Human beings are equipped inherently, not only with vast intelligence and capacity to enjoy life and other people, not only with the susceptibility to having this endowment damaged and limited, but are also equipped with damage repair facilities, healing processes. These processes undo the effects of hurts immediately after the hurts happen, they remove the stored distresses immediately after they occur whenever they are allowed to work.
These damage repair processes, at least the outward manifestations of them, are very familiar to all of us. Everyone has experienced them and has observed them but all of us have been so thoroughly conditioned that it is very difficult for us to think about them, especially when they are present and operating.
After any distress experience is over, the distressed human being spontaneously seeks to claim the aware attention of another human. If he or she is successful in claiming and keeping this aware attention of the other person, a profound process which we have called "discharge" ensues. Discharge is signalized externally by one or more of a precise set of physical processes. These are: crying or sobbing (with tears), trembling with cold perspiration, laughter, angry noises and vigorous movement with warm perspiration (tantrum), non-repetitive, interested talking, and in a slightly different way, yawning, often with scratching and stretching. Discharge often requires considerable time for completion. Rational evaluation and understanding of the information received during the distress experience occurs automatically following discharge and only to the extent that discharge is completed. On completion, the negative and anti-rational effects of the experience are completely eliminated.
To think about these fundamental healing processes, consider a new, unconditioned human being, an unhurt infant. Consider this infant to be in a very special environment. This environment is to consist essentially of caretaking adults who are so free from the usual accumulation of hurt patterns that they are able to be relaxed and undistressed when the baby is distressed, that they will not become upset by the baby's upsets.
Adults so free from rigid reactions towards a baby in distress do not exist, at least in noticeable numbers, in our general population. All of us have accumulated too many hurt patterns by the time we are adults. Nevertheless, this condition has been approximated by adults who have freed themselves of substantial quantities of their accumulated distresses through Re-evaluation Counseling. The overall description of what happens will not be hard for the reader to credit because it will fit his/her own experiences.
If this new, still human baby who has these relaxed adults in his surroundings happens to meet an experience of hurt, the process of hurt storage takes place as we have described. Let us suppose that he loses his mother in a crowded downtown street for about ten minutes, and that this is a deeply distressing experience even though a short one. Let us further suppose that Mother returns at the end of the ten minutes, that the bad experience as such is ended at this point.
Now if Mother is, as we have hypothesized, relaxed, aware, attentive, and undistressed, if she gives to the baby her aware attention and concern, gives him her arms and eyes but keeps her mouth shut and does not talk, sympathize, jiggle, distract or interfere, then the damage repair process of the baby goes into action. Without hesitation, spontaneously (no one has to tell the baby what to do) he turns to this attentive mother and begins to cry. Allowed to do so, he cries and cries and cries and cries. He will continue to do so for a long, long time if every time he slows down and looks out at his mother he finds her still interested, still attentive, still caring, but not interfering or distracting.
He will cry and cry and cry for what will seem to be a very long time and then he will be done, really done. Now the baby will change remarkably. He will resurge to obvious happiness, to great enthusiasm and alertness, to awareness and outgoingness and activity. This process is very exciting to observe. The freshly discharged child is an impressive picture; one feels as if the clouds have parted for a moment and the real human being is showing through.
Apparently the profound healing process of which the tears are the outward indication has drained the distress from the mis-stored bad experience residue and the baby's mind can now get at the information itself, perceive what actually happened, and finally evaluate it, make sense of it, understand it. The mis-storage becomes converted to ordinary information, is stored correctly, becomes available to help understand later experiences with in the usual way. The rigid responses which had been left by the bad ten minutes are gone. The recording is no longer available to be triggered by later incidents. The frozen portion of the baby's mind is free to work again.
You can check the alternative from familiar experience. If the baby does not get a chance to cry thoroughly enough and get the bad experience "out of his system" completely, his mother can expect the upset recording to be triggered the next time she tries to leave him with the babysitter. If he did cry out his distress thoroughly right after the bad experience, her leaving him next time will be taken in his calm stride.
Now consider another variety of distress experience. Suppose the baby is badly frightened. If he has someone to turn to who is able to be relaxed and attentive and keep from reacting to him, then, once the fright is over, he will spontaneously begin to tremble, to scream, to perspire from a cold skin. He will persist in this for a long time if he is permitted to do so. He will check once in a while that the other person is still paying aware attention to him, and, reassured, will resume the discharge. He will shake and perspire and scream for a long, long time and then he will be through. Again, as with tears, great alertness and well-being will be evident after the trembling is all done.
If a baby is frustrated (and all babies are frustrated many times every day in the course of the usual handling), she will discharge the frustration and get it out of her system if she is allowed to do so. If someone will really listen, she will discharge in what is usually condemned in our culture under the name of "tantrum." She will make violent physical movements and angry noises, and will perspire from a warm skin. This is exactly what she needs to do.
If the person present with her will hear her out, fully and with attention (undoing or removing the source of the offense first, if possible), she will go on yelling and flailing and perspiring for a long time. It will seem even longer to an embarrassed parent, particularly if it happens in public. If she is allowed to do so freely, however, and is not again frustrated in the effort to quiet her, she will come to the end of this discharge also and will emerge a relaxed, happy and cooperative child.
