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To Become Who We Really Are
Holes in Roles (Excerpt)
Holes in Roles (Full Version)
Stages  and Screens: Psychoanalysis Revisited
Sexual Abuse

10 Important Topics to Attend to with Abuse Clients in PBSP
Basic Needs & Parent Functions
Abuse From a PBSP Perspective
Abuse Outline

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Article by Albert Pesso for Holes in Roles Workshops (Excerpt)
© May, 2003

My work with individuals, couples and families over four decades has lead me to believe that human infants enter the world genetically supplied with an innate template that prepares them to automatically recognize and intuitively respond to the various, familial, kinship figures they will encounter as they grow up. Furthermore, in addition to this innate ability to "see and react to" those kinship roles, I have discovered that children seem to have the innate, rudimentary potential to "take on" and "act the part of" each and every one of those kinship roles as situations seem to require in the family settings they grow up in. I call those categories of capacities "stem selves" which seem to be cultivated by external circumstances to the kind of role function seemingly called upon by the outside world.

If a child has had the misfortune of learning and experiencing that their parents were wounded, due to apparent neglect those parents must have experienced in their childhood, that appears to awaken the child’s little heart and compassionate soul which innately knows that all children need and have an inner expectation of experiencing care. This immediately awakens the unspoken, perhaps also unconscious, but deeply felt wish that his or her parents could have been better cared for.

Clients who have unwittingly filled the holes in the roles of their parents maturational needs, have distorted their own personalities, leading to dysfunctional patterns in their own adult lives and adult partner choices. In PBSP presentations I demonstrate this phenomenon and teach how to release clients from those burdensome roles thus enabling them to live more satisfying lives in their partnerships and within their actual family structures.

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Article by Albert Pesso for Holes in Roles Workshops (Full Version)
© May, 2003

My work with individuals, couples and families over four decades leads me to the notion that human infants enter the world genetically supplied with an innate template (model) that prepares them to automatically (instinctively) recognize and appropriately (intuitively) respond to the various, familial, kinship figures they will encounter as they grow up.  Further, as well as having an innate tendency to see and react to those kinship roles, they also seem to have the innate, rudimentary potentiality to take on and act the part of each and every one of those kinship roles as situations seem to require in the family settings they grow up in.

In other words, infants arrive with an in-built knowledge of, and preparedness to meet, all the different familial and relational roles such as mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles, siblings, mates, and peer figures.  Also, they have within themselves albeit in rudimentary form, regardless of their sexual gender  an innate capacity to act as (take on the functions of) mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers, etc.  One could call those innate categories of capacities stem selves which could be cultivated by external circumstances to reproduce, or take on every single kind of role function seemingly called upon by the outside world.

I posit the notion that there is an innate neurological and biological time-line for the ripening of each one of those potential roles.  It is optimally useful, evolutionarily speaking, that one becomes a husband or a wife when one reaches the age (and capability) of adult peer responsibility and contractual reciprocal partnership.  This implies that one best becomes a parent when one is a sexually and emotionally mature person, fully capable of being a parental care-giver and taking on the serious responsibilities of that role.  All children have the innate template and potential temperament to become a husband or a wife, though they may have not yet ripened sufficiently to take on those adult tasks and roles.  They know that their parents were once children and that their parents should have had their parents taking sufficient care of them.

Children do not mature well or even become fully human when born in isolation from other humans, e.g., feral children.  We are a social species and come to maturity in optimal condition when we are reared in need-satisfying interaction with large numbers of well-functioning relatives and other effective community figures.  Since the present is driven by memories of the past, we are preter-naturally curious to discover the history of what has happened in our family line before we were born in order to optimally deal with the immediate present and successfully anticipate a satisfying future. Thus, it seems clear that it would be evolutionarily useful if we were made to live not only with a recognition of the varying kinship relationships in our family history, but also with a consciousness that in the future we will become active role representatives and role-players in reflection of and in relationship to that history.

Just as research studies in linguistics and brain organization tell us that every human baby is born with a neuronal organization that includes an innate readiness to recognize different kinds of words (nouns, verbs, numbers regardless of differing languages and symbolic forms) as well as an innate sense of grammatical structure, I posit that future research will show that children come to this planet also pre-set and ready to discover and understand that there are kinship categories such as mothers, fathers, parents to those mothers and fathers, siblings of that mother and father as well as siblings of one's own.   I believe this immanent readiness for social structure and social relationships prepares them to make sense of those external realities the instant they encounter them in the world at large.   As naturally as children are able and ready to hear and understand nouns, verbs and adjectives and the sentences that include them, I believe that they are similarly able and ready to experience and act appropriately to the complexity of kinship relationships with all its implications and variations.

Children seem to be neurally prepared to perceive and behaviorally prepared to act appropriately as a member of a family.  They come knowing that they are someone's child; that there are such categories and roles as mother and father (and later, prepared to know that one is a husband and the other is wife, with culturally or innately determined role differentiations) and even if there were not siblings born before them that there are such things as sisters and brothers (with the implication that they come knowing there are such things as gender differences).  They understand at once, when they encounter those occasions, that their parents also have had siblings and accept at once the special intimacy that comes with relationships with aunts and uncles.  They come prepared to eventually recognize (at the appropriate level of consciousness) that their parents have also had parents and even before they are conscious of the reality of that category, they come fully poised to experience and relish the special relationship that seems to instinctively exist between grandparents and grandchildren when they first encounter those doting figures.

If a child has had the misfortune of learning and experiencing that their parents were sorely wounded due to the neglect that their parents experienced in their own rearing -- innately knowing that all children need and have an inner expectation of experiencing such care -- their little hearts and compassionate souls immediately awaken the unspoken, perhaps also unconscious, but deeply felt wish that their parents could have been better cared for.

Children also seem to quickly recognize that their own maturational needs are less likely to be met as a consequence of their parents' childhood deficits of satisfaction of their needs by the genetically anticipated kinship figures at the genetically anticipated right age.  This state of affairs starts a process of childhood parentification that has two different origins.  One origin is the compassion that the child feels for their wounded parent.  This compassion is long-lasting, often even life-long lasting.  The other origin is the (often shatteringly disappointed) belief that their efforts at filling the holes in the roles that have produced deficits in their parents maturational processes will somehow result in their parents finally being able to parent them.

Their compassion drives them to try to replace the missing kinship figure with a portion of their own beings.  My speculation is that they construct out of their stem selves, coupled with their inner knowledge of kinship relations and their functions, a virtual mother for their mother. A mother entity, living within the child's body and utilizing some of the child's life energies (however that is measured and determined  libido, life force, whatever) totally separate and serving a different host that the rest of the child's energy systems.  The natural host of the child is its own soul, so to speak.  That part of the self that is worthy, valued, deserving of respect and with rights to move with self interest in tandem with the world at large.  This compassion-born entity draws energy from the child that would ordinarily fall in its own soul's jurisdiction and uses it in the service not of the self, but of the other, the mother or father in need.  Thus there are then two masters living within that child.  One a soul that has a time-line of maturation and life expectations in its own service and the other, an entity which draws a line of credit draining the resources from the rightful owner of being that is called by that child's name.

But that hard-working child doesn't give up hope that it will get its own needs met.  Unfortunately however, it is willing to go on that life-long detour of propping up the crippled parent in the hope that the parent will someday grow up and be able to return the favor and become the wished-for, longed-for parent to themselves  they were expected to be in the first place.

I have seen so many adults in psychotherapy sessions, who, when they are in the presence of someone representing that injured, but deeply-loved part of their real parent, well up with sympathy, pity and compassion that is both heart-warming and heart-wrenching to observe.  Heart-warming because it is usually in stark contrast to the bitterness that such adult clients feel to some other aspect of their real parent.  And also heart-warming to see any human being so moved and motivated to help by the plight of another.  Heart-wrenching, because they cry the cry of a little child who is sorely burdened with the task of ameliorating the wounds of the adult who was supposed to take care of them.

It is no wonder that remembrance of  and respect for  ancestors exists in virtually every society on earth.  Positive and negative information of the details of family member's lives in the past powerfully (automatically and unconsciously) influences what parts (roles) we will play and with whom in the realization of our own destinies.

In this workshop we will review the notion of Holes in Roles and see how the clients who have unwittingly filled the holes in the roles that should have been the suppliers of their parents maturational needs have distorted their own personalities and led to dysfunctional patterns in their adult lives and adult partner choices.  Most importantly we will demonstrate and teach how to release clients from those burdensome tasks thus enabling them to live more satisfying lives in their partnerships and within their actual family structures

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Stages and Screens: Psychoanalysis Revisited

by Albert Pesso, co-founder of Pesso Boyden System Psychomotor  PBSP*

Grand Rounds Lecture delivered at Boston University Medical School in November of 1999

When we revisited psychoanalysis, we brought with us two gifts, first: the inclusion of the body, not the simple use of the body as the vessel for the concrete expression of feelings, but more powerfully, the body as the vehicle of symbolic expression of emotions and interactive relationships.  In this way we expanded the realm of symbolic expression beyond mere words to include the wide range of symbolic motor expression of all human passions.  Second: we brought the knowledge that the use of the body required the experience of satisfaction and not only frustration.  Satisfaction of needs, not in the here and now, for that would be acting out, but satisfaction of the needs in the symbolic realm of the vividly recalled, there and then.  More of that later.

First a bit of background to trace how we learned what to do about body expression.  I began my professional career as a modern dancer, was a teacher and choreographer, and then became a tenured Associate Professor and director of the Dance Department at Emerson College.  My wife, and life partner, Diane Boyden-Pesso was also a dancer, teacher and choreographer and was an Instructor in Dance at Wheaton College, Sargent College and also at Emerson College.   We met as dance scholarship students at Bennington College in 1949.  Diane had been a student of Jose Limon and I a student of Martha Graham.

We knew, and believed as only young romantics could know and believe, that we were going to do something important in dance together.  Little did we know then that our passion for each other's company and our passion for honest, profound, emotional expression would result in a life-long journey of exploration and learning far beyond what we could have ever imagined.  We struggled to understand and gain control of the powerful forces that shaped our lives and caused disturbing and unwanted events to occur with the force of destiny.  We naturally turned to our ever-deepening knowledge of emotional movement  accumulated in our professional lives  as the primary means of gaining relief of pain and greater control of the fulfillment of our hopes and wishes for the future.

Our dance classes became the laboratory where we explored the relationship between inner states and outer expression, in service of the goal of helping our dance students become finer and more effective artists.  And then, surprisingly, we saw that some of our exercises and procedures resulted in profound and long-lasting emotional changes in our students' lives.

Over a seven year period of constant exploration and experimentation, we slowly shifted the emphasis in a selected number of our classes toward therapeutic, rather than artistic ends.  This resulted in founding a new, very young, seedling of a therapeutic process in 1961 which we called Psychomotor Therapy.  Psyche, for mind or soul, and motor for movement and the body.  While we continued to teach dance per se in our dance-only classes, we did so with greater knowledge of the psychological power and consequences of what was involved in this way of looking at and teaching emotional movement for artistic ends.

In our Psychomotor groups, we did not dance or teach dance in any form, but worked with emotional expression in its essential, primary, motor form.  We attended to emotional movement as it rose directly from feeling with clear therapeutic goals in mind.  Do not be misled in thinking that we were focusing simply on emotional and motor catharsis, for even this early on we had already established the need for constructing symbolic healing events which attended to deficits of maturational needs.

We were incredibly fortunate in having our early work come to the attention of some very influential figures in the medical and psychiatric fields.  First was my dear mentor, the late Dr. Charles Pinderhughes.  At that time he was the Chief of Psychiatric Research at the Veteran's Administration Hospital in Jamaica Plain.  The second was the late, Dr. Ellsworth Newman, then Administrator of Mass General Hospital.  Charles saw immediately the implications and usefulness of what Diane and I had developed and, bless his dear heart, arranged for me to have a grant at the VA where I worked for five years as a Consultant in Psychiatric Research to examine Psychomotor therapy.  I had the pleasure of working those years in a team with Charles in conjunction with Dr. Leo (Seb) Reyna, who had been the teacher of Wolpe in South Africa.  During those years at the VA I absorbed psychoanalytic theory and practice from Charles and osmosed behavior therapy theory from Seb.  Their disciplined and scientific minds helped shape my thinking and re-kindled my own fundamental scientific bent  had I not turned to becoming an artist at seventeen I would have continued my education in science, physics and math.

Ellsworth Neumann was a neighbor when we lived on Beacon Street in Boston and was a member of one of the earliest groups we had led.  He was convinced of the value of the work from his own personal experience and introduced us to Dr. Eric Lindemann, who at that time was chief of Psychiatry at Mass General.  Ott, as he preferred to be called, stayed in the background, but I am sure eased the way to Diane and I working at McLean Hospital in Belmont.  I began working on the staff at McLean Hospital as a Psychomotor therapist in 1965 and continued doing so for eight years, until 1973.   Diane also was director of Psychomotor therapy at the Pain unit of the New England Rehabilitation Hospital in Woburn for one year at the unit established by neurosurgeon. Dr. Nat Hollister.  Nat and his wife Jane were then in training with us to learn Psychomotor therapy.

Fast forward to the present.  The process is now known as Pesso Boyden System Psychomotor therapy and we have long term training programs in nine countries, US, Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, the Czech Republic and Brazil.  I have written two American books on the subject, co-edited one American book and co-authored two German books and one Belgian book.  We have had four international congresses on PBSP.
Now about psychotherapy in general and PBSP in particular in the present.

PBSP is now not a simple or single thing.  It is a comprehensive psychotherapeutic process that consists of: self-diagnostic exercises to develop sensitivity to non-verbal communication; a body of theories regarding human development and maturation; powerful verbal and non-verbal psychotherapeutic techniques and interventions. All together these elements are aimed toward the reduction of pain and to enhance the probability of success in achieving a productive, creative and fulfilling life to those denied the conditions for normal psychological development.

What does PBSP have to offer psychiatry and psychotherapy in general?  First, PBSP in its presently evolved form is a comprehensive psychotherapy and not only a body-based psychotherapy.  Thus it has theories techniques and interventions that include all information available from the client, verbal and non-verbal.

The essentials of PBSP:

  • Creation of a working atmosphere.

  • Establishment of a PBSP working relationship and contract with the client.

  • Micro-Tacking Consciousness.

  • Linking memories of historical deficits/abuse to the present.

  • Construction of new synthetic symbolic memories.

  • Use of body sensations and impulses in the therapeutic process.

  • Controlled interactions in role-play.

  • A special stage with a movable time line and innumerable figures with precisely defined kinship relationships.

What are we in the helping professions trying to accomplish?

