Exploring Attitude in the Body Part 2- Splitting
The first article of this series began the exploration of holding patterns in our bodies and the attitudes they express. The next article, “The Body’s Learning Cycle” demonstrated how these unexpressed responses to situations in our life become trapped energy in the system, thus creating the muscle patterns that hold the energy and the situation in the body. This is eventually expressed via attitude or personality traits. The next several articles will explore how this process is impacted by a child’s developmental stage at the time of an intrusion.
An infant and that of a 5 year old would react differently to the same situation and the situation, or stimulus, would have a completely different meaning to each of them. Working in the field of body-psychotherapy requires a deep understanding of these differing reaction patterns. As the developmental stages unfold, the shape of the body that we form for ourselves has a particular function that is created through how we perceive and move in the environment around us. Of course it is also true there are many genetic, societal and cultural influences that must also be taken into consideration when looking at the body as well.
But as far as development is concerned the infant may have less coordination, soft bones or tense muscles which are impacted in certain ways by the environment. This process can even begin prenatally. Imagine an infant in a womb where the mother is fully relaxed. She has a healthy diet and limited toxic exposure. I can picture this womb as a warm nurturing place with free flow of blood and fluids from the mother to the placenta and to the fetus. Even though it is not a cognitive experience, the baby is held in this little bubble, floating freely and allowed to grow and move without restraint.
Now imagine a womb where the mother smokes. This constricts the blood vessels and restricts the flow to the fetus. A cup of coffee can do the same thing and also have an effect on the central nervous system. All mothers have times of tension, what does this do the infant? More important is what happens when this tension becomes chronic. This environment will provide less for the child. How do you feel when you imagine these two different scenarios? What happens in your own body? Do you experience a corresponding relaxation or constriction? How do you do this, what do you notice in your own body right now? Let yourself explore what kind of holding pattern and constriction the second environment could create.
Skip ahead to the first days after birth. Let’s say the baby is held close to the mother, skin to skin as they both rest in bed recuperating and enjoying exploring one another. The baby simply opens his mouth, called rooting, and the breast is right there for him. When he struggles with his bodily functions he is held and supported, he is not alone. Touch is an essential need for an infant. It allows him to relax and for the spirit to fully enter into the body. It gives us a sense of our boundaries, where our body ends and another’s begins. It allows for a sense of holding and support that is meaningful on many levels.
Compare this scenario to one where the baby is alone in his own bed. He must work harder to get food and other needs met. What posture does his body take during this effort? What effect does it have on you to imagine this? A baby exposed to ongoing stress is likely to develop inner tension. If I put myself in the compromised situation I feel a deep pulling in in the muscles around my abdomen and solar plexus. My spine and neck are held rigidly and in that posture I feel terror and not a little paranoid. From the cognitive ability that I have (unlike a baby) from that posture I can say that I wonder if I am welcome in this world, I don’t trust and feel safe with my caretaker. A baby with this deep pattern of fear may have stringy underdeveloped muscles. Since they have little muscle control from which to respond to the situation and little cognitive skills with which to rationalize or make sense of the situation, the primary defense mechanism is splitting. A person with this experience may feel that they are always working inside to holding it together.
I don’t want to make too many generalizations about the pattern because it most important that every person find what is true for themselves from their own experience. It is important for each of us to explore what is held or what needs attention in our own body. But for people with this deep early wounding common reactions are to split off from pain (or other sensations) in the body, and to split from emotions, often turning them against oneself in self-hatred. There may be many problems in connecting in relationships and difficulty with anxiety and the ability to self-soothe. And in the extreme a person with this background can have a tendency to split off from reality.
Each of us carries tensions and defenses from more than one stage of life and we all carry this pain of abandonment in our experience so it is sometimes difficult to categorize our responses and make generalizations about what happened to us. But for change to happen it can be very useful to trace the energy holdings and see what need to be nourished or to be released from the past that will challenge our old ways of reacting and perceiving and allow for relaxation, connection and contentment in our lives. Because this particular stage of development is pre-verbal and pre-memory, people with early wounding sometimes are not aware of the situations that led to their deep sense of estrangement and hurt. But there are hints of the experience demonstrated by what happens when the person is in distress. Sometimes the crying can sounds like that of a young infant, it may have a higher tone or a whimper in the sound.
Treatment over time must bring awareness to the patterns, the splits, and work to reconnect one to their feelings and sensations. It may require physical and emotional nurturing and a holding place for one to examine their fears and rage from the past and to develop trust in the other and in oneself.
In understanding and knowing how to respond to this reaction pattern, body-psychology has an advantage in meeting this person and changing the deep physiological responses to developmental stressors. It can be very effective for healing.
by Aylee Welch, LICSW