Archive for the ‘Connecting the Dots Series’ category

Making a Case for Trauma Complexes: Mending the Tear that Always shows…

June 12, 2019

I just decided to open this with a Neal Young lyric from Round and Round.

“Round and round and round we spin,
To weave a wall to hem us in,
It won’t be long, it won’t be long
How slow and slow and slow it goes,
To mend the tear that always shows.
It won’t be long, it won’t be long.”

What is with mending the tear that always shows? I am thinking this tear that always shows captures symbolically the universal experience of the time we encountered something beyond our emotional breaking point. Then, something has to give; symbolically, a tear accommodates this unbearable strain. Stein and Stein, in their discussion of Psychotherapy, Initiation and the Midlife Transition, suggest that these days, in the absence of formal rights of passage rituals for most westerners, the therapy setting can provide the container for transformative ritual processes. They reference the art and science of maieutics – midwifery – as an image for containing and supporting psyche in what is essentially a birthing process: the ego suffers a symbolic death in the process of getting more deeply connected to the guiding Self. The greater consciousness (Self) can not come through the lessor (ego) without a death.

I have suggested that in the absence of good enough ritual elders, traumas can be lived through, but remain essentially incomplete intitiatory experiences. At some point, in the midlife or later, we need to open up this encapsulated, episodic memory centered trauma complex in order to re-integrate the split off material and thereby gain wisdom in the ways of the world.

Had an elder been present at the time of the original insult/injury, something like an episiotomy might have been indicated and offered, to mange the inevitability of the tear, in the service of enabling the birth of the greater awareness, while minimizing the scar tissue.

Here, below, I am trying on the idea that our universal challenge is each of us has suffered a tear somewhere along the way. For me, this tear points to the reality one has suffered through, survived, a core wound; this is a wound of disconnect. We then put in place all manner of workarounds.  Might we just accept and support, together, recognizing any and all lost and/or rejected parts of ourselves? (see not-me (Bromberg) For me the Bromberg frame recognizes all kinds of highly individualized modules of being,waiting to be invited back in; what I am talking about here is the idea that there is indeed a primary, ground zero tear that is the tear that always shows.

I believe Robert Johnson has describe this as the Fisher King wound; the wound which never heals, experienced/received at the time we first registered an emotional overwhelm which our consciousness at the time could not contain.

Walking it through:

You know, we’ve all had our troubles.

Something comes along, at some point, that you just can’t hold; consciousness is ruptured, overwhelmed; one becomes two.

Blessed psyche – blessed as in life saving – comes in and facilitates, manages, finesses this tear; we get split, disconnected, separated within our self. Symbolically, this psychological dismemberment is recorded as a death.

New defenses arise, support workarounds, adaptations. We get through, or not.

These wound-generated defenses form the basis of the partial cure. Partial in that it employs dissociation to cover up the reality of the now-buried-to-consciousness disconnect. Amnesia assists, amnesia for the amnesia enables. We go about our business.

For some, perhaps many or even most, this partial cure may be enough.

But, the fact is, until we can gain access, debride and bring healing into the primary wound, we will be characterologically challenged. Incapable of risking vulnerability, self-self and self-other communications will be burdened by an unseen constraint/constriction.

The partial cure at best functions as kind of governor on one’s ability to feel the feelings which inform emotional intimacy.

Healing this split requires we bridge this divide with consciousness.

Bridging the divide starts with bearing witness to the reality of the chasm.

Creating, embracing a mature consciousness which can priortize staying grounded enough, connected enough, safe enough, to hold the energies of the original split without splitting, is a big first step. This is the place of bearing witness. We recognize the importance of learning to open and hold steady, as we can, in the experience of an immersion into the images and affects which required the split at the time of the overwhelm. Rilke’s image of A Man Watching comes to mind here:

“I can tell by the way the trees beat, after
so many dull days, on my worried windowpanes
that a storm is coming,
and I hear the far-off fields say things
I can’t bear without a friend,
I can’t love without a sister.”

How can we hear, bear, love, in the face of such distress?

Our work is with the partial cure until such time as we can gain access to the hidden disconnect. I am thinking Jung and Donald Kalsched’s work with the divided self complex frame* is about this issue at a radical level. Perhaps it will be helpful to think about a hierarchical short list of events/episodes/scenes contributing to the composite divided self complex.

Accessing the split off trauma complex, suffering an affective immersion into the dissociated experience, heals the split. (See Sandner/Beebe on healing splits)

Understanding conceptually that increasing consciousness and well being puts one in the position to surface one’s inventory of split off episodes of trauma, one by one, sounds daunting. Really? Must I/we go there?

Gaining access to original, encapsulated scenes requires a shift in the defenses that have been deployed to maintain the encapsulation. In his discussions about the nature of Sacred Space, Robert Moore observed when sacred space is present, that which is a source of conflict for the individual or group will come in; sacred