I presume we are all devoted to doing our utmost to help our clients live a better life.  Lives of more pleasure satisfaction, meaning and connectedness.  Those wonderful states that we human beings are capable of experiencing and which we endlessly strive to gain and maintain.  What else did our Founding Fathers mean when they wrote of the pursuit of happiness.  Pursuit I suppose because we find ourselves breathlessly running after them when they appear to be further and further from our grasp.   Such frustration can easily lead one to believe that those states are an illusion  an earthly glimpse of the hereafter where those treasured states would be the constant norm.

A way not to fall into that trap of despair and stoicism is to remember that our nervous systems are perfectly wired to deliver us those desirable flesh and blood experiences.

Flesh and blood, there's one answer  treat the client by directly addressing his/her flesh and blood.  Brain chemistry, imbalance is the problem.  The assumption is that the brain is ready to deliver, but its chemistry is off and can be set to rights by medication.  That avenue offers much hope and is attractive as it places ultimate trust in the client's system to right itself with a little bit of help provided by just the right dosage from the outside.

But why is that brain deficient in balancing itself chemically from the inside?  What put it off?  Or did it start off in the first place?  That may be so in some limited cased, but certainly not all.  If not all, then what has occurred in that client's life that resulted in his/her brain chemistry imbalance?  Clearly, something must have gone awry somewhere, sometime in that client's life that resulted in diminishing his/her brain's capacity to regularly deliver happiness  shorthand for pleasure, satisfaction meaning and connectedness.  Maybe it was the ingestion of some toxic element that got into the blood stream, maybe it was the absence of some important ingredient in the diet.  That could be discovered and put to rights.

But the brain and other organs make their own pharmaceuticals, peptides and proteins that are precisely engineered to fit receptor sites in the brain, which we then learn to copy and deliver from the outside.  But who and what controls and influences that interior chemical production or causes the lack of it?  One obvious answer is that the emotional state of a person mightily influences the constituents of blood chemistry.  Every emotional experience leaves its signature in the bloodstream.

So there must be good experiences which result in good states and unhappy experiences which result in unhappy states.  Surely the brain knows the difference between what is good or bad for the individual and reacts accordingly.

If that is so, then a task of the psychotherapist would be to simply create good experiences for the individual and voila, there would be good brain chemistry at least at that moment.  But what would happen when the client would leave the office and then bad experiences would occur?  Would the client be able to stave them off and still hold onto the good experiences remembered in the office?  That is a good question for several reasons, not the least of which is that this question introduces the element of memory.  That is, past experiences  at least the memory of them influence the way we process and take in present experiences.

Let's put memory aside for a moment and consider the therapeutic value of teaching clients ways of producing good experiences and thus influencing their brains to produce happiness chemicals.  Probably most therapeutic interventions, chemical, experiential or behavioral include a large part of this component by triggering  the placebo effect which is probably the basis of most healing processes.  Dr. Herb Benson teaches that the relaxation response, his words for the happiness feeling, resulting from Transcendental mediation, can be aroused from all kinds of belief systems and can be consciously evoked by clients.  This kind of approach certainly has value.

But let's now return to the memory question.  We're right on the intriguing spot of looking at the relationship between consciousness of the present and memory of the past.  Intriguing because brain research demonstrates that what we call consciousness is first, made up of so-called working memory. and, that our various sensory cortexes in response to present sensory events immediately call to mind similar, remembered sensory events from the past.  This makes it clear that the act of being conscious of the present includes a lot of non-conscious recalling or remembering the past.  In the normal, the past, that is memory of the past, is deeply embedded in the experience of the present.  Obviously that is so because the richness of our experience is evident not only in our consciousness but also in our personality.  Rob someone of their experiences, i.e. memories of pasts events  as Alzheimer's does  and you rob them not only of their consciousness but their personality as well.  We speak correctly when we say we ARE our memories.  We don't speak correctly when we say we WERE our memories, unless we speak of ourselves as no longer alive.  Another way to put it, our memories are very much present in our conscious experience of NOW.  Memories drive consciousness.  The past drives the present.

So let's look at what kinds of memories, what kinds of pasts do we and our clients have to contend with.  Just to remind us of the original topic, our experiences in the present result in complex chemical production and some chemicals lead to happy feelings and others to unpleasant and destructive states.  Our goal is to do work that leads to relatively constant and consistently happy states.

Simply looked at one could then say that all we psychotherapists have to do is to make a string of good memories.  But we humans are not an arbitrary or random organism.   Speaking of strings, look at the marvelously organized string of DNA chains our genes are composed of.  What incredible timing is involved in the maintenance and maturation of the human self.  Time is a factor here.  Things have to happen in the right time.  There has to be coordination which includes a timeline.  Certain things have to happen at certain times in order for other things to follow.  Those new things can happen based on what has been established before.  Facts have to be laid down in order.  That is events  i.e. interactive experiences have to be laid down in memory in appropriate order.  There is a template for that.  It is not arbitrary or random.  Evolution has kept a good memory for what works and what doesn't and gives us the present of a present that is livable, so long as its conditions are met.

Now there's a challenge.  What then are evolution's conditions?  Should we learn them, we would be able to develop not random memories, but very organized specific memories in line with evolutionary requirements.  So it begins to look like this.  Yes indeed we all have memories that influence our present and some of us have memories which result in a pretty decent present and some of us have memories which result in pretty miserable presents.  Why the difference?  Our assumption is that those of us with individual or personal memories more in line with embedded evolutionary records (memories) of what should happen in life gain the organismic, felt, payoff of considerable pleasure, satisfaction, meaning and connectedness in our present lives.  Those unfortunates who have had below par memories, far from the norms anticipated by our genes, suffer less happy lives.  History is destiny in this equation.

If that is the case, then pharmaceutical intervention is certainly in order for the inside conditions in those clients are not right for the release of blood chemistry happiness.  Placebo effect is also in order for short term release of happiness states.  Making good memories in the present and holding on to them in the future can also make inroads.  Memories of a good today can bring hope of a better tomorrow.  Practice in holding bad memories at bay and willing good states is also a way out.  These are ways of making a good life in the present in spite of bad memories of a poor, insufficient past.
Let's now bring in another aspect  that of unfulfilled needs and the consequences of that in the here and now.  Some people so deprived seem never to get over wanting those needs met now from every and any person seemingly disposed to do so.  Or even from those obviously not disposed to do so.  What can we do for and with those people?  In dynamic therapies those needs show up in the transference and the therapist's strategy is to help the client see those futile attempts and to help them grieve the loss of those possibilities.  Other kinds of therapists attempt to become the provider of those needs in the here and now.  Sometimes that seems to be effective and other times those attempts have disastrous consequences for both the client and the therapist.

Why doesn't it work and why are some people so perversely committed to endless, yet futile attempts at making it work?

That evolutionary history requirement is still pumping out its demands, but the time is long past for its satisfying fulfillment.  The timeline is wrong.  And not only that, the relationship is wrong.  What was needed then was the right kinship relationship to optimally satisfy those needs and that has to be attended to somehow.  We have found, or at least are committed to the belief that the needs have to be met not only at the right age, but also within the right kinship relationship.  Both conditions arising from templates embedded in genetic organization  at least that is what we have come to think.  Future research may tell whether that assumption is true or not, but we already have enough clinical evidence to strengthen that belief.

To jump ahead, our almost forty years of exploration, experimentation and clinical practice have led us to the following conclusion:

Newly constructed hypothetical  as if old and experienced long ago  memories can be made out of present events carefully constructed in a client controlled setting.  These symbolic, synthetic memories provide clients with a sensory-motor, kinesthetic, experience using role-played figures who represent the correct kinship relationship as if they had occurred in the correct timeline required by evolutionary/genetic organization preset for optimal maturation of the human individual.  Now that's a mouthful.

Yes, that is what we have learned to do: the science and art of making maturationally satisfying new memories and storing them as if they had taken place in the appropriate timeline with appropriate kinship relationship figures.  New memories created with an eye to the effect they would have on a client's consciousness and experience of the present.

How do we determine which kinds of memories to create that would influence the client's present?  We first carefully attend to the client's present consciousness using a process we call micro-tracking.  That is, we track present emotional states and cognition, helping the client to make visible the organization and architecture of their consciousness of the present moment.  We track minute shifts in the client's expression as she speaks of what is on her mind as she attends to her life issues or reacts to what is going on immediately in front of her.  We do this using a witness figure - a hypothetical, caring, individual posited in the present, who sees and names each emotional shift and places it in the context of the client's verbal report.  The acuity of the reading of the facial expressions is not left to chance or to an untrained eye.  The exhaustively trained PBSP therapist makes the assessment of what mercurial emotion has flashed on the client's face and checks its validity with the client before having the role-played witness figure make a statement such as: I see how humiliated you feel as you recall the way your boss put you down last week.

You notice the construction of the statement is, I see how followed by an affective term, in this case humiliated followed by a description of the context using only the words the client has just used in describing the recalled event, the boss put you down in front of your colleagues last week.  Nothing new is added by the therapist except the use of the term humiliated to describe the look on the client's face and placing it in the context of what the client is describing.  This being seen in their truth from the outside facilitates the client's consciousness and ownership of their emotional state and also places that emotion in the perspective of that event.  Yes, indeed she may feel, I truly was humiliated then.

She may respond with feeling and gratitude for the recognition of her feelings by the witness and then say, Well, he's the boss and he can get away with that and I can't do anything about it.  That is her cognitive assessment of that situation.  The PBSP therapist remembers that statement, word for word, and suggests that there could be an external figure who could speak that assessment back to her as if it were a fundamental truth.  For indeed our thoughts are assessments which we record and use for thinking about future events and possibilities.  In many ways, our minds react to our thoughts as if they were hypnotic suggestions, for we regularly find that people live out the implications and formulas embedded in their thought processes.

With the client's agreement a figure, representing the voice of truth says to her the same words she has just spoken as her thoughts but puts those words as if they were commands or laws.  For instance, Well he's the boss and he can get away with that and you can't do anything about it.  You notice the change in the pronoun from I to you.  If the figure had spoken using the word I she or he would be acting as if she or he was the client and that would have a very different effect than the one just described.  Or, the therapist, perhaps being a Rogerian, might say, I hear you say that he is the boss and that there is nothing that you can do about it.  That would also be effective but it would not have the power of a command as if given from the outside, rather than a reflection mirroring back what she has just been heard to say.

With the use of these two kinds of figures, the witness to track emotions and various kinds of figures who track values and rules of behavior, the client begins to see the patterns and orders embedded in their present consciousness.  Patterns and orders that are recognizable from past events, which events then tend to push the envelope of consciousness and rise as vivid memories of events which memories are the foundation of present consciousness.

Before going further in my description of how this therapeutic session will proceed I must first establish another set of frames so you will more easily see what the PBSP therapist is using as a guide for the next interventions.

Stages and Screens

When monitoring the client during micro-tacking I work with, three stages and three screens.

The first stage I want to refer to is the stage of the present moment occurring in the therapy session.  I like to refer to that stage as the stage of the apparent here and now.  That name because the present moment always includes non-conscious stirrings of memories of similar moments  which non-conscious stirrings endlessly color and modify the way we apprehend and experience the present.

This is the stage upon which the therapist, the client, and the group members are physically present.  Physically on that stage but I remind us: all of our perceptions and behaviors are  influenced by the out-of-sight, unseen screen of non-conscious and conscious associations and projections flickering and flashing in every one of the players' minds, including the therapist.

Thus we have now before us the  outer stage of the apparent here and now of the therapy room with all its actors alive and experiencing the present moment.  Again, we know that this present moment is constantly modified by the inner, screen of non-conscious remembering and associating, doing its neuronal best to supply us with content and information from the past to more effectively deal with the present and emerging future.  That's what those parts of our brains are doing for us, whether we like it or not.

Now for another interesting stage.  The stage of the body itself: the platform upon which our emotions play.  For instance, the stage of the face, where the movements of the eyes and mouth and the direction of the gaze are very visible actors to whatever outer audience happens to be interested in watching that show.   The inner owner of that face might, or might not, be consciously aware of what that troupe on the face is announcing to all who would care to see.

But the face is not the only place on the body that the emotions play upon.  All of the body, inside and outside is the never-closed playground for affects.  And most of that is not visible to the outside and, though sensed on the inside by each individual, is not always consciously linked to inner or outer events.  That play, that dance is done on the owners stage without the owner having to decide to produce or direct it.  Again, the content of that drama might be totally out of awareness to the owner of that mobile stage.  I speak now of the range of sensations, of heat, cold, tension, pain, accelerated heart, shortened breath, trembling, moisture, numbness, etc. that accompany all affective shifts.  All the physical sensations of our body that we are heir to are not only there to let us know what is physically going on in our body but are the emotional responses to inner and outer events.  The strange thing is that though many of those sensations are the precursor to emotional expression, those emotions may never reach consciousness and therefore never be expressed openly and outwardly as emotional states, though they certainly modify how our body moves or is held in space.

One of the tasks of the PBSP therapist is: to alert and educate clients to the subtle plays that are staged on their bodies; help them to become conscious, knowing actors in those silent hidden  dramas; help them take the lead in the show and use the energy of those sensations to produce the motor-actions of the body.  That way the drama playing in the interior becomes outwardly visible and innerly conscious.

The first screen is the screen of the actual eye.  That is what we see when we are looking at the world in the present.  But of course as I said above, that perception is always influenced and modified by what we have seen before.

The second screen is the screen of the mind's eye.  When someone consciously thinks of another person about whom they have feelings, that person is visible in the screen of their mind's eye.  They can see that person with all their attributes, and, incidentally, their bodies react with all the affect connected to that person.  The above-mentioned inner dancers spring into action and all the visceral shifts I mentioned above occur, with or without consciousness.  The screen of the mind's eye may be operating unnoticed during a here-and-now occurrence, in the apparent here and now of the therapy room.

The important difference is that at the moment of conscious recall, a person knows they are remembering and that the screen of the mind's eye is on.  In ordinary perception of reality that screen is not consciously turned on but is nevertheless supplying information (which is, as I said before, always accompanied by affective shifts) which influences the experience of the immediate present.

Now for the final stage and I will bring in one more screen a bit later.  This is the structure stage.  A structure is the name given to the type of work done in a PBSP therapy session.  This is a stage built upon the stage of the apparent here and now in the therapy room.  This stage is constructed by the PBSP therapist in collaboration with the client.  It is both a real stage and a virtual stage.  Real in the sense that real events will be played out in it, but virtual in the sense that the time of those events and the people in those events will not be those present in the here and now.  The purpose of the structure stage is to accumulate there, bring into play there, all the information, action and drama that is going on in all the other stages and screens.  The structure stage is a place of focus and consciousness.  An energy and meaning accumulator, so to speak.

