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Stress and Illness: A Bioenergetic View
Part Five

[presented by Dr. Rae Baum, Ph.D.]

 

(Source: Alexander Lowen, M.D., Stress and Illness: A Bioenergetic View. Copyright 1980 Monograph, with permission of the author)

     Although fear affects the gut in every individual, not everyone reacts with colitis.  In many persons the target area of fear is the eyes.  We say, "His eyes went wide with fear."  A person is predisposed to this reaction by the experiences of early childhood.  I believe that when the reaction is in the gut, it is related to a lack of support.  The feeling of being helpless in the face of what seems like an overwhelming threat is the fear that shocks the gut.  Infants and very young children experience this kind of fear when they become frightened by a strange person or sound in the absence of a mother or parent.  Individuals who are emotionally fixated on this early level are predisposed to this kind of reaction.  Such persons can be described as having an oral character which denotes a lack of nurture and support from the mother figure.  And such persons, as Wolfe pointed out, are more than usually dependent.
     The stress in these individuals is not caused by the dependency but by the effort to deny the need for support.  This is done by tightening the belly and the guts so that one doesn't feel anxious or insecure.  One doesn't feel secure by this manoeuver, rather it is a manoeuver to cut off sensation.  In effect the person is holding himself up by his guts.  In the oral character, as I pointed out in The Language of the Body, the legs are weak but held rigidly.   The rigidity provides an illusion of "standing on one's own feet" while in reality, the oral character clings to others.  As in other illnesses, the disease does not surface until the person enters the stage of exhaustion.  Priot to that time the oral character is in the stage of resistance.  By using his reserve energy he can cope with the stress created by the denial and suppression of his insecurity and need.  But another shock stemming from danger together with the feeling of helplessness or the withdrawal of support by a loved person can result in an attack of ulcerative colitis.  The situation then becomes more than the person can handle and he is in a state of distress.
     Because of the early deprivation of love and support the oral character harbors strong feelings of resentment and hostility.  And since these feelings are directed mainly at the person in the nurturing position, they are accompanied by guilt.  "Don't bite the hand that feeds you," is a saying that would make a child feel guilty for his hostility towards the mother.  Actually the feeling of hostility is suppressed in the interest of survival long before the superego develops.  The suppression of hostility provides the somatic basis for the idea of guilt.
     If the above analysis is correct, the treatment of this condition must aim at helping the person gain an inner sense of support which would derive from fully feeling one's legs on the ground.  This requires a program of intensive physical work with the legs and feet to bring the energy and feeling into them.  But such a program will be resisted by the patient with this illness.  Like any oral character he has no confidence that the ground will be there for him any more than his mother was.  The mother is the baby's first "ground" and remains forever identified with the earth and the ground.  And so the patient will not dare to fall.  The fear of falling is related to the fear of being helpless and abandoned.  To counter the fear of falling one tenses the leg muscles turning them into rigid supports which lack feeling.  At the same time the person tightens his gut not to feel scared.  The intensive physical work with the legs is not designed to make the legs harder but softer.  As a result of the exercises the person's legs will feel weaker not stronger.  He will feel that his legs won't hold him up.  This feeling is the true perception of his legs and denotes that he is now in touch with them -- and with the ground.  It denotes also that the rigidity has greatly diminished.  There is anxiety in the feeling that one's legs won't hold one us.  It is called falling anxiety.  Then as one passes through this anxiety by continuing to work with the legs, they become really stronger because they can support the person without becoming rigid.
     At the same time, one works with the person's breathing to make it deeper, more abdominal.  And one will also work directly on the tense muscles of the gut and abdominal wall to get them relaxed.  This work will lead to crying in the form of deep sobs.  With the release of this crying the gut becomes relaxed.  And it will stay relaxed if the emotional conflicts buried in the personality are analyzed and worked through.
     I believe this approach would be effective in curing a person of ulcerative colitis.  However, like all neurotic individuals, he will offer some resistance to the process of getting well.  In part this resistance stems from the fear which underlies the condition and which the person is reluctant to experience.  Unconsciously, he will make every effort to avoid feeling the weakness of his legs and the associated falling anxiety.  That is his neurotic pattern.  Another source of the resistance is the secondary gains the person derives from being ill.  As a sick person he doesn't have to stand on his own legs really and he will also get the support and attention he longed for.  Once one is sick it becomes an easy way out in the sense that one can give up the neurotic struggle to overcome one's weaknesses without admitting that one has failed.
     In a deeper sense the illness offers the person a real chance to work out his neurotic attitudes and find a healthier way to live.  The breakdown into illness stops the neurotic struggle which has exhausted the person's energy and may allow, in the phase of convalescence, a rebuilding of energy reserves.  From this point of view all illness can be seen as the body's attempt to get well.  Everything depends on whether the person can understand and go along with his body's feelings rather than fighting to control them.  To continue...

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