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Transforming the Mind ~ by Peter Shepherd


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Body-Mind Defenses

Throughout life an individual will develop many defenses to protect himself against any real or imagined threat to his functioning. When the heart stops a beat or races we experience anxiety at the very core of our being. When a person has built up solid defenses (that soon become unconscious response-patterns or automatic behavior) he will not allow his heart to be touched easily and will not respond to the world from his heart. The defenses work in layers:

I. The core or heart from which the feeling to love and be loved derives, at the center of which is the soul or spiritual identity. This is always present, even if defenses on further layers make it unconscious.

II. The emotional layer of feelings that include the suppressed feelings of rage, anxiety, panic or terror, despair, sadness and pain.

III. The muscular layer in which is found the chronic muscular tensions that support and justify the ego defenses and at the same time protect the person against expressing the underlying layer of suppressed feelings that he dare not express.

IV. The ego layer is the outermost layer of the basic sense of self or identity, and that contains the typical ego defenses of denial, distrust, blaming, projections (other-determined viewpoints), plus rationalizations (excuses) and intellectualizations.

The breakdown of defenses has necessarily to consider each of these layers. While we can help a person become conscious of his tendencies to deny, blame, project or rationalize, this awareness rarely affects the muscular tensions or releases the suppressed feelings. If these layers are not cleared, the conscious awareness can easily degenerate into a different type of rationalization with a concomitant but altered form of denial and projection.

Assuming it is possible to eliminate every defensive position in the personality, how would such an 'open' person function?

The four layers still exist but now they are coordinating and expressive layers rather than defensive ones. Core impulses reach the real world. The person puts his heart into everything he does. He loves doing whatever he chooses, whether it is work, play or sex. He can be angry, sad, joyful or frightened depending on the situation. These feelings represent genuine responses since they are free from contamination by suppressed emotions stemming from childhood experiences. And since his muscular layer is free from chronic tensions, his movements reflect his feelings and are subject to the control of the ego - they are appropriate, meaningful and coordinated.

The use of the Biofeedback Monitor in counseling helps reach through the outer defenses to detect emotional charge and this can then be fully contacted and re-experienced and so released, with cognitive insight (into the ego-defenses) naturally accompanying the process. Tensions in the muscular layer are no longer supported and can dissolve -- this process is much enhanced by therapeutic bodywork such as 'rolfing' or 'biodynamic' massage, and by Alexander or Feldenkrais postural techniques.

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