Here's how the work begins.  We are in the apparent here and now of the therapy session.  A client has decided to take a turn for a structure.  She begins to speak, and the therapist is prepared to micro-track.  Emotions show on her face as she speaks and a witness figure is enrolled to say the phrases mentioned earlier.  The witness is posited in the actual here and now.  The witness is seeing the client in the moment of the present and noting what is danced, so to speak, on the face of the client, and includes some of the thoughts of the client referent to that state.  The witness, though on the virtual stage of the structure, always remains in the here and now, seeing the client in the here and now.

Then a thought might arise in the client and the voice figure can be enrolled to say those statements back to the client as commands.  That figure too is posited in the here and now on the structure stage.

Inevitably, the stream of feelings and thoughts leads to conscious memories of similar events in the past and the client recalls someone in that event who had a leading role in what occurred.   For instance her father who would ridicule her at the dinner table.  The screen of the mind's eye is on and the client has vivid recollection of the attributes of that father along with affective reactions on her body.  That is a moment when the PBSP therapist can say, you are seeing your father so vividly in your mind's eye, would you like to choose someone in the group to represent him and enroll as that part of your father in your structure?

That is the invitation to pluck someone out of the apparent here and now stage of the group and place them in the structure stage of the virtual there and then.  For now, though the witness and the voice figure are in the here and now, the new figure is placed in the past.  The structure stage is flexible in the time line, thus the moment is going on in several levels.  The client knows she is in the group room.  The witness and voice figures anchor that, but the structure stage is now the experiential equivalent of the inner screen of the mind which is flashing an event that took place in the past.  The past and the present are taking place at the same time on the virtual stage of the structure.  The inner theater and outer theater are identical.  What is going on in the structure is what is going on in the mind.  This is not role play where something is acted out by role-playing group members inventing their role.  This role-player is instructed by the client only to say or do what she sees and hears on the inner screens of her mind.

To review for a moment.  The client started in the here and now, and having had it micro-tracked sees patterns which awaken memories linked to the topics spoken about.  That memory is now made visible in the room.  That is called the historical scene and it is taking place on the virtual   time variable  and figure flexible  stage of the structure.  As the scene evolves, the client becomes aware of shifts in affect, sensations dancing on her body which are in direct relationship to what is being seen both in the screen of her mind's eye and on the structure stage with her actual eyes.  Stereoscopic vision so to speak.  The dance and action playing on the stage of the body is also allowed to become conscious overt expression on the structure stage.  The visceral concomitants of fear, anger, joy, sadness or whatever, dancing on and in body surfaces is invited and allowed to be born as full motoric expression of conscious emotions.  The inner stage of the body and the outer stage of the structure are united for stereoscopic experience and expression so to speak.

As the structure proceeds, patterns of deficit of respect and validation and the pain and anger associated with that emerge.  The grief, anger and what you will connected with those losses is allowed its interactive expression, enhanced by specialized role-playing, called accommodation that provides satisfaction of all emotions.  This scene provides both therapist and client with information regarding what has been missing and longed for by the evolutionary memory which you remember we posit as endlessly attempting to complete maturational and life-fulfilling needs.

And now we move to the most important part of the work  the development and construction of the new personal memory more in line with the requirements and expectations of evolutionary memory.  On the platform of the structure stage, she can play out, what could have been in the past had there been fortunate circumstances, interactions and figures been available.  For instance, an Ideal father who would have been respectful and supportive of her value.  That is the beginning of the healing scene.  There, the client can construct counter events while at the right age and with the right kinship relationship which would have met, point for point, what would have been required for optimum developmental experience.  That scene is constructed by the client with group members only saying and doing what they have been instructed to do and say by the client.  How does the client know what have been right for that moment at that age?  Somewhere embedded in our emotional core is information from our evolutionary memory, in our genes, that knows what would lead to a more fulfilling life.  After all, our emotions are there to supply homeostasis in our lives.  Emotional consciousness was not supplied by nature to rob us of the possibility of good living, but to assist us in that endeavor.  So trusting our emotional core to supply the answers as to what would be best for living is the client's guide for the creation of the healing scene.  When that new sensori-motor, kinesthetic, auditory, visual experience/event is completed, it is then recorded alongside and permanently linked with the memory of the original deficit ridden event.  Thus whenever external, here and now events awaken the original negative memory, they also awaken the new, virtual positive memory, providing the client with more fulfilling images through which to view and respond to the present.

Let us review on what stages and on what screen has that new event taken place?  In one way it has taken place in the here and now of the group setting, but more accurately on the virtual stage of the structure, which is within that here and now stage.  It is also taking place on the inner and outer stages of the body.  Most importantly, I believe, it is also taking place on the third and final screen I have reserved till now.  That is the inner screen of what Damasio calls, the as if body.  This is the place in our minds where we can rehearse the future so to speak.  The brain has stored internal images of the world including one's own body and it can create unique plays using the as if body   to try out what would be wished for or dreaded in the future.  There we make memories of the future.

That is the final screen where the work takes place.  We are using the rehearsal screen of the as if body, plus the actual body on the structure stage which is taking place in the virtual past.  Here is an important point  we are not making memories for the future on that screen and on that stage, we are making memories of the hypothetical past on it.  It is this hypothetical past  now forever linked with the memory of the deficit ridden actual past  that can positively influence our experience of the next moment of the present as well as our anticipations of the future.

The next step is to assist the client in fixing the memory of that new interactive event positioned as the past, linked with her interior images of herself  in the age which she sees herself on the screen in her mind's eye and feels in her mind's body.  Though she has experienced it in the here and now with the actual group members, the impact of the event is from the simultaneous experience in the virtual stage of the structure in the there and then and with the appropriate kinship relation figures.  The importance of the actual group is that they have provided silent but emotional support to what has transpired.

The final step is to disassemble the virtual stage and return to the apparent here and now.  Each figure de-rolls, never to return to those roles unless asked for in future work.  In effect the virtual stage is de-rolled and in the apparent here and now, the group members share their reactions to the work they have all witnessed.  The sharing is not for the client, who is absorbed with the effect of what has just occurred, but for the benefit of each group member who has an opportunity to say what was moved in his/her own psyche, from watching the structure unfold.

In the traditional one-to-one psychoanalytic therapy there is only one stage, the apparent here and now and only one actor, the therapist.  Of course the skilled analyst knows very well that there are other times, places and people endlessly projected and transferred in the course of the therapy.  The analyst works diligently during the treatment to make that evident to the client. We believe that what I have just described is a way to make those ghostly appearances more visible, more rapidly and placed more consciously under the control of the client.

The PBSP therapist remains (as much as is possible considering the natural tendency for projection and transference) in the here and now.  Therefore, the PBSP therapist never steps into the moving time line of the virtual stage of the past or takes a role as one of the figures in that past. The therapist remains outside that theater and collaborates with the client as an assistant and co-director in the present, helping the client use all the information available from his/her inner screens and stages to make more sense of and optimum use of the link between present consciousness and past memories.

That is our gift to psychoanalysis in particular and psychotherapy in general.

That is the end of my story.  We revisit psychoanalysis and revisit the past, but bring along with us the meanings and actions of the body and further knowledge of the workings of the mind.  I hope you enjoyed this visit. Thank you.

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Abuse,  by Albert Pesso
© 1986

What actually is abuse? When I speak of it from the viewpoint of Pesso System/Psychomotor Therapy I have very specific meanings attached to the words that I use and shortly I shall define my terms.

But first let me speak about abuse in more general terms. Abuse is a topic of high current interest. We read about it and hear of it everywhere. Children are abused by their parents, their teachers, and others who would ordinarily be expected to be earnestly concerned with their care. Wives are abused by their husbands, and husbands by their wives. And now, in this insane period when acts of terrorism have become common, ordinary citizens, tourists, and other innocent bystanders are beaten, held as hostages and even murdered.

No one, anywhere, can feel sufficiently safe to ignore the outbreak of this plague of abuse. Abuse threatens and offends all of us. It disturbs our sense of well-being. It robs us of our birthright expectation of security, safety, and comfort in our personal lives. Abuse is more than just another topic for psychological exploration.

It is a social phenomenon that can affect everyone and demands that we, who are especially involved in the treatment of victims of abuse - that we most fully understand it so that we may be more effective in our efforts to bring healing to victims' pain and distress.

There are three general categories of abuse.

First, there is physical abuse which comes from damaging blows to the body of the victim from weapons, such as, guns, knives, etc., hard objects, such as rocks, sticks, etc. or body parts. such as fists, feet, teeth, etc., used to injure, tear or disrupt the normal use of the victim's body, muscles, bones, tissues, and organs. In simple words, the victim is physically beaten.

Then there is sexual abuse which comes from unwanted sexual relationship and stimulation - via sexual intercourse, contact, or penetration of other body parts with the abuser's genitals, or other body parts.

Finally, there is psychological abuse which comes from unwanted reduction of the victim's self esteem and value through imposed degradation, humiliation, ridicule, derision, and/or other psychological blows, demeaning to the self image, and damaging to the identity and functioning of the victim. Another form of psychological abuse results from forced submission to the commands and will of the abuser with no possibility of resistance or escape, where the victim must only show obedience.

Clearly, abuse (ab-use) is an ab-(normal)-use of a person, whereby a person is treated as a thing, an object or a commodity and not as a living soul and ego. The twenty seven years that I and my wife Diane have been engaged in the development of Pesso System Psychomotor has given us a unique perspective on the human psyche. Using and developing PS/P techniques with clients who have been victims of abuse, and working with other clients who have experienced crises that required them to reorder their lives in meaningful ways has led us to fundamental conclusions about how the human psyche is organized.

It is from that vantage point that I would like to describe how I understand the terms, soul and ego.

Soul is the word I use to represent the essential self - the core of a human being. The soul is the source of all the energies of a person - those energies that arise out of the genes, out of the unconscious. The individual soul inherits the treasure of the collected information and knowledge about life and existence that has been accumulated through evolutionary time and recorded and deposited in our genes. Our individual soul, though born in our lifetime, traces its history to the beginning of time. It is this power and history of life I mean to denote when I use the word soul.

The ego is the encircling band of consciousness, control, and mastery that enables people to live their souls as individuals in charge of their own lives and destinies. It is the agency by which we connect with the energies springing from the soul.

The ego is not ancient, it contains no information rising from the evolutionary past. We are born with the possibility of an ego, with blank slates where our egos shall arise. Our egos are created in our own lifetimes.

Metaphorically speaking, if the soul is the protoplasm in the biological cell of existence, then the ego is the cell membrane which holds it together, defines it and separates it from other cells and the rest of the outside world.

The shapes and characters of our egos are formed and influenced by our relationships and contacts with the significant individuals involved with our upbringing, especially our parents and parent surrogates.

In this definition of the soul I include attributes that are similar to what are usually referred to as instincts.

The soul is the source of our emotions, our impulses, our instinctive behaviors and reactions to external events. From there we learn to find pleasure and laugh when things are satisfying, to become angry or sad when things are frustrating. From there arise the urges to be close to others, to love and to create. From there we find the capacity and willingness to attack when we are in danger, or to run from it.

As well as giving us impulses upon which to act, our soul also gives us our capacity to feel, to sense, to take in the world as food or experience. When we take in the world literally, as food, we digest that food and convert it to energy or the stuff our bodies are made of. When we take in the world symbolically, as events and experiences, we neurologically and psychologically digest it and convert it to meaning and the stuff our minds are made of.

In summary, the soul consists of the polarities of power and vulnerability. By power I mean the capacity to move, to act, to transform, or make an effect upon the world. By vulnerability I mean the capacity to feel, to respond, to take in and be transformed by the world.

From its position as the interface between the outer and inner world, the membrane which separates the soul from the outside world, the ego mediates, modifies and controls, what shall go out of us or come in to us. It determines what form the action shall take when the impulses from the soul are allowed to become behavior and what form the meaning shall take when the significance of external events are internalized.

The ego gives us the capacity to become conscious of existence as it gives names, words, images and measurements to the outer world of events as well as to the inner world of our impressions. The ego has the capacity to make discriminations between things, categories, and emotional states. In that function it assists in differentiating between this and that, inside and outside, self and other, dreaming and awake, thinking and feeling, etc. This discriminating ability is a function of its encircling, boundary making and separating capacities.

As the ego is created in the crucible of the family home, it is a reflection of how our parents and significant others have reacted to us. It is a record of what names they have given to what they license or allow to come in or out of us. Simply put, the child, through interactions with its parents, learns to know and to control his/her own emotional range of feelings and actions. Then, having internalized the knowledge gained from those interactions in his/her ego, the child is more or less equipped to handle those ranges of feelings and actions in relationship with the rest of the world. Ultimately, it is the parents who determine the relationship and balance between the soul and the ego.

We are in good balance if our parents and our early history licenses and allows as much as possible of what our souls actually and potentially consist of to be expressed consciously and to be given names and sanction for expression or experience. For only what is named and sanctioned is made conscious by the ego and given the right to be expressed, have a place in the world and be experienced as real. All else becomes inadmissible, sinks to the unconscious and will not be experienced or recognized as coming from the self. What the ego has no place or name for becomes psychologically invisible, whether it be inside or outside the self.

It is for this reason we spend such a large part of our lives learning to maintain the balance between our souls - who we really are or potentially can become - and our egos - who we can consciously and actually be in the real world.

Thus the ego is always at work balancing the nuclear forces of power and vulnerability within us. Containing power so that we do not explode ourselves or the world with what can come out of us. Withstanding vulnerability so that we maintain our physical integrity without losing our own shape by merging or making union with the rest of the world.

With this as background let us return to the subject of abuse.

What effect does abuse have on the soul and the ego?

Abuse dramatically damages the carefully constructed relationship and balance between the soul and the ego.

All abuse figuratively pierces the ego (which penetration can be experienced as a rape). As experience is thrust into the victim by the abuser without his/her consent, the ego defenses are broken or burst, and the soul-stuff is left without boundaries, giving rise to omnipotent levels of feeling.

The ego, throughout its lifetime attempting to gain mastery of the self and the outside world, is given a great shock, for the abuser gives the victim's ego no part in the decision making process determining what shall come in to his/her body or consciousness. The abuser may beat the victim, rape the victim, ridicule the victim - or all three - and the victim finds him/herself absolutely unable to control what is happening.

The ego is thereby damaged. All the ego functions are affected and reduced, resulting in feelings of loss of control, loss of language, loss of consciousness, loss of identity, loss of meaning, loss of capacity for discrimination between inner and outer, fantasy and reality, dream and awake, etc.

As abuse is extremely life threatening it produces highly charged survival reactions in the soul and figuratively raises internal temperature to a dangerously high degree. Abuse produces levels of feeling and reactivity (vulnerability and power) that are far beyond what the victim's ego has heretofore learned to cope with. Their normal life histories have simply not prepared them for this amount of response. Since these feelings have had no interaction or contact with any ego constructing figures, they are unknown, not named as their own feelings, thus responded to as foreign by the ego. Consequently, victims become uncertain as to who they are, and what their true identity is - more evidence that their weakened ego is in great distress and jeopardy.

