed this reaction “the trophotropic
response” and described it as a protective mechanism against overstress, which promotes healing
processes. Endorphines are produced and a sense of well being occurs (Benson, 1975). If the newborn
doesn’t relax enough to stimulate the antidotal parasympathetic relief, a deeply ingrained pattern of
stress develops that may persist lifelong. Fortunately, the missing nurturing can be provided
effectively later in life, if done in the ego-state in which the individual suffered the original loss
Which of the following factors presents the greatest risk for heart attack: cigarette smoking, alcohol
use, poor diet, lack of exercise, or stress on the job? Stress. Imprints
“Back then” is “now” for most people. We continually re-create and react to the deep, profoundly
influential patterns begun early in life. The terror of not enough oxygen at birth caused by a prolapsed
PNI - The Mind/Body Connection – Page 2
umbilical cord is re-enacted over and over again in suffocation experiences (e.g., smothering relationships, asthma) and more generally in the experience of “not enough” (e.g., time, money, energy, approval). Research by William Emerson (1996) documents that when clients who have problems with aggression and violence are regressed, they frequently encounter the experience of conception, reporting that they are conscious of traumatic issues outside of themselves, in their family or immediate surroundings, such as forced sex, rape, substance abuse, physical abuse, and shame (e.g., conceived out of wedlock). Another common experience for aggressive clients in regressions is discovering that they are unwanted. Depression, self-destructiveness, or aggression is often a direct expression of prenatal rejection. The majority of adults with problems in aggression learn that they were unwanted at the time of discovery, which has important implications for bonding disorders. Many of them also learn that they were exposed to other forms of aggression during the pre- and perinatal period. Some commonly experienced forms of aggression are war, gang fights, domestic violence, conception through rape, physical or sexual abuse by parents or siblings, intrauterine toxicities (alcohol or drugs), and/or abortion attempts. Adoption or abortion trauma generally includes discovery trauma (child unwanted at the time the parents discovered the pregnancy), conception trauma (child unwanted at the time of conception), or psychological toxicity (child exposed to mother’s annihilative or ambivalent feelings, or to socio-cultural shame), as well as the abandonment itself. When prenates experience severe forms of traumatization, they are likely to perceive in the same context any subsequent stressful life transitions (such as birth, adolescence, first jobs, new relationships, etc.), or subsequent events that are symbolically similar to the original traumatizing events. For example, if prenates experience prenatal violence, then they are likely to experience life transitions in violent ways, or if the child feels guilty for his mother’s physical birthing pain, he is likely to feel apologetic throughout life. Freud called this process recapitulation
An example of this is a man’s “nice guy” act used to cover up for not being able to tell people how he really feels. This condition is pathological non-assertiveness. He never has an opinion about anything, and he frequently commits to things and then doesn’t keep the commitments. Being phobic about not wanting to hurt or disappoint others, he will not say “no” or tell people what he really wants. This pattern usually leads to loneliness and no intimate relationships, and often traces back to the birth experience. Perhaps it was a long and arduous breech birth, for example, creating a huge conflict: if he moved forward, he caused his mother pain; if he stayed “stuck,” he caused himself to experience suffocation. This prototype dilemma manifests in the inability to move forward in life, to take risks and to “push through conflict.” This pathological non-assertiveness is a recapitulation of the birth experience. Another example of imprints, the fear of death, begins at birth, and the imprint of it is stronger when the trauma of birth is greater. Death anxiety is birth anxiety. We anticipate the end of world life based on the suffocation that we all experienced to some degree, and any other traumas, at the end of womb life and the beginning of world life. It may have been, “There’s no way out.” Or perhaps “This is unbearable.” Or “I’d rather die than cause so much pain to others.” Or “It is all just too much. I’m overwhelmed.” Death and birth are interchangeable symbols in the unconscious (Feher, 1980). Exploring one’s birth prepares one to explore death.