The child, who has been ridiculed or made to feel embarrassed in some way (and we all had this done to us many times when we were young) and then can turn to the relaxed, interested adult we have described, will seize the opportunity to talk to the adult about the embarrassing experience. If the adult listens with attention and keeps her advice to herself, the child will narrate the embarrassing experience repeatedly and will finally attempt to joke about it. Soon, she will begin to laugh. She will laugh harder and harder as she returns to her narration. Finally, having laughed out her tension, she will walk completely free from the embarrassment that had gripped her to the point that she was afraid to face her associates.
All of us discharge in these spontaneous ways in the beginning. It is our nature to release like this after every hurt, to turn to another person and let go, to get the hurt out of our system. Every unconditioned baby does this with precision and vigor when he/she is allowed to do so.
None of us were ever allowed to do so to any great degree. Why were we not?
We had to turn to someone. The process does not work well at all for one person alone. It requires the aware presence of another person to proceed to completion. (Fairly recent reports in the "Scientific American" indicate that this requirement is pre-human. In one article, baby Rhesus monkeys are reported to be unable to overcome fear of new playthings unless they have at least a soft, substitute mother of terry cloth upon which they can clutch and rub and squeak for an extended period of time. Another article reports that baby sheep who are hurt with electric shock remain neurotic in their behavior as a result if they are denied access to and physical contact with their mother. IF they are allowed to rub against and bleat to their mothers they appear to make at least a large measure of recovery.)
So all of us turned to another person as we began the healing discharge of, say, our tears. When we did, the sound of our crying became a "button pushing" restimulation of that person's mis-stored distress. As infants we had no way of knowing that this person was not, properly speaking, rational Mother or Dad or Aunt Sally any more. Each kept the appearance of our familiar adult ally. They were not any longer thinking rationally, however, for at this point each became functionally a robot being played by an old distress recording and playing an old recorded announcement at us.
In one family, the recorded announcement may go something like this: "There, there, don't cry, it's all right, don't cry. (Jiggle, jiggle) There, there, don't cry, don't cry, don't cry."
You have heard others which go: "All right, son, get a grip on yourself! No use crying. Crying doesn't do any good. No use crying over spilt milk. All right, now! (etc.)"
Other varieties reported include: "Shut up! You stop your crying or I'll give you something to cry about." "Please stop crying, you're making Mama feel bad." "Look, see the pretty picture. Isn't it nice? It's more fun to look at a pretty picture than it is to cry, isn't it?"
Whether kindly or cruelly in word or tone, each of us was made to turn off our healing processes, while we were hurting. Usually, the one reproach did not keep us from trying to release the next time we were hurt; but, inexorably, the same thing happened. Each time we turned to someone and began to discharge and get rid of our hurt, we were told, apparently by the adult to whom we turned, that we must not discharge, that we should suppress our feelings and hold them inside ourselves.
These recorded patterns of interfering with another person's discharge of their distresses (for that is what they are) are passed on from generation to generation by a kind of contagion. Our entire culture is soaked in them. The great majority of lullaby lyrics contain "don't cry." Up to now the obvious wrongness and harmfulness of suppressing emotional discharge has not penetrated the pervasive conditioning caused by these recordings. Occasionally people have been forced to realize this. They have gone against the conditioning enough to write articles saying that it is helpful to cry. No one, to our knowledge, has followed up these beginnings enough to realize that this suppression of discharge is the basic reason why our entire population is so troubled, so unable to live up to their potentials.
One can observe very small children trying repeatedly to let go of their feelings and being repeatedly made to choke them back. As they grow older, they appear to shut off their own discharge as the shame and embarrassment conditioning takes over.
Yet we do not ever really give up trying to get our hurts out of our system, not even as weary adults. The more we observe people with these insights in mind, the more it is clear that each person, every day of his/her life, reaches out to someone in some way or other. He/She makes an intuitive attempt to set up with this other person the relationship he/she should have had with his/her parents when he/she was small and the need of which he/she has carried with him/her ever since.
This applies to all of us. Sometimes we "bend the ear" of the casual stranger, sitting beside us on the bus. Sometimes the housewife in a new neighborhood systematically invites every woman on the block in for coffee, and asks back the one who seems willing for the conversation to be two-way, to listen as well as be listened to. We cherish the friend we can "talk" to, or think we can. We lean on the minister of our church in crises, and jam the waiting rooms of the medical doctors with vague, psychosomatic complaints which might open the way for the doctor to really pay attention to us. We marry, often or always, with the unexpressed hope that this time our beloved will "care enough," though we are too conditioned to be able to look at what their "caring enough" is supposed to do. Our most bitter disappointment, expressed over and over again in marital interviews, is that our spouse "doesn't listen" or "isn't interested."
All of us feel deeply this need of our own to have someone listen to us, to pay real attention to us, to care about us, but all of us are thoroughly conditioned to refuse to meet this need in others.