Most victims tend to become quiet and fearful. The outer world has presented them with great danger. Their own souls have reacted in ways that are beyond their consciousness and comprehension. The first response is to shut down. The ego shrinks and grows rigid - letting little in or out - everything is regarded as suspect, foreign and dangerous.

Some victims may become psychotic if their egos burst rather than shrink and shut down.

Other victims may act out, releasing behaviors that they would never have allowed before, creating distress in themselves and to all who know them.

These are the miserable conditions that abuse leaves victims with.

Interpersonal contact must be made with those nuclear forces or there will never be peace between the soul and the ego. The truth of what one has lived through must be felt and experienced consciously, in interaction with ego-making figures and thereby made real.

It is the aim of Pesso System Psychomotor Therapy in the treatment of abuse victims to attend to these problems by:

a) creating conditions that allow the ego to once again be in charge;

b) creating a setting where the victim may bring all those powerful feelings and impulses to the surface of consciousness and behavior;

c) providing that behavior and those feelings with the necessary limiting countershapes via the use of role-playing group members.

These steps have the function of allowing everything in reaction to the abuse to be understood, made conscious, given names, given shape, given a place, given acceptance, and therefore made available for internalization in the ego.

In order to help you more clearly understand the interventions I will be describing in the next section, I will describe two more Psychomotor concepts.

The first is shape/countershape. If we think of the soul as having a shape, then the perfectly fitting ego would provide the perfect countershape. Such an ego would perfectly represent the soul as it surrounds and contains it.

But the ego is created in the relationship and contact with one's parents. This means that before there can be an ego countershape, the parents must provide the appropriate countershape to every dimension of the soul and that countershape would then get reflected to and internalized by the ego.

What I am getting at is that there is a need for action and touch in the process of experiencing the countershape. If the shape of the soul is represented by the action of the body, then the countershape of the ego is first experienced in the touch and action of the parents' bodies in relation to that action, as well as in their acceptance, naming and defining of the action.

In conclusion, the victim's damaged ego requires touch and action to repair it.

If one would attend only to the victim's fear and uncertainty following the abuse, then touch and action might not be entirely necessary, but if one acknowledges and understands that some of the major damage to the ego results from the condition of over-arousal of the instinctual or soul energies which severely buffet the ego, then it becomes clear that touch and action will be absolutely necessary.

The second concept is that of ego-wrapping. I mean wrapping in the sense of wrapping a package or a gift, or wrapping a blanket around a baby. Wrapping is the countershape around the shape. The skin of the ego, in this sense, wraps around the soul.

Using this metaphor, the totality of soul should be wrapped in ego. That means that every expression of the self, the shape, should be met with the touch and action countershape of those figures who assist us in making ego. That is, every part of our self should be met, touched, named, given dimension and accepted by the important ego making figures in our life.

That is what I mean by ego-wrapping.

Following the extreme impact of abuse, much of the earlier wrapping of victims' souls may be ripped apart. The intention of the treatment of abuse in Pesso System Psychomotor Therapy is to create conditions for the re-wrapping and ego repairing of the damaged areas.

We do this by giving the clients the opportunity for doing "structures". A structure is a symbolic re-experiencing of a given event. During a structure, victims are allowed and encouraged to discover all the powerful soul feelings and reactions coupled to the abuse that may never have been brought to the surface before in their lives.

During the structure, accommodators, who will role-play all the significant figures in the event, are provided to insure that sufficient "ego wrapping" is available. Ideal figures are role-played by other group members. In effect, the ideal figures are the ones the client would have needed to have present either to have stopped the abuse or to have given the support needed in order for abuse effects to be processed and dealt with by their confused and distressed egos. The ideal figures become the ego supports or props which permit the soul and the ego to come in better balance.

Other group members role play "negative" figures, such as abusers, or negative aspects of abusive parents, etc. When these figures are used and are targets of aggression or revenge they do not fight back but make sounds of pain and defeat, giving the client expectations of success in the expression of anger and self defense.

I shall now list the topics that are attended to in the treatment of abuse using Pesso System Psychomotor Therapy.









I shall describe the body symptoms and the treatment as I attend to each topic listed.


Inasmuch as abuse denies the client choice and control, those rights must be freely given in the therapy. If the therapist is too rigid and follows a too formal procedure, the therapist and the procedure itself will be further evidence that the world is abusive, even including the therapy session.

There are two simple Psychomotor Therapy exercises that help the client regain control. These two exercises are not set forth as major procedures in the healing process but as simple examples of the kind of techniques and exercises that can be applied to the problem of loss of control.

The first exercise is called the Controlled Approach.

The client chooses where to stand in the room and another group member is asked to volunteer to be the figure that is controlled. The rules of the exercise are that the controlled figure must respond to the commands of the client, given by signs of the hands. The client can indicate whether they want the controlled figure to move closer or further away, to one side or another, to stand higher or lower, to move faster or slower, etc.

This gives the client practice in controlling another person in their field of sight and produces feelings of safety and mastery. Although it might produce anxiety as they move the figure closer, they discover that they can command the figure to move further away to reduce their anxiety.

This exercise can be repeated many times over the period of therapy and the feelings and reactions that the distance and direction produce can provide much material for the therapy as well as be indicators of the clients' increasing safety with physical closeness.

The second exercises gives the client practice in regaining control of their own body. It is called Conscious Voluntary Movement. There are four steps in this exercise. The first is decision. The second is plan. The third is implementation. And the fourth is verification. Briefly, it supplies an opportunity to practice mastery and control of the body in a non-threatening, non-emotional task. In the first step the client must make a decision regarding raising an arm, using only the shoulder joint, limiting the movement so it is devoid of expression. The choices are limited to which arm, which direction, and what height. The second step is to make an image or a plan of the arm in the finished position. The third step is to carry out the action devoid of feeling and making sure that each bit of action is a product of conscious choice and execution. The fourth step is to determine that the action has been carried out according to the decision and plan. This exercise provides the client with the chance to gain control over their own actions, not allowing any other movement than that of their own conscious choice to be allowed action. Thus the client practices and learns that at any time, the turbulent emotions beneath the surface can be held in check while they make their bodies follow their will.

Those who wish to use these specific exercises can refer to my book, "Movement in Psychotherapy", N. Y. University Press, 1969, for more details. Having learned to control their emotions and their body actions the client is more prepared to give those emotions bodily expression.

Now we shall turn to the remainder of the conditions on the list.


Fear and terror is experienced intensely during abuse and, without ego-wrapping, it is felt as boundless, endless, and omnipotent.

We see the residue and signs of this unbounded fear in clients when they report trembling in their legs or that their shoulders are tense, both indications that the fear is at the threshold of expression. Trembling in the legs indicates the possibility of an impulse to run. Tension in the shoulders suggests the possibility of an impulse to hide.

A goal of the structure is to provide the client with opportunities for the bodily expression and discharge of that energy. In doing this it is important to understand that the expression of fear will not be "finished" and satisfied until the client feels safely "away" from the threat, in a secure place. Therefore ideal figures must first be established as a completely safe haven, and so equipped with power that they can be perceived as equally powerful or more powerful than the abuser. This reassures the client that the attacker could not overcome this newly found security.

It is not wise to invite clients to fully contact their fear before those conditions are present; otherwise the structure will not result in the experience of safety, but in a never-ending running panic and pit of terror from which the only escape is death or psychologically splitting from the body. As safety is the countershape to fear, fear without safety is felt as endless.

Quite simply, the bodily experience of fear can only be successfully processed within the confines of a safe place. The client can be given the freedom to literally do this running when the ideal figures are established in the room as the haven to run to. This releases the incipient action and provides great relief when the safety is reached.

The hiding impulse is attended to while the client is curled up in the arms of the safe figures. They might look as if they would want to pull their head into their body, making their neck disappear. Or shrink into a ball and make themselves less visible or even to become invisible. This can also be understood as an attempt to get out of their body.

Gentle, but firm, counter-pressure to the raised shoulders releases cries of fear and terror that may be locked up in that tension. The therapist must be prepared to hear, and handle calmly, the screams of fear, terror and helpless-calling-for-help that erupt from the client. The ideal haven figures must hold the client tightly during this expression so that the client doesn't think for a moment that there will be a loss of contact in the midst of this terrifying expression. Loss of firm contact would feel like a collapse of the ego.

The remarks that the ideal figures may be assigned or asked to say during these interventions includes statements like, "We won't let him hurt you." "We can help you handle how frightened you are." "We are not frightened, your fear is normal and we will help you deal with it." etc. Such words of acceptance and reassurance give dimension to the experience.

In contact with the ideal figures, the fear becomes experienceable, expressible, nameable, finite, measurable and acceptable, giving it consciousness and a place in the ego.


The experience of physical pain and the emotional anguish of what had been lived through will now be attended to. The physical symptoms connected with those feelings are often reported as tension or hardness in the stomach, tension in the throat and pressure in the chest. That is not to say that emotional or physical pain always shows up that way, but deep sadness, grief and other painful feelings frequently give first evidence of themselves in those areas of the body.

The technique, as with other reports of bodily tension and pain, is to ask the client to tighten the muscles around the distressed area and then to note what emotions, feelings, sounds or actions arise out of that increase of tension. In most cases the client will begin to cry, for it is with just those muscles that crying normally comes about. The pain and sadness that have been locked in now come out. It is a purging kind of crying which includes grieving for the lost innocence, the lost safety, or grief for whatever losses the abuse produced.

As before, the ideal figures are there to facilitate the crying, by totaling surrounding the agitated surfaces of the client's body. For if the crying was expressed without solid contact it might feel too great an emotion for their bodies to handle and they might turn the feelings off in an attempt to keep their bodies from bursting or imploding from the force of the tumultuous feelings.

Hands are firmly placed against all turbulent and shaking surfaces. Those surfaces are usually the stomach and the shoulders. The body shows the distress to its physical integrity at those spots and needs external support to help sustain it through the storm of feelings that are surging through it and being expressed by it. The agitation and distress is felt as a strain on the ego, and the external support results in strengthening the ego.

The phrases that the ideal figures may say at this time include, "We can handle how sad you are." "We are not overcome by your feelings." "We can help you handle how sad you are." "We can understand how sad you are." "We won't let you explode or implode from this feeling," etc.

Although there is no pre-determined sequence in the expression of feelings it is usual that when clients feel safe they are more ready to encounter their reflexive impulse to return the insult to the attacker in the form of revenge and sadism.

This is not an easy emotion for clients to find or identify. The abuser has been judged as less than human for what has been done and it is repugnant for victims to consider that there is even the remotest possibility of finding such feelings, impulses, fantasies or behaviors in themselves. It is a matter of individual judgment as to when it is the right moment to bring up this topic.

I say bring up this topic for I have found that clients do not usually surface those feelings on their own.

Fortunately, the body gives some clue as to the appropriate moment for this intervention. The body sensations that are most closely associated with sadistic aggression are tensions in the calf muscles. Often such clients complain of waking in the middle of the night with severe pains and cramps in the calf muscles. When asked to exaggerate this tension, if they feel it during the therapy session, they flex the foot in a way that is similar to the appearance of someone about to stamp on the ground or on some object.

If this association is acceptable to the client, permission can be given to stamp symbolically on the abuser. The client may then proceed to grind and stamp on a pillow while another group member, role-playing the abuser, provides the appropriate groans and cries of pain.

The therapist has to see to it that the pillow that the client digs into and stamps upon is not too soft or it will be too easily compressed, resulting in the client's heel striking the hard surface of the floor and possibly producing an injury. Unconscious guilt feelings about sadistic emotions might incline clients to accidentally punish their own foot for the unacceptable act, even if the act is only done symbolically and in fantasy connection with the abuser.

For clients who might be guilty about this form of expression, it may be useful or necessary for their foot and leg to be restrained by ideal limiting figures, keeping them from carrying out the full motion of stamping. This limiting function is accompanied by statements such as, "It is all right that you have such revengeful and sadistic feelings, but we won't let you 'literally' do it." This intervention clearly defines the expression as symbolic and conveys the message that its full realistic expression in the outside world, to the real attacker, would not be permitted. However, not all clients need to be limited in this fashion as they already have the notion that the action is purely symbolic, not only in the motoric expression but also in their minds.

Then the therapist can offer the information that sadistic impulses and wishes to "pay back" the abuser - by penetrating them and violating them - are common.

The client might have been beaten with fists, or shot, or cut with a knife. he/she might have been slapped, or humiliated or tortured. he/she might have been sexually assaulted or had bones broken. Whatever the form, the therapist can expect and anticipate that the client has unconscious impulses to return the method of the attack. It seems the unconscious contains a kind of "eye for an eye" attitude, an inverted variety of the golden rule that would be expressed in words as, "Do unto others as others have done unto you." Repulsive as it may be for clients to hear of the possibility of such attitudes, especially within themselves, they are relieved to learn that those impulses do exist in others. And when those impulses finally do surface to consciousness and are expressed in this symbolic setting, it brings great satisfaction and relief, for, even if only in fantasy, "revenge is sweet".

The role-player who is representing the attacker must act as if punched, shot, tortured, etc. when the client symbolically carries out those deeds in the structure. The therapist attends to reports of sensations in the client's hands, arms, or whatever part of the body is receiving the impulses to carry out the revenge. If the client had been shot, they might hold their hand as if a gun were in it. Usually, the emotional reaction to imagining shooting back makes it evident to both the client and the therapist, that such reversal impulses do indeed reside in the musculature and in the soul. The same procedure would be followed if the client had been stabbed, punched etc. He/she would then play out the reversal procedure with a role-player identified as the original attacker.

Once again the therapist must be prepared to offer limiting figures if the client is too frightened or uneasy about finding those impulses. As in the earlier example, the limiting figures would restrain the client from fully completing whatever action the vengeful impulse had taken. They might make statements like, "It is all right that you want to stab the attacker, but we will not let you literally do it," thus giving validation and permission for the impulse, but not for it being literally carried out. They would then illustrate that by keeping the stabbing action from being completed, keeping the symbolic knife from its target. The same procedure would be followed whatever act of revenge was imagined, such as, keeping the client from pulling the trigger on the gun, or keeping the client from sexually assaulting the attacker - for instance, by placing hands on their hips and restraining them while they attempted to "rape back" the attacker.


One of the most unexpected and surprising findings in our work has been that abuse of any kind produces a reflexive increase in vulnerability that includes an erotic element. The person under attack not only responds with defensive reactions, but may also experiences reflexive bodily impulses, not immediately available to consciousness, that imply a readiness to receive penetration. It is as if some archaic portion of the soul is highly responsive to and appreciative of aggression - and is prepared to welcome it. This level of vulnerability feels like a kind of infinite and omnipotent openness. It includes a kind of chaotic excitement and willingness that would appear ready to take in and absorb everything and anything.