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Research has documented the myriad of ways in which fetuses imprint experience derived from their
mother, be it healthy or unhealthy, mundane or traumatic (Salk, 1966; Verny, 1982). State-dependent Memory
In their classic book Mind-Body Therapy: Methods of Ideodynamic Healing in Hypnosis
psychologist Ernest Rossi, Ph.D., and gynecologist/obstetrician David Cheek, M.D., explain in great
detail the way in which state-dependent memory is activated through clinical hypnosis and other
trance states to access and heal early trauma, ranging from car accidents to hurricanes, from birth
trauma to child abuse, from ‘shell shock’ in war to riots in the streets. Following traumatic events,
details of the incident that were vivid when it took place become vague and more or less forgotten.
This is because the special stress-released information substances that encoded their traumatic
memories have changed as their mind-body returned to normal. The memories are thus not available
to normal consciousness, and the phenomenon is called traumatic amnesia. The traumatic memories
are still present and active, and they may influence the trauma victim’s dreams and/or be expressed as
psychosomatic symptoms. The memories are dissociated
from normal consciousness and encoded on
deeply imprinted physiological levels
where they form the nuclei of psychosomatic and psychological
problems. The severity of these problems depends on the age of the person, the degree to which the
traumatic situation is acknowledged and reviewed within oneself or with others, and the type of
emotional support received.
Statebound learning occurs in the fetus not just in traumas but in every experience. For example,
fetuses of women with chronic stress have fast heart rates and are very active (Klaus & Klaus, 1998).
The fetus may experience that its mother’s constant stress level is lowered, bringing calming relief, only
when it also experiences nicotine or sugar or alcohol in the blood supply. This lesson is learned
at the deepest layer of the developing fetus’ nervous system functioning, and re-enacted
unconsciously later in life in the compulsive self-medicating use of nicotine, sugar or alcohol. The
memory is not verbal or conceptual, it is viscerally imprinted. The only means of accessing it for
possible change is to return to the state in which it was learned: re-living the original experience as it
was first experienced
The repeated ‘mini stress’ involved in the therapeutic sensory and emotional reviewing of the
traumatic event in hypnosis can partially reactivate the stress-released hormonal information
substances that originally encoded that event in a statebound condition. The body actually remembers
physical sensations and recreates these body memories
during hypnosis age-regressions or other deep
experiential transpersonal experiences. The statebound information is brought into consciousness,
where the client’s ordinary cognitive and verbal ego can process it. This allows the statebound or
dissociated memories of the traumatic event to be accessed, processed, and therapeutically released. What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You
The deeper we delve into the unconscious, the greater the healing possibilities. We root out the
remnants of old unresolved traumas, one memory at a time. The unconscious becomes conscious and
the physical/emotional link becomes clear. Each repressed memory recovered and resolved becomes
integrated. The suffering component to it, previously locked in, is dissolved away. Hypnosis and Brain Function
The mechanisms responsible for conversion symptoms (bodily symptoms created mentally) are the
same as those involved in the creation of analogous phenomena by hypnotic suggestion. Evidence
supporting the link between hypnosis and conversion disorder has been obtained from both
neuroimaging (Ward, Oakley, Frackowiak, & Halligan, 2003) and clinical studies (Oakley, 2001). For
PNI - The Mind/Body Connection – Page 4
example, Halligan et al. (2000) demonstrated that the induction of paralysis of the left leg in a non-clinical hypnotized participant was associated with the same pattern of brain function as observed in a conversion disorder patient with the same symptoms.
Benson, H. (1975). The Relaxation Response
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Emerson, W. R. (Spring, 1996). The vulnerable prenate. Pre- & Perinatal Psychology Journal
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Feher, L. (1980). The Psychology of Birth: Roots of Human Personality
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Gray, J. (1982). The Neuropsychology of Anxiety
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Halligan, P. W., Athwal, B. S., Oakley, D. A., & Frackowiak, R. S. J. (2000). The functional anatomy of a
hypnotic paralysis: Implications for conversion hysteria. The Lancet
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Jacobs, W. J., & Nadel, L. (1985). Stress-induced recovery of fears and phobias. Psychological Review
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Janov, A. (1983). Imprints: The Lifelong Effects of the Birth Experience
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Janov, A. (1996). Why You Get Sick and How You Get Well: The Healing Power of Feelings
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Mindell, A. (1998). Dreambody: The Body’s Role in Revealing the Self
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