On occasion a woman may turn to another woman in a crisis and burst into tears and, since women are not as badly conditioned in this area as men in our culture, be offered a shoulder to cry on and even told "Go ahead and cry, dear, it will do you good." If she ever begins to cry as hard as she needs to, however, the conditioning will be triggered and, at the least, the other woman will begin to pat her so hard with reassuring pats that the distraction will make it impossible for her to keep crying.
A man may, in a crisis, turn to a friend and say, "Look, Joe, I've got to talk to somebody!" and begin to tremble violently. The friend, thoroughly conditioned, is almost certain to do everything he can to interrupt the trembling. "Here, man, get a grip on yourself! I'll get you a drink, you've got to stop this shaking." If he isn't a drinking man, he may call in a doctor to stop the shaking and the doctor, just as conditioned as all the rest of us, obligingly may give him a shot or a sedative. "Anything to stop his shaking."
Yet it is obvious, if we are not at the scene, that the man is shaking because he needs to and that nothing bad will happen if he is allowed to shake until he runs down.
At the scene, the conditioning takes over and the acquired compulsion to stop the discharge (as our own was always stopped) takes over and drives all rational considerations from view.
Usually our attempt to set up this relationship doesn't get as far as actual release. The attempt usually begins conversationally.
"Hey, Joe," says the friend at the picnic table. "Did I ever tell you about that time some of us were camping up in the North Woods and we were portaging our canoe around this little series of waterfalls?" The speaker at this moment has no awareness at all that he is doing anything but trying to entertain his friend with an amusing anecdote.
He has no awareness at all that he is trying to get to the end of the story where the canoe went over a waterfall and he thought he was dead, the part where a chunk of cold horror has been stored inside ever since, seeking a chance to discharge.
Most likely he never does find out what he is trying to do. As soon as he pauses for breath in his conversational preface, his listener, himself restimulated by the story, is likely to break in, "It's funny you should bring that up. It reminds me of the time when I was camping up north, blah, blah, blah..."
Typically the first man can't listen to the second man's story either. The relationship fails for lack of an aware listener on either side. Both men are frustrated in their attempts.
We continually seek this concern and attention from others, even though we are continually disappointed. I have on occasion asked a lecture audience, "What would it be like to have someone really, deeply interested in you and wanting to hear you talk about yourself indefinitely?" A deep, yearning sigh always goes up from the audience, before the realization of what they have admitted triggers embarrassment and the following burst of laughter.
We intuitively hope for this relationship from our spouse when we marry. Each spouse feels the need of it from the other. "I thought, when you married, your husband would care enough about you to be interested in you" is the disappointed, bitter complaint in marital interview after marital interview. Yet each spouse, hoping for this aware concern from the other (even though he/she does not awarely expect the emotional discharge that would occur if he/she were to receive it), is also thoroughly conditioned by the distress recording to not give this concern to the other. This disappointment and bitterness is a major component in the difficulties that, small or great, accumulate in every marriage relationship.
The damage repair facilities do not ever become destroyed, apparently, short of physical damage to the forebrain and/or other organs involved, though they become very inhibited by the distress patterns themselves, especially those of the "Don't cry" variety.
The damage repair processes are specific in character, dependably characterized by the outward manifestations of 1) crying, 2) trembling, 3) laughing, 4) anger discharge, 5) yawning and 6) interested, nonrepetitive talking. These damage repair processes, allowed to operate and assisted to operate, restore the adult to intelligent, zestful functioning just as they do the infant or child, no matter how long the adult has carried the distress.
There is much more accumulated distress to discharge in the adult than in the child. The discharge processes will be more hindered by the distresses themselves in a typical adult than in a typical child. Nevertheless, the processes themselves work as well and have the same results in adults of any age as they do in children or infants.
We do not yet know if an adult, or, for that matter, a child, can fully and completely recover all of their inhibited intelligence and zestful capacity for living. We have not yet reached this point with anyone, though it has been a theoretical goal from the time that we began to realize the implications of the discharge and reevaluation process. Neither, however, are there any indications in theory or practice that this complete recovery will not be possible. It appears that we have simply not reached this point in the evolvement and practice of Reevaluation Counseling at the present date (1964).
We did not realize at first what a tremendous amount of distress has accumulated upon each person. Partly this was because there was no available starting point or yardstick to measure this accumulation against. We had no example of an undistressed human with which to compare the rest of us. All adults, and, to a lesser degree, all children, were already carrying a large amount of inhibiting distress.
The goal of total awareness and complete rationality is a real one for all of us who have used and enjoyed the benefits of Re-evaluation Counseling in any continuing manner. There seems to be no reason why complete recovery should not be possible. The process certainly accelerates as it is applied, with larger gains being made more easily as the functioning capacities of the human emerge.
Aside from the question of complete recovery, each step a human takes in this direction is satisfying and worthwhile. Each gain in rationality is a gain in our enjoyment of living. The achievement of short-range goals and progress towards long-range ones becomes a dependable process. Awareness of one's environment and enjoyment of it becomes better and better instead of fading as it does for the typical adult. Relationships with other people become more enjoyable and productive. Our children have better models to learn from and more intelligible sources of information and show it promptly in their flourishing progress.
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