On the bodily level, this state shows up as trembling in the upper thighs and often is associated with pain and tension in the lower back. A client's psychological readiness to deal with this topic must be assessed by the therapist and includes attending to the time when those physical elements are noticed by the client. The client, while recalling the attack, might report that their thighs are trembling, which they react to by clasping their arms around their knees and holding their legs tightly together.

Imagine a client sitting on the floor with their knees bent up, with their chin or face near their knees and with their arms around their legs - kind of in a small ball. It looks protective and indeed is an expression on the bodily level of this type of statement, "Keep away from me, I won't let you get to me. I am keeping myself tightly closed."

When these positions and bodily actions are found in female victims who have been sexually assaulted, it is clear that they are closing themselves to keep their genitals from being penetrated. However, one need not be physically and sexually penetrated to get the reaction of omnipotent vulnerability or openness. Psychological abuse and attacks on the ego produce the same out of control, unconscious responses on men who have been assaulted or regularly beaten by siblings or parents. These men fight the same battle with their out of control receptivity as assaulted women do. With no literal vagina to close, they present the same picture following a physical attack. They report and show the same trembling in the thighs, combined with the same desperate holding together of the legs.

On the topic of eroticism and receptivity the treatment of abuse should be the same for men or women, whether or not the attack included sexual elements. It is as if the force of the violence created a "magical" vagina in the victim via the psychological "hole" that was torn in their personal boundaries or in the psychic structure of their ego.

My speculative hypothesis is that the endocrine system, influenced by the unconscious, responds to the feeling of the omnipotent vulnerability or "magical vagina", by secreting significant amounts of those hormones that are associated with sexual receptivity into the bloodstream. It would make an interesting research study to measure the shifts in hormone levels in men and women after they had suffered various kinds of abuse.

This unconscious pattern of receptivity creates great conflict and difficulty for victims. They know that they are very uncomfortable in their bodies following the attack, and they know on a conscious level that they are trying to protect their bodies, by holding themselves tightly. But they don't know that part of the discomfort arises from the paradoxical and unthinkable impulse to open themselves to receive the attack. To repeat, the discomfort in the body is not only from the shame and pain of the attack, but from the effort of holding down those unconscious and extremely powerful yet conflicted drives. It is only when the legs are tightly held together by ideal limiting figures that the full force of those bodily impulses can become conscious, visible and controllable. But more on that in a bit.

The more regularly one has been a victim, especially with a more powerful family member, the more reinforced is the unconscious notion that one has not only a "magical vagina" but an "omnipotent" one as well. It is as if the repeated attacks demonstrate to the victim that they "draw" the attacker to them and that the attacker cannot resist attacking them. They may feel that they have become irresistible in their attractiveness as victims. For the attack is attention, even if negative, and is a highly charged form of recognition with much emotional heat attached to it on the side of both the aggressor and the victim. When the PS/P therapist works with this aspect of the treatment it is important to let the client know what is behind this intervention. Teaching is necessary to assist the client in the creation of a cognitive frame of reference that makes sense to them. The therapist must tell about the notion of openness, that I have just described, in such a way that the client does not feel judged or reproached for their paradoxical erotic responses. Rape victims have so often been blamed for what has happened to them that it is important that it does not appear to the client that they are once again being blamed for causing the attack, rather than being sympathized with for its damaging effect.

It must be made clear to the client that the sexually receptive response is not a conscious choice representing their wishes, but an unconscious reaction created by the attack. They have to understand clearly that "they" have not chosen to become stimulated by the attack. That they are not perverse and desirous of pain, but that a "process" has been triggered within them by the attack which overcame the, till then, balanced ego controls upon their inner vulnerability and receptivity.

If the client is not told in advance why this intervention of holding the legs together is being done, this act itself could be perceived and experienced as another abusive attack. The abused client's ego, having lost control of both the outer and inner worlds, must be actively included in the treatment. Everything done in the therapy must include the client's conscious control and choice.

The intervention that is used to deal with this openness is to provide limits to the impulse to separate the legs via ideal limiting figures. (They may also be likened to or even be enrolled as Ideal Parents). They tightly hold the client's legs together at the knees, so that they "take over" the task of holding the knees together, allowing the client to then feel the opposite impulse of separating them. It may take more than one person to do this successfully, for it is important when the client attempts to separate the knees that the accommodators keep him/her from doing so - even the slightest bit.

When all is prepared, the client can then attempt to separate his/her legs with all the feeling for doing so that he/she can find in his/her body. The scene that follows is usually startling and dramatic. A tremendous energetic struggle begins. With impressive effort the client attempts to separate their knees and with equal and greater effort the limiting figures keep them from doing so.

It is as if the "magical vagina" is asked to make its appearance or the omnipotent receptivity is invited to express itself. Although the limiting figures are external, they represent allies for the ego which in this intervention succeed in keeping the legs closed, no matter how hard the effort is made to open them.

It is not exactly accurate to say "no matter how hard the client is trying to open them" for in a way it is not the client in their ego state that is trying to separate their knees. It is as if the client has permitted the "out of control" or seemingly, "possessed" element within themselves to take over their body and then it is that element that fights and ultimately finds that it cannot overcome the limiting efforts of the external ideal figures.

There are screams that come out of the client at this time. Not screams of terror or pain but screams, high and piercing, like some mythological banshee. "Let me go, you------!!", the client shouts. I may stop the process at this point to check if the client truly wants to be let go. Almost always, the client reassures me in their normal speaking voice, "Oh no, not at all, I just have to say that while I struggle, but please don't let go of me." The struggle resumes.

Finally, after repeated and frenzied efforts, the battle is over. One would not have expected such titanic efforts coming from the timid or quiet victim we began with. There has been no timidity here. Certainly no quiet, as one listens to the client's screamed demands for release and the heavy breathing of all involved in the struggle. It is almost as if one were able to graphically witness a Freudian primitive id struggling to escape the grip of an ego force. If that really was the case one would undoubtedly learn to seriously attend to the force of the id in its wish to be "free".

Even small, seemingly weak and helpless women demonstrate tremendous energy at this point of the structure. Those therapists who use this technique should be prepared to confront this great force regardless of the physical appearance or sex of the client.

At the finish, the client feels relieved and cleansed. They report that the tensions which they have chronically felt in their lower backs and in other parts of their body have relaxed. It is clearly a relief for them to find that they were not able to break the bounds of their openness. The verbal message of the limiting figures can be internalized along with the experience; the limiting figures can say, "It is all right to feel open and to want to be receptive, but we can put limits on it and help you handle your openness and vulnerability".

It is especially important when the client has been sexually abused by a family member to add, "We will not let you be literally penetrated, even if you want it", for in that situation there may be a part of the client that might unconsciously wish to submit and this verbal injunction gives the right for that wish to exist, while emphasizing that the limits shall still be applied.

Those limits and statements empower clients to say to themselves that, "It is all right for me to have powerful receptive and vulnerable feelings, or even incestuous sexual wishes. It does not mean that I will submit to those impulses and have them carried out against my conscious wishes of choice and control. I can handle those feelings."


Victims ultimately have to deal with their own murderous anger at the attacker. Some of that theme was examined in the section about revenge, but now I shall go into that topic further. One portion of the murderous impulse arises out of the outrage for what has been done. Another portion originates from the strongly felt impulse to kill that person who was capable of awakening such powerful and unacceptable feelings in one's self as those just described. I would like to address this second element now. Because their self esteem as well as ego membrane has been so damaged by the assault and because so many unacceptable and disturbing feelings are released by that wound, the client, in an attempt to stop that threat from ever happening again, comes to the instinctive conclusion that murder is the only solution.

A third way to understand those impulses is to see the rise of those murderous feelings as an attempt of the soul, in the absence of ego ability to contain its unfettered vulnerability, to balance itself by releasing equivalent antithetical power in the form of unlimited aggression. A primordial penetrating force is set loose - directed, not so much sexually, but aggressively toward the attacker - and if one adds the second element, with this unconscious or possibly conscious thought, "I am not well or safe until the attacker is dead."

In the structure which develops out of this stage in the treatment, the client, as before, is permitted fuller expression of the inhibited body impulses which would result in the visible emergence of those unconscious drives. The body symptoms which are reported at this time are rather global and include rapid heart beat, increased breathing, and tensions which result in extension of the body in many places - tension in the arms, hands and jaws, which produce fists or fingers extended like claws, and bared teeth, resulting in biting actions. It might also include tension in the legs, which when released, results in kicking actions. When the client is viewed in this state, the impression is one of destructive hatred.

The assistance of ideal limiting figures is essential for the release and safe expression of those feelings. Without them, a client might choose to remain frozen and emotionally paralyzed rather than risk releasing the devastating explosion that might issue from the direct, open expression of all that power stirring inside.

It takes at least six people to limit one person in this state. They must be expertly placed so that no injury to the client is possible. For when the client releases those furious emotions into action the force and speed of the movement are prodigious. Care must taken that there is no chance of accidental wrenching or dislocation of joints, and no possibility of painful contact with people, furniture or other objects. In the holding, they permit some action, but completely check the possibility of harmful outcome. Pesso System Psychomotor therapists are trained in this intervention and know how to teach group members to properly hold one another for safe limits. This intervention should never be attempted without taking all appropriate measures beforehand.

The limiting figures might give the following verbal message, "It is all right to want to kill your attacker but we wont let you literally do it." This kind of statement and intervention licenses the emotional impulse while simultaneously making it safe to express it without danger or damage. It communicates to the client that he/she is justified in his/her outrage and feelings but doesn't stop the flow of feelings to the muscles. It simply stops the motoric expression from resulting in the literal death that is emotionally intended. When the client completes this expression, great relief can set in and expressions of changing levels of tension in the body reported. Now, even this level of inner fury and penetrating-ness can be tapped safely. The ego is once again in charge. The client learns that primitive feelings do not have to cause literal disruption, and that the flow of living emotional rhythms can be attended to safely, without danger.


Guilt, shame and self punishment are processes used by the psyche to bring it more into balance when ego processes have failed. If there had been sufficient ego, that is, ability to handle one's own strong inner forces, then there would be less, or no, need to bring such drastic measures to the task. Whenever there is an abundance of guilt, shame and self punishment, one can assume that there are strong inner forces that are not yet under ego control, in this way guilt is used to control those unruly forces.

The victim, thrown out of balance and out of control by abuse, is ashamed and guilty about how open they are, and, by the law of opposites becomes rigidly closed. Ashamed and guilty about how angry they are, they become rigidly "nice".

Guilt, operating on the law of opposites, inclines victims to punish themselves for their out of control impulses. The murderous energies directed outward are turned inward as a way to reduce the discomfort. Thus clients have a predisposition to be accident prone or self-destructive.

Paradoxically that very self-punishment which is sought to alleviate the distress allows an indirect but precise expression of the two forces that the victim seeks to place under control. In that act of self-punishment, both the enactor and the object of those drives is the self rather than an external figure. Guilt takes the client's own wish to penetrate the abuser, deflects it from that external target, and directs it back towards the self, resulting in the self-destructive wish to punch one's self or tear one's self apart with their nails, knives or any other penetrating object. When the deflected blow lands on the self, it is the self that is penetrated and thus the forbidden, unconscious wish to be penetrated is partially satisfied, but by the self and not by the outside figure.

The non-interactive solution of self-punishment leads to isolation, and in an odd way, omnipotence. Since one's penetrating forces are not reality tested and limited by an outside force, one can assume that one is omnipotently penetrating. And when one's receptivity is not reality tested by an outside force, one can come to the conclusion that one is the most open person in the world and the very model or paradigm for openness in the universe.

So, while the victim feels awful, shamed, guilty and wishing to destroy him/herself, there is a significant secondary gain of specialness and uniqueness. Even though this is unconscious it isn't given up easily. This fact must be recognized in the treatment. Simple verbal reassurance to a victim that they really aren't so bad is not satisfying to the unconscious omnipotent fantasy, and even threatens to take away the pleasure of one's uniqueness. The treatment must include the expression of the force and power of both the penetrating and receiving impulses and meet them head on in their most active forms and levels of expression.

As before, the limiting figures are required. This intervention can be applied when the client exhibits gestures and impulses that indicate that they are about to direct their anger inwardly. For example, the client may have his/her fist balled up and be preparing to strike in the direction of the attacker and it becomes apparent that the gesture has a tendency to move toward the self rather than toward the object. The therapist can check with the client if indeed there was such an intention. If the client says there was and also admits feeling a strong inclination for self-punishment for all that happened, the therapist must be prepared to limit that action. With the agreement of the client, the limiting figures place their hands over the balled fist and keep it from landing on the client's body, saying, "We wont let you hurt yourself."

This statement has to be delivered seriously, and acted upon with determination so that there is absolutely no possibility of the client touching his/her own face with either his/her own fist or the controlling hands of the limiting figures. For any touch at that moment is taken as indication by the client, that he/she has succeeded in breaking the limits. Another mighty struggle may begin at this point. The guilt-driven wish to hurt one's self is now allowed free expression as the client, in a self-hating-rage. attempts to break loose and attack him/herself.

What is also set loose is the penetrating force that has been out of control and which is now directed toward the self in an omnipotent, non-interactive form. That too, is limited by the limiting figures. Their very blocking of the landing of the blow places them between that part of the client that is punching, and their super-receptive part. This limiting act forces the client to recognize that they are now in a non-self interaction with those forces that have been kept from external interaction, which they have avoided for fear of the danger they might cause. Also they have avoided interaction in the service of their omnipotence which has found pleasure in being the greatest and only force in the universe.

The struggle of the client is impressive and can be likened to an image of a primitive god figure who might be saying, "Get out of my way. I will punch myself, I will kill myself, I will rape myself, for I am the mightiest power in the universe and no one can control me." By being limited, such clients are reduced to the level of being only people and not gods.

But they do not give up the struggle easily, for in the struggle is also included this element - the client may imply or directly say, "Let go of me, I am the worst person in the universe because of what happened and my responsibility for making it happen, and I should be punished." The omnipotence is followed by the impotence which would balance it, but which maintains the omnipotence in that the client would be both the punisher and the punished.

When the struggle finally subsides, the client is both relieved and saddened. The human, interactive part of themselves is relieved. They are not God, they are not the worst person in the universe, they are just another person. Someone outside of themselves is caring enough to keep them from hurting themselves and that feels good. But the omnipotent aspect may leave the client somewhat frustrated and unhappy, for now they have to give up their solitary, unique posture to join the world as simply another human being.


