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Freedom to Feel: An Introduction to the IPA and Deep-Feeling Therapies

The International Primal Association (IPA) was founded in 1974 as a community of people at all psychotherapeutic levels dedicated to "promoting growth and healing through ...Read More

I am a member of the International Primal Association (IPA), an organization “promoting growth and healing through deep-feeling process,” as our tag line proclaims. The IPA is a community that seeks to help people understand what this process is – via an extensive website, retreats, workshops, and various other forms of communication. I hope to reach even more of you with this blog and offer information about an effective practice that therapists and clients can use in their healing work.

I especially hope to raise the veil of fear surrounding the very idea of expressing feelings so that we can experience all the parts of ourselves in our daily lives. That is to say, the primal process is not only a therapy for depression, addiction, anxiety, codependence, and other ills of the psyche, but is as important a part of wellness as is exercise, a healthy diet, and meditation.

There are many mistaken beliefs about feelings, and about practicing a therapy that encourages the expression of feelings, and I would like to address them all. One popular credo is that “wallowing in negative feelings” only encourages more pain and suffering. Let me start with that one.

The basis of deep-feeling therapies, as well as many other modalities, is that adult problems are the result of infantile or childhood trauma and abuse. That trauma can take many forms, from overt physical or sexual mistreatment to chronic criticism or benign neglect. The child is physically incapable of handling the extreme pain and fear that arise from abuse and is able to survive only by repressing the feelings. We do this by adopting defense mechanisms-behaviors that we substitute for the feeling. We use these defense mechanisms for the rest of our lives, whenever the repressed feeling threatens to rear its head. These “acting out” behaviors range from the most self-destructive-substance abuse, dissociation, eating disorders, violence, suicide-to many others that we often do not even recognize as defense mechanisms and in fact can look like feelings-phobias, shyness, loneliness, anxiety, poor self-esteem, boredom, irresponsibility, obsessions, anger, laziness (and the rest of the Seven Deadly Sins)-to name only a few. We are incredibly adaptive creatures.

We come to a therapist because of the suffering that our defense mechanisms cause us. Think about it. We have never actually experienced the underlying feelings, not as babies when we were too fragile to handle them, and not as adults either. In primal therapy and other feeling-focused modalities, we are finally supported and encouraged to let go of the defense and experience the feelings that we could not access before. This is not wallowing in the feeling. We were, in reality, wallowing in the defense all along.

It is the defense – alcoholism, promiscuity, depression, sleeplessness, and all the rest – that is “negative;” it is the defense that is hurting us. The old feelings-pain, fear, rage, et al – are who we are and need to be embraced. They only feel scary because we associate them with our infantile vulnerability. As adults, we have the support, resources, and strength to allow the feelings to be conscious and expressed, maybe only a bit at a time. Our bodies will not do more than they can handle.

I don’t mean to trivialize our defensive behaviors. The fact that we are so reluctant to relinquish them, even after we know what they are, attests to their importance to our psyches. In primal, we work through the many layers of the defense, sometimes described as peeling an onion, until we experience the original primal feelings. It usually takes many iterations of this process (after all, most of our infantile abuse was repeated over many years) until we learn to accept the feelings, no matter how painful, and the defense essentially fades away.

This is hardly an easy process, and I have given a bare outline of what it is about. I look forward to posting more, and hearing your comments will help me with that. In the meantime, please look at www.primals.org for a great deal of additional information.

Keep Reading By Author Harriet Geller
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