Having put many of their unlimited feelings under ego control, it is possible for the client to consider feelings of love for the aggressor, especially if the aggressor was a family member. They may now be more able to consider their feelings of tenderness and affection toward that part of the abuser that they may care about. Not the hated part, not the awful part, but the human part that they have known.

Imagine a client who has been regularly abused by her father, who is an alcoholic. In the father's alcoholic periods, he would be savage and violently beat all in the family who came near him. However, when he was not alcoholic he would be considerate and even pleasant to be around. Furthermore, when he and the victim were both younger, they shared some very happy times fishing, going for walks, riding bicycles together, etc. The warmth and love of those periods may have been buried and never been fully savored, or expressed, probably because the client hesitated out of inhibition or fear of when the next outburst would occur.

The figure used in structures to facilitate this expression is called the loved aspect of the real figure. This figure represents neither the totality of the real figure nor the hated aspect of the real figure, but only the loved aspect in isolation from all the other parts that the child knew and remembered so clearly. When such a figure is placed before a client in a structure, many feelings, including some negative ones, may rise up in relationship toward the entire, "real" figure. Then it is necessary to have the negative aspect present in a role to distinguish it from the loved aspect figure. Thus the negative and positive emotions both have their objects in roles.

When the loving feelings well up, the client can voice and finally openly express the warmth and affection that has been so long suppressed. At the point in the structure when the client might want to touch the loved aspect, feelings rise higher than they may be prepared to handle and they might get anxious. At that moment it is useful to introduce the limiting figures who would hold the client, bursting with their feelings, to provide reassurance and limits on their tendency of becoming too receptive and vulnerable in the presence of that figure. The limiting figures might possibly encircle the client's legs to keep in check the receptive impulses.

More typically they provide flexible restraint as the client reaches a hand to caress the loved aspect. This restraint assists the client in modifying and controlling the level of impulse that would ordinarily be out of ego control. The words that the limiting figures might say at this time are, "We can help you handle how much you love him." "We won't let you burst with your feelings," etc. It is very touching to watch clients express this long suppressed love. It also a great relief and satisfaction for the client. Those feelings are no longer frightening. They may have feared that had they expressed them in the past, the real figure could have made them their "slaves". That is why they preferred to hide those feelings even from themselves.

This step helps create a more balanced figure of the aggressor who no longer looms so large and forbidding. Aggressors become less gigantic and more human sized now that this lovable aspect is included in the client's mental image. They also appear less charged, because the client can now handle all the different range of feelings that the abuser is capable of provoking in them. The client no longer feels out of control in their presence and can handle each different emotional response without them getting out of hand - neither too much love nor too much hate. The loving reactions to the abuser are now handle-able and ego integrateable.

This concludes the list of elements attended to in structures. I have tried to show how we tap all the energies in the bodies of the clients so that nothing is left unexperienced, unexpressed, unconscious, unlimited, unnamed and without place. Everything rising from the soul is ego-wrapped by contact with the ideal figures.

The body, no longer the store house of frightening omnipotent impulses, can be in balance and living in it can be comfortable again.

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Sexual Abuse,  by Albert Pesso
© 1988
 (This lecture was given for the Studiedag (Study Day) on Sexual Abuse held at the Vrije Universiteit (Free University) in Amsterdam, May 31, 1988)

Over the years I have seen many adults who have had histories of sexual abuse, some of it incestuous - with parents or siblings - some of it with relatives, and some of it with neighbors or strangers.

Abuse victims, whether it be sexual, physical or psychological abuse, share one thing in common. They all carry a wound that makes them extremely vulnerable. Though some of them may learn to cover this vulnerability with a facade of toughness and prickliness, underneath it they share a terror of their own softness.

They tend to become sensitive people with a deep capacity for feeling. They also tend to be very alert to what other people are feeling, especially about them.

In my way of trying to understand and explain the forces that the psyche is composed of I use the term power to describe the penetrating quality of force and aggression, and vulnerability to describe the polar opposite drawing force of openness and receptivity. I associate mass or matter with power and space with vulnerability.

All of us are born with the polarities of power and vulnerability and our task in life is to integrate those forces and to keep them balanced. It is our ego that holds all this together. The ego is like an encircling membrane that contains and moderates those forces. If the ego is damaged, those forces tend to become unruly and chaotic.

Abuse is a major cause of severe damage to the ego. It is as if the force of abuse produces a rip or a tear in that ego membrane and then it doesn't function so well. Sexual abuse, especially with women, sometimes can include a literal, unwanted, tearing open of their bodies. This insult to their physical as well as psychological integrity has profound consequences.

All the ego functions are affected and reduced, resulting in feelings of loss of control, diminishment of speech and use of words, diminishment of consciousness, of identity, of meaning, and finally, diminishment of the capacity for discrimination in the differences between inner and outer, fantasy and reality.

Abuse victims tend to be more closed than other people, unwilling to let anything of any kind near or into them. Their vulnerability becomes not only unprotected and exposed by the abuse but dangerously exaggerated and reinforced because of it. The vulnerability of some victims, no longer under the control of the ego, appears unbounded and without dimension. That may explain why some abuse victims act out and become promiscuous. In others the unbounded vulnerability is not acted upon at all. In fact, their vulnerability and openness may be so frightening to them that they don't dare to feel even the slightest quantity of it. In some the openness of the person and their ego is so great that they experience psychosis.

Some abuse victims who don't act on the vulnerability in a direct way may express it by being spacey. You remember space is a metaphor for the openness of vulnerability.

I am thinking now of one recent client who had a long history of incestuous relations with her father. She had learned to be out of her body as a way of coping with the impossible sensations that the sexual contact with her father produced in her. That way, she could say to herself, that no matter what he did to her body, it was not being done to her because she wasn't really there anymore. This dissociation added to her appearance of being far away, mysterious, not of this earth. She was also interested and deeply absorbed in things metaphysical. But when she spoke of those matters it was never quite clear what exactly she was talking about. That, I saw as part of her spacey quality.

Her voice was very quiet, almost inaudible. Ordinarily, I think of the voice as an expression of power. In her case it was practically the reverse. Her voice was so soft it was as if she was drawing in the words with her breath rather than speaking them out.

The same quality was true of her gaze. When most people look into someone's eyes as they do in conversation, you get the impression that they are looking into that other's person's mind or thoughts. That supports the notion that some part of sight is like a penetrating force. Of course seeing is also taking in sight and is therefore an expression of openness. Ordinarily this quality is balanced in people. But her gaze rarely gave that penetrating impression. Only the reverse was true. Her eyes were quite open, even enlarged and had that quality that would make people think they could fall into them.

Her personality and behavior gave out that kind of too vulnerable message that could often produce its opposite in contact with others. It is common that when someone is very powerful, some part of the local environment tends to become less powerful and more vulnerable. Also when someone is very vulnerable others become less vulnerable and more powerful. I think of the polar forces of power and vulnerability as tending to pull out or elicit the opposite effect on people. That might explain why some vulnerable people seem almost literally to attract attack.

As a therapist I have learned to note my own subtle, not quite unconscious reactions of subliminal aggressiveness and sexual awareness toward this client. Having seen many super vulnerable clients I have come to expect those feelings and have some knowledge about how to use those reactions as a way to further the therapeutic work. Therapists have to be on their guard not to fall into the trap of reflexive opposite reactions. It is almost an expression of some abuse victims' power that they can make some people do and say terrible things to them. That is not their conscious intention, they hate being hurt, they want that pattern stopped, but other unconscious forces are also operating which we should be careful not to reinforce in the therapy.

Because of their increased feelings of defenselessness and helplessness, some clients work hard at finding the strength and force that would hold off future abuse. They strive to be strong and able to protect themselves. This helps balance their psyche and is important work. However, in order for them to finally feel comfortable with their feelings, they must also learn to master the feelings of vulnerability, not only by developing the opposite forces but by corralling it, that is by feeling the receptivity and then experiencing its limits - which leads to having good ego boundaries around the openness. But to do that they must first feel the full strength of their super vulnerability again, and for those clients that is not a very attractive prospect.

Those are some of the typical elements I expect to find when I work with an abuse client. Not all clients have all these elements, but all have some suggestion of them and at one time or another demonstrate one part or another. I will now list eight important topics that we attend to in dealing with abuse clients in Pesso System Psychomotor Therapy.

I. Need For Control

II. Need For Protection

III. Guilt and Shame

IV. Eroticism and Receptivity

V. Hatred and Murder

VI. Sadness and Loss

VII. Love and Tenderness

VIII.Antidote Relationship

Before going further, I would like to bring in an important point. and that is that a therapist has to deal not only with the concepts and ideas of power and vulnerability. but ultimately with the physical and active body expression of those forces felt in the body during the therapy. Power and vulnerability are not just thoughts and feelings, they are the stuff that moves and activates our lives.

But here is a caveat, a warning that should be included with the above statements. Since it was unwanted touch and action that contributed to the sexual abuse in the first place, those clients are naturally aversive to touch and action. Much time must be spent just to help them feel safe with the therapist or the group itself. Only then should the therapist help them become reaccustomed to safe touch and action in a group. I emphasize group because my experience indicates that it takes many people to do the limiting and contacting necessary to contain all the power that eventually is available to the client. Then those elements must be used with caution and great discretion. Too rapid application of those potentially therapeutic elements could frighten clients and reinforce their belief that their bodies are still not very safe places.


So reestablishment of control is the first requirement in working with abuse clients. They have lost control of their bodies and their choices and the therapy must begin with the explicit redeclaration and resumption of their rights to maintain integrity of their bodies and choices. Also their right and ability to be in control of the events that will happen in the therapy has to be acknowledged and developed. I will not go into detail now about specific exercises which attend to these topics. The workshops this afternoon will include two of them.

Before I describe some of the ways to work with power and vulnerability in a structure using touch and action, I would like to briefly tell those of you who were not here yesterday what a structure is. A structure is the name for the therapeutic session in Pesso System Psychomotor Therapy. It is a controlled, role-played reconstruction of an event like abuse, where we help the client to work out all the feelings in action and interaction, that they may not have been able to feel when it actually happened. Included in a structure is the alternative possibility with what we call ideal figures, like ideal mother and ideal father, who, if they had been there at that time would have treated them totally differently and with more respect and without abuse, etc.

Now I would like to describe some of the work with the abovementioned client. I will not go into what had to be attended to in the pre-structural work or the preparatory work she had done in many years of therapy with other therapists. To further my goal of demonstrating some of the essential issues to look for in the work with abuse using structures I will combine elements from several different structures, and treat it as if it was one single structure. I will make comment on these elements as I go along.

During the session the client began to remember the contacts with her father. She started to feel sick and felt that she would throw up. I understood that reaction as having too much feeling in her body, more than she could handle. She was one of those people who learned how to leave her body and now we could see why, because if she felt what was in there it would be too much. Whenever there is such an overload, I know that the route out is to have the person use the energy in their body very strongly and then to have that action that comes out of the body be in contact with supporting or containing figures who provide countershaping pressure and resistance to the action as a way to help them to handle it. Without those outside people to contact them when they have those feelings, they might feel as if their egos would explode from the force of the feelings inside and that they then might go crazy. The physical contact and pressure from the outside contacting people is experienced like a healing seal or cover over the hole in their fragile egos.

So I suggested she select some people to role-play just such contact, containing figures so she could process that energy. The contact figures, who were females, gently put their arms around her as she sat on the floor with her arms around her knees and then I suggested that she tighten the muscles around the areas of tension in her body. She began to tremble. The contact figures held her more securely and she began to cry, saying she was very frightened. I understood that she was frightened not only because she was remembering how helpless she felt when her father abused her but she might also be frightened of the feelings that it brought up in her that she did not understand. It was fear of the inside as well as of the outside. There are steps to work with that but for now I will only tell you that the contact figures are usually asked to say, or are needed to say things like, "We can help you handle how scared you are." This gives license to the feelings, giving them a name and making them handleable as the containing figures are there as an outer surface to hold them together.

The feeling of fear is extremely high in abuse clients. Not only is fear intense for them, but that distress is compounded or increased by the fact that the fear has been held so long inside without being fully expressed. That is, the full amount of feeling, force and expression is kept from reaching consciousness and bodily expression. But the fear remains as a symptom in the body and does not go away until it is finally processed in an interaction, and using yesterday's term, properly ego-wrapped.

One of the body symptoms associated with fear is an achiness in the shoulders. When I ask clients reporting that symptom to move in the way the achiness seems to make them want to move, they usually raise their shoulders. The look of that movement gives the impression of someone trying to pull their head into their body in an attempt to shrink and hide inside themselves.

Slight downward pressure on the shoulders by the contact figures assists the client in fully accessing the fear. The expression of this level of fear frequently includes a peculiarly high pitched sound, one you might hear from a terrified person or animal. When the fear is fully processed in the safe haven created by the contact figures this tension disappears and the body becomes more relaxed. If the fear is allowed to build up without the counter pressure contact with outside figures it is likely that the client will immediately feel nauseous and close to vomiting. Such moments of vomiting are a reflexive, unconscious attempt to get the unpleasant overcharged feelings out of the body.

I have learned that with this depth of fear there is a great need to have protection. I proposed to the client that she choose ideal figures who would have protected her at that time. She agreed. That gave her sufficient safety to fully feel the fear. She cried and screamed in those high shrieking sounds and shivered as the feelings ran through her body which was trembling all over.

The absence of protection is a major element in abuse clients. Frequently the abuser is a family member who should have been the one giving protection rather than being the threat. When it is the parent who has been the abuser the child feels totally undefended and unprotected by the opposite parent who they feel should have known what was happening and stopped it. This kind of protective experience is supplied in structures by ideal parents who standardly say things like, "If I had been back there then I would have known what was going on and I would have stopped it from happening."

The client, in the arms of the protective figures, felt free to touch even deeper levels of fear and terror. Suddenly, she clasped her neck which had cramped with pain. That is a common reaction when people feel very vulnerable. At those moments some part of the body, frequently the neck, becomes very hard, as a kind of alternative to their own softness that has made them feel so defenseless. I asked her to exaggerate the tension in her neck and in doing so her head pressed backward. That action needed to be contacted with and one of the containing figures, with her approval, placed her hands around the base of her head and the client, using the force created by the contracted muscles, pushed her head backwards into her hands.

This kind of intervention is provided to meet the counterforce which the client calls up in the attempt to balance the too vulnerable feelings. It is important that when this hard reaction to their soft feelings surfaces that it is not met with limits. Limits are that special intervention which stop an action from being completed. In this case limits are not required, but a more subtle amount of resistance is offered, with just the right amount of force applied. This allows the client to continue to move their body in whatever direction they wish it to go but they have to work harder to make it happen. This intervention demonstrates to the client that their strength and force is effective. The words that the accommodators might be asked to say in connection with it are, "You're strong, you can have an effect on me." Or other words that would give a similar message of validating the client's attempts at increasing the amount of power they have available in their bodies. This validation of that kind of strength has the paradoxical effect of giving the client the license and safety to go deeper into their vulnerable feelings.

From that interaction, the client, with great force, pushed her hips forward and with the contact figures giving counterpressure on her hip bones, the client's thighs and pelvis shook violently.


She said something like "That is so sexual", sat back on her heels and began to pound on her thighs. Quickly the containing figures restrained her from hitting her legs and in a flash she began to aim her fists toward her face which it appeared she would like to smash. She seemed to be in a fit of self hate, guilt and shame for having sexual feelings in her body and would destroy those parts of herself that had those feelings. The limiting figures with her agreement, I must say that nothing is allowed to happen without the client's agreement, say to her, "We will not let you hurt yourself." Then when they are clearly ready for her attempts the client feels free to release all the pent up self hate and disgust she has about her feelings. They struggle greatly but it is always a relief to find that no matter how hard they try they will be limited from doing damage to themselves.

A lot of things are combined in the above description. Things can move pretty quickly when people follow their impulses and it is important that the therapist has a kind of inventory or list in his or her mind so that the major possibilities can be anticipated. Let me cover in more detail some of what was involved in that sequence. As expected, when the counter phobic strength was validated, the vulnerability presented itself, this time in the form of sexual excitement and receptivity.


First let me say that one of the most unexpected and surprising findings in our work has been that abuse of any kind, physical, psychological or sexual, produces a reflexive erotic element. The person under attack not only responds with defensive reactions, but may also experience reflexive bodily impulses, not immediately available to consciousness, that imply a readiness to receive penetration. It is as if some archaic portion of the psyche is highly responsive to, and appreciative of aggression - and is prepared to welcome it. This part of vulnerability includes a kind of chaotic excitement and willingness that would appear ready to take in and absorb everything and anything. Of course in sexual abuse this element is even further heightened. Not that she wants or consciously feels any sexual excitement, but the sexual organs are involved and some unconscious part of her reacts to this stimulation. This only adds to her distress. For she has not asked or wanted to be stimulated. She has been denied her rights to have mastery over her own feelings and body.

The guilt that she feels at such moments is enormous. She blames herself for her own predicament. The fact that she just found herself feeling sexual seems proof to her that it was her fault that the abuse occurred. She would kill the offending parts of herself, "If thine eye offend thee pluck it out." She would pluck out her sexual feelings in her guilty thighs and smash the sexual feelings out of her head.

But when this self hate and guilt is limited it can quickly turn to hatred and murder directed toward the person who made all those unwanted feelings happen. That too must be expressed. But in a form where it is clear that there would not be the allowance of literal murder.

When those feeling of self-hate shift to become hatred of the person who brought those feelings out in her, the client chose to have a negative father enrolled so that she could vent her fury at him. The negative father role-player accommodates as if struck when she directs her blows at him. It was satisfying to the client to see her negative father in pain. She wanted to punish him for what he had done to her.

"I'll really kill him now." she said. If she had not been limited she might become frightened that nothing would stop her from carrying out her murderous intentions. At such moments the containing figures can say, "It's all right to be so angry at him, but we won't let you literally kill him. We can handle your anger and we can help you handle it." Their firm limiting action was concrete proof of that. This allowed her to fully express all the hatred and rage she felt for him. She lunged toward him and punched in his direction and kicked toward him venting all the suppressed hostility.


But she didn't stay with anger for long. Shortly, she was remembering how much she loved her father, how he had been the adored daddy for her in her childhood and now she could not bear to think of him being hurt. That brought her to great sadness and loss, for she remembered how hurt and confused she was the day he first approached her sexually. It was like the end of her world.

Paradoxically, during the process of expressing this sadness and grief, right in the middle of her crying and all the shaking and convulsive feelings that came with it, she noted that her thighs were trembling and that there was another tension in her belly and lower back.

When I asked her to exaggerate the tension and to see what movement came of it, it made her legs shake in a way that they oscillated between opening and closing.

Here the combination of vulnerability, openness and eroticism was most present. I don't yet know the explanation for this phenomenon that the openness is expressed as open legs but I have seen it so regularly that it became clear to me that it has sexual meaning. But the very same reaction occurs with males who have been physically abused, and they have no genitals that would be exposed by open legs. At such moments the impulse to open the legs is directly connected in my mind with the boundless openness of space and vulnerability I spoke of earlier. Here is where it is to be met and where it is corralled and brought within bounds with the help of limiting figures. In a way their success in keeping the legs from splitting apart is equivalent to the creation of a boundary around the spaciness or openness of the personality. It is also a way of illustrating and reinforcing the ego's new grip on the chaotic vulnerability, as the ego, figuratively represented by the limiting figures succeeds in putting the omnipotent vulnerability back under its control.

Before carrying out the appropriate intervention to limit this erotic receptive feeling I explained some of the theoretical notions about it to her. This was helpful to her and permitted her greater freedom to move under the force of those impulses.

The limiting figures, and it is important that in this case they be female and not male, otherwise it might feel like she was submitting to male strength, wrapped their arms around her knees so that no matter how hard she might try to open her legs she would not be able to do so.

It is a paradoxical thing. Here is a person who has been abused and who wants more than anything to close herself up to keep from being abused, and she finds that a part of herself that she is not in conscious control of intends to move in a way that is quite the opposite. Now that external figures are doing the closing, she can attend totally to the impulse to open her legs and that releases an enormous amount of energy. There is a great struggle, and not only does she fight to separate them, but her hips thrust forward repeatedly and when she makes the sounds that the effort brings, it surprises her. She says, "Those are the sounds that he made when he was doing it." Now the emotions connected to that event are entirely conscious and she can find some of the same feelings in herself. Although it at first makes her ashamed, she finds that she can continue to make the movement and the sounds and is relieved that she can own those sexual feelings in herself but still while she is kept from separating her legs. If the sexual contact a client had included some conscious sexual excitement and a wish to have incestuous relations, the ideal limiting figures could say something like this, "It is OK that you might want to have sex with your father but we wont let you literally do it." There is relief when limiting figures succeed in getting that omnipotent feeling of receptive sexuality and vulnerability under control. After the limits she feels that her body is more her own and she relaxes in a way she has not been able to do before.


Now she takes some time to feel where she is and she remarks that the room looks different, lighter and her body feels softer and less tense. She looks over to where the negative father was and begins to remember her real father again and how she used to adore him. Feelings of love well up in her and she begins to cry now. This is a soft feeling and she begins to stroke the floor in front of her as she talks about how wonderful she used to think he was.

She asked a group member to role play the loved aspect of her real father. This figure is entirely separate from the negative figure. It represents that part of her real father that she loved, but now in a form that was separate from the negative father. This kind of polarization allows the tender feelings to be expressed toward the loved aspect without ambivalence. If she should begin to be angry again, those feelings would be directed toward the negative father.

Now the feeling in her body is neither sexual, furious or guilty. She is feeling tender with the unexpressed love she had felt for him and had to bury after the incest began.

The male group member role playing the loved aspect is asked to sit closer. She is still being held by the contact figures are around her. As she looks at him her body begins to tremble again and they do their encircling function to help her to contain her vulnerability as she feels the love for him. This is reassuring for without it those feelings might get out of control, in a way it is omnipotent tenderness. Their holding can include their saying, "We can help you handle how much you love him." For her love feelings are also somewhat out of ego control.

As she reaches her hand to touch him she becomes frightened by the force of her feelings and other containing figures are enrolled to hold onto her wrists as she reaches toward her father's face and hair. They exert a little counter pressure, giving just enough resistance so that the effort is not stopped completely. That is why they are called resistance figures, not to represent her resistance, but to give her enough external resistance so that she does not get paralyzed by her own ambivalence about touching him. Those resistance figures make it just possible for the tender feelings to be expressed without getting out of control.

Together they enable her to feel all that she feels without the ego bursting. It is very tender to see that moment, for then some of the old child feelings toward her father can be expressed toward that part of her father she still loves.

I haven't said anything about ideal parents yet, but in many structures they may be there throughout offering regular antidoting contact and statements. By antidoting I mean the process of giving the kinds of interaction that are opposite to the toxic ones given by the original parents.

I'll jump ahead now and describe how she used the ideal parents in her structure. She chooses two group members, male and female to represent the ideal father and ideal mother. They are instructed to sit side by side, entirely opposite to the original situation where the parents were not close at all.She said something about still not believing that they liked each other or had sex together and I asked her if would be OK if I provided her with what I have found is a kind of classic image of parental intimacy. I described it to her and when she agreed I instructed the ideal parents to embrace each other and look into each other's eyes. This made her face light up. She said she had never seen her real parents so close and that it was wonderful to imagine her ideal parents being so intimate. The ideal father would say, "I would never be sexual with you I would only be sexual with your mother" It was a great relief for her. It made her feel free, like a child and now she felt she could have a mother again

She began to cry and climbed into her ideal mother's lap like a little child, experiencing what she hadn't felt in a long time, being loved and protected by a mother who was only a mother and not a competitor for the father.

Here we come to the end of this condensed composite structure.

Through it I have tried to show how we attend to those important needs and deeply suppressed emotions that are waiting for expression in victims of sexual abuse. Her nuclear forces of power and vulnerability are no longer either totally suppressed nor near meltdown. She has expressed the emotions in her body in a way that she can feel more control over them. They have been seen, touched, named and given boundaries, therefore ego-wrapped. She is more of one piece. The integrity of her body and the feelings in it have been recognized in a respectful setting and given a place. I hope you have found these ideas interesting and useful.

Thank you.

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Abuse From a PBSP Perspective

I. Introduction
   A. Talk briefly about the 3 Tiers
        1.  Not enough wanted coming in
             a.  Basic Needs not met
        2.  Too much unwanted coming in
             a.  Abuse/Trauma
        3.  Too much going out too soon
             a.  Holes in Roles
                   -   Show on slide/screen
                   -   Tell them we will focus on the 2nd Tier (too much coming in)
II. Definition
   A.   Ab-use in PBSP terms means abnormal use of a person in which they are 
         treated as an object, or a commodity not as a living soul and ego
         1. Physical  -- a person is attacked or beaten (e.g. hit, kicked, punched,
             stoned, shot, cut) which causes injury to their body and would also 
             include any kind of penetration i.e. enemas, invasive surgeries, auditory
             (yelled at)
         2. Sexual – an unwanted sexual relationship or stimulation which may include sexual intercourse, contact or
         3. Psychological – a person’s self worth and value is reduced by the abuser through denigration, humiliation, and
             ridicule.  Abuse may also result from forced submission where the victim’s only choice is submission.
             So, to understand the PBSP approach to treating trauma, it is necessary to first understand our theory
             of Soul & Ego

*III. Soul
      A.  Definition
           1. It is our essential self—the core of our human being
           2. Think of it as a biological entity that has not yet accumulated a personal history.  It has no present knowledge
               of a self with an inside and no present experience of an outside world. 
               a. contained within it, however, is the history of all successful life
               processes pushing forward to live and survive.
                                                                      GIVE an EXAMPLE - baby
           3. It is the source of all the energies of a person arising    
               from the genes.
           4. It is the source of our emotions, impulses and primeval (fundamental) behaviors and reactions to external
               events and traces it’s history to the beginning of time
           5. It is from here that we experience
              a. Pleasure and laugh when things are satisfying
              b. Feel angry/sad when things are frustrating
              c. Urges to be close, to love, to create
              d. The capacity to attack/run from danger
           6.  It gives us our capacity to feel, to sense, to take in the world as food or experience.
               a. On the literal level:  food = energy and become the stuff our bodies are made of 
               b. Symbolically:  as events and experiences, we neurologically and psychologically digest it and convert it to
                   meaning and the stuff our minds are made of   
For further reading on the Ego:
Pesso, A. (1991). Ego Development in the Possibility Sphere. In A. Pesso & J. Crandell, Eds. Moving psychotherapy: Theory and application of Pesso System/Psychomotor Therapy (pp 51-63) Cambridge, MA: Brookline Books.
Pesso, A. (1991). Ego Function and Pesso System/Psychomotor Therapy. In A. pesso & J. Crandell, Eds. Moving Psychotherapy: Theory and application of Pesso System/Psychomotor Therapy (pp 41-49). Cambridge, MA: Brookline Books.
   B.  Power vs. Vulnerability
         1.  In content, the soul consists of the polarities of power vs. vulnerability
             (these are not the only polarities—just don’t mention those here)
             a. Power – The capacity to move, to act, to transform, or make an effect upon the world.
                 1.  One of the metaphors of power is mass or matter in action
                                                                                NEED A CONCRETE EXAMPLE
             b. Vulnerability:  the capacity to feel, to respond, to take in the world
                 1.  One metaphor is space and receptive emptiness
                                                                      NEED A CONCRETE EXAMPLE  
IV. Ego   
     A.  Definition
          1.    It is the psychological boundaries of a person (the skin of the self) created through interactions with
                significant others in our upbringing.  
          2.   Unlike the soul, we are not born with an ego, merely, we are born with the possibility of an ego. It is created in
                our lifetime while the soul has an evolutionary component.
          3.   It is the encircling band of consciousness, control, and mastery surrounding the soul that enables people to
                function as individuals in charge of their  own lives and destinies.
          4.   It is the cell membrane which holds together the soul and defines and separates from the rest of the world.
          5.   It is the interface between the inner and outer world.
          6.   It mediates, modifies and controls what shall go out of us and what comes into us.
          7.   It determines what form the action will take when the impulses from the soul are allowed to become behavior
               and what form the meaning shall take when the significance of external events is internalized.
          8.   It gives names, words, images and measurements to the outer world of events as well as inner world of our
          9.   It has the capacity to discriminate between things, categories and emotional states – in that way it assists in
                differentiating between this and that, inside and out, self and other, thinking and feeling, dreaming and awake.
                a.  this discriminating ability is a function if its encircling, boundary-making and separating capacities.
         10.   It is created in our family home and is a reflection of how our parents have reacted to us.
                a.  it is a record of what names they have given to what they license or allow  to come in and out of us.
         11.  Through parental interactions the child learns to know and to control their own emotional range of feelings and
                a.  the child then internalizes the knowledge gained from those interactions in their ego.
         12.  Only what is named and sanctioned is made conscious by the ego and  given the right to be expressed, have
                a place in the world and be experienced as real—this it is the ”I” that we know and the source of
                a.  What the ego has no place or name for becomes psychologically invisible, whether  it be inside or outside
                     the self
         13.   Ego is always working to manage the nuclear forces of power and vulnerability within us:  containing power so
                 we don’t explode the world or ourselves and withstanding vulnerability so we can maintain our physical
                 integrity without losing our shape by merging or making union with the rest of the world.
V.  Effects of  Trauma on  Soul and Ego
      A. Trauma figuratively pierces the personal boundaries of self and breaks the encircling bonds of the victim’s ego
          which helped them manage and control the dual domains of inside and outside worlds.
      (use a drawing)
      B.  The trauma is experienced as a rape.
      C.  The ego which throughout one’s lifetime constantly increases mastery of  the self and surroundings suffers a
           great shock.
      D.  All ego functions are affected and reduced and vary degrees of feeling so of
           1.   Loss of control
           2.   Language
           3.   Consciousness
           4.   Identity
           5.   Meaning
           6.   Capacity to discriminate inner and outer world
           7.   Fantasy and reality, dream and wakefulness and bipolar distinctions
     E.  Trauma is extremely life threatening and produces highly charged survival reactions, which figuratively raises the
          internal temperature to dangerously high degree
          1.  This leaves the soul without boundaries and produces levels of  feeling  and reactivity that are beyond what a
               victim has learned to cope with, since these feeling have no interaction or contact with ego constructing
               figures—consequently  victim becomes uncertain of their identity.
     F.  Most victims tend to become quiet and fearful and the wound makes them very vulnerable and they may cover up
          with toughness and prickliness
                        –underneath they share terror of their own softness
                        –they learn to be very alert to what other people are feeling, esp.             
                          about them
     G.  Own soul have reacted in ways beyond their consciousness and comprehension.
     H.  1st response
          1.  shut down
          2.  ego shrinks and grows rigid—letting little in or out
               a.  everything is regarded as dangerous,  suspect, and foreign
          3.  They become more closed, and less willing to let anything of any kind near or into them
          4. Their vulnerability become unprotected and exposed and becomes dangerously exaggerated and reinforced
              a.  to some,  vulnerability appears unbound and may explain promiscuous  (clt. Example : Teresa)
              b.  others don’t  act on it but extremely frightened and don’t dare even the smallest quantity of openness or
              c.  indirectly acting on it by being “spacey” or out of their body
      I.  Unprotected vulnerability can lead to:
          1.  Promiscuity and acting out
          2.  Don’t allow to feel
          3.  Other psychosis
          4.  Acting “spacey”
          5.  Counterphobic hardness
     J.  Too vulnerable can produce the opposite in the other as well as vice a versa
          a.  use countertransference
     K.  The truth of what one has lived through must be felt and experienced consciously in interaction with ego-making
          figures to be made real and must involve touch and action
VI.    Trauma and the Brain
     A.  In looking at trauma, it is important to understand what is happening on the neurological level  and it’s implications
          for intra-psychic damage      
          1.  It is useful to explain to client’s so they can develop some cognitive understanding for what they might be
               experiencing and thus help them feel some sense of control, alleviate shame, guilt and an over sense of 
          2.  Information enhances the pilot
     B.  The Road Map of Fear
          Our senses pick up threat –unwanted touch, terrifying sound and immediately send a message to the central
          portion of our brain where two neural pathways are activated.
     C.   For a moment let’s look at where our senses go
           a.  Smells and touch go directly to the amygdala
                1).  consequently, smells evoke stronger memories of feelings than do sights and sounds
                      b.  Sights and sounds are first processed by the thalamus (it is the hub for 
                           sights and sounds and breaks down incoming visual cues by size, shape
                           and color and auditory cues by volume and dissonance, and then signals
                           the appropriate parts of the cortex.)  which filters the incoming cues and
                           shunts them either directly to the amygdala or to the appropriate parts of
                           the cortex
                1st    Route A—Shortcut
                     - when startled/shocked ;  the brain engages and emergency hot line to its
                       fear center, the amygdala
                      c.  Definition—it is an almond-shaped cluster of cells and makes up the
                           emotional core of the brain.  It has the primary role of triggering the fear
                           response to insure both the individual’s own survival and consequently, the
                           survival of our species
                           1).  Some of the signs that put it on alert are genetic and hardwired (example?) à
                           2).  Some are learned and conditioned by experience (i.e. fear of dogs)
                           3).  What is special about the amygdale is it rapidly activates just about every system of the body
                                   fight – like the devil            
                                   flee – run like hell
                                   freeze – like a statue
                                   **appease - like
                          4).  The results are the classic fear response:
                                  sweaty palms
                                  rapid heartbeat
                                  increased blood pressure
                                  burst of adrenaline
                          5).  All before you know why you are afraid
                          6).  The amygdala while busy telling the body what to do also fires up the hippocampus
                                a. Definition
                                    job is to help the brain learn and form new memories.  These are
                                    survival memories of where you were when you were shocked, what
                                    it looked like, how it smelled, sounded, felt, tasted and
                                    what was going on around you at the time.  It is contextual learning
                                    to help you avoid the danger in the future.
                 2nd    Route B—The High Road
                      - only after the fear response is activated does the conscious mind kick into
                        gear  and the cortex analyzes the data and tells the amygdala to stand
                        down or to continue its job
       D.   In the event of trauma, the amygdala has the power to over ride the ego and can stir such overpowering bodily
             reactions to the forces of  power and vulnerability  that those reactions become unbound and outside the realm
             of our ego.  They become omnipotent.
VII.  Ten Important Topics to Attend to with Abuse Clients in PBSP
            1.  The experience of loss of Control
            2.  The Experience of Fear and Terror
            3.  Need for protection
            4.  The Experience of Pain, Hurt, and Sadness
            5.  The Impulse and Expression of revenge and Sadistic Feelings
            6.  The Expression of eroticism and receptivity
            7.  The Impulse and Expression of hatred and murder
            8.  The increase of guilt, shame, and the desire for punishment
            9.  The desire to express love for the abuser
          10.  The need for an antidote relationship
      a.  not all clients have all these elements and these may not all show at once
                  b.  power and vulnerability are not just concepts but they are forces which
                       move and activate our lives in physical and active bodily expression and
                       therapist must be prepared for those expressions
                  c.  glitch is while healing requires action and touch it was also action and
                       touch which created the abuse in the first place
         A.   The  Experience of  Loss of Control
                1.  Much time must be spent to help client feel safe with therapist and group
                2.  2 PBSP exercises that help clients regain control
                      a.  Controlled Approach
                      b.  Conscious Voluntary Movement
                           1.  4 steps:
                               a. learning more control of conscious voluntary actions helps clients to consider allowing
                                  unconscious emotions bodily expression
                      c.  Arm Raise
          B.  Fear and Terror
               1.  Experienced in abuse and without ego wrapping, feel boundless and endless (omnipotent)
               2.  Body Parts
                     a.  Trembling in legs—possible impulse to run
                     b.  Achiness in shoulders=fear—shrink into body to hide
                     c.  Tension in shoulders—impulse to hide
               3.  Ideal parents must first be installed before dealing with these emotions so client feels safety
                     a.  Safety to countershape is fear
                     b.  Throw up:  occurs when there is too much feeling in body, more than clt. can handle
                          1).  may be reflexive, unconscious attempt to get rid of unpleasant, overcharged feelings in the body
               4.  High pitched sound might come—warn group
         C.     Need for Protection

               1.  Place ideal parents as wall/shield between client and abuser
               2.  Neck cramps—when someone feels more vulnerable than they are accustom
                     a.)  as a reflexive alternative to softness/defenseless neck and calves may become hard
               3.  When reactions to their soft feelings surface don’t meet with limits
         D.   Pain, Hurt, Sadness
               1.  Body Parts – shows up as tension or hardness in the stomach, throat, and pressure in chest
               2.  Technique is to tighten those muscles
         E.   Impulse and Expression of Revenge and Sadistic Feelings
               1.  Clients don’t generally bring up this topic, therapist has to by stating that it is common to feel this
               2.  Body sensations related to these feelings=tension in calf muscles
                    a.  might want to stomp or grind
               3.  Whatever was done to client, assume they unconsciously want to do back to the perpetrator
               4.  Therapist be prepared to provide limits if necessary
        **F.  Expression of Eroticism and Receptivity
                1.  Most unexpected feelings
                2.  Abuse produces a reflexive increase in vulnerability that includes an erotic element—a readiness to receive
                3. Its as if some archaic portion of the soul highly responsive to and receptive of aggression
                4. This level of vulnerability feels like a kind of omnipotent openness and includes a chaotic excitement and
                    readiness to take in and absorb everything and anything
                5.  Some unconscious part of body reacts to the stimulation—the guilt about
                     this is enormous and clt. blames themselves for their own predicament and
                     because they feel sexual, it is proof to them it is their fault and consequently,
                     they want to kill offending parts of self
                     a.  On body, shows up—trembling upper thighs and associated with pain
                          and tension in lower back
                     b.  Psychological abuse produces same reactions
                     c.  Men and women treatment is the same
                     d.  Reflexive receptivity—close off and paradoxically impulse to open
                          themselves (pg. 181)
                     e.  Magical sexual receptivity and omnipotent as well
                          1).  irresistible
                          2).  draw attacher to them
              6.  Clear, comprehensible, teaching is necessary to help clt. create a cognitive
                   frame of reference that makes sense
              7.  Everything done in therapy must include client’s conscious control and choice
              8.  To deal with this openness we provide limits to impulse to separate legs through ideal, limiting figures
                     a.  Tightly hold knees together, so they “take over” the task of holding
                          knees together, so clt. can attend and feel the opposite impulse of
                          separating them
                     b.  It may take more than one person and extremely important that
                          accommodators keep them from separating even a little
                          1).  Very important you explain steps to clt. before you do it, so they
                               understand the point of what you are doing or they could get into a
                               competitive position with you
                          2).  Scene is full of energy
                          3).  Magical sexual receptivity is asked to make its appearance or the
                                omnipotent receptivity is invited to express self
                                a.  Although limiting figures are external, they represent allies for the ego
                                b.  The element that is fighting is the “possessed element within themselves—it is that element
                                     that is fighting  (entity?)
                                c.  Screams are increased and piercing “Let me go”
                                     1).  stop here to see if they really want to be let go
                                d.  At the end, clts. feel relieved and cleansed—relief that they were not able to break free
                                e.  Verbal messages from limiting figures are internalized along with the experience  (verbal lines
                                     pg. 183)
       G.   Impulse and Expression of Murder
             1.  Victims have to ultimately deal with own murderous anger at attacker
                  a.  1 portion is outrage and, 1 portion is impulse to kill
                       1).  Kill is seen as only solution to making sure it never happens again
            2.  3rd way to understand impulse:  see the rise of murderous feeling as an
                 attempt of soul, in absence of ego, to balance itself by releasing equivalent
                 antithetical power in the form of unlimited aggression
                 a.  Primordial penetrating force is set loose aggressively towards attacker  “I am not safe until you are dead”
            3.  Body symptoms at this stage are global and include:
                 a.  rapid heart beat
                 b.  increased breathing
                 c.  tension in arms, hands, jaw, fists, fingers like claws
                 d.  bared teeth—biting action
                 e.  tension in legs which result in kicking actions
            4.  Ideal limiting figures essential
            5.  6 people to limit 1 person in this state, carefully placed
      H.   Increase of Guilt, Shame and Desire for Punishment
            1.  These are processes used by psyche to bring it more into balance when
                 ego processes have failed
            2.  Whenever there is abundance of feelings, assume that there are strong
                 inner forces not yet under ego control
            3.  Victims are ashamed and guilty about how open they are so consequently
                 become rigidly closed and ashamed and guilty about how angry they are
                 and become rigidly nice ( law of opposites)
            4.  (Law of turning inwards) victims will punish self for out of control,
                 forbidden impulses
            5.  Murderous energies turn in—can be predisposed to be accident prone or self destructive
                 a.  Enactor and self are the same rather than external figure (pg 184)
                 b.  Guilt take aggression toward abuser deflects it from them and directs it
                      back to self, resulting in self-destructive wish to punch self, tear self
                      apart with nails, knives, etc.
                             --when deflected blow lands on self, self is penetrated and the
                             unconscious wish to be penetrated is partially satisfied
                     1). This non-interactive solution of self punishment leads to isolation
                          and omnipotence—can assume that self is omnipotently penetrating
                          and conversely most open person in world
                     2). Significant 2ndary gain of specialness and uniqueness—this is
                          unconscious and not given up easily
                          a.  Verbal reassurance isn’t satisfying to the unconscious
                               omnipotent fantasy and even threatens to take away the pleasure
                               of one’s uniqueness
                          b.  Treatment must include expression of the force and power of
                               both penetrating and receiving impulses and meet them head
                               on in their most active forms and levels of expression
                6.  Limiting figures required and applied when it looks like anger is going to be
                     directed inwardly
                     a.  i.e. when fists are balled up and moving toward self not object—you can
                         check with clt.
                     1). Limiting figures place hands over balled fist    
                          --“We won’t let you hurt yourself” or “ You don’t deserve to be hurt”
                          a.  Absolutely no possibility for clients touching their own faces with
                               either their own fists or the controlling hands of limiting figures
                                because any touch at that moment is taken as indication by clt.
                                that they have succeeded in breaking the limits
                     2).  Clt. may also avoid interaction in the past in the service of their omnipotence
                     3).  Struggle with figures is impressive
                           i.e.  “Get out of my way.  I will punch myself. I will kill myself.  I am
                           the mightiest power in the universe and no one can control me”
                     4).  They don’t give up struggle easily
                            --impotent feelings seem to follow the omnipotent ones in  a
                           balancing act yet the powerlessness secretly maintains the omnipotence
     I.    Desire to Express Love for Abuser
           1.  After unlimited feelings get under ego control, love may emerge
           2.  Figure in structure called, ‘loved aspects of real figure (Al, are you still doing
                this or using place markers?)
           3.  Sometimes when you enroll positive, negative feeling arise so enroll neg.
           4.  Client may want to touch loved aspects, use limiting figures so they don’t
                become too open and vulnerable and may also encircle clt’s legs to keep
                receptive impulses in check
                a.  provide flexible restraint
      J.   Need for Antidote Relationship

           1.  After historical events have been processed, provide ideals

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Abuse Outline

I.                Introduction
II.               Definition
*III.             Soul
                 A.     Definition
                *B.   Power vs. Vulnerability
IV.              Ego
                 A.  Definition
V.             Effects of Trauma on Soul and Ego
VI.            Trauma and the Brain
VII.           Ten Important Topics to Attend to with Abuse Clients in PBSP
                A. The Experience of Loss of Control
                B. The Experience of Fear and Terror
                C. Need for Protection
                D. Pain, Hurt, Sadness
                E. Impulse and Expression of Revenge and Sadistic Feelings
                *F.Expression of Eroticism and Receptivity
                G. Impulse and Expression of Murder
                H. Increase of Guilt, Shame and Desire for Punishment
                I.  Desire to Express Love for Abuser
                J. Need for Antidote Relationship
VIII.          Questions and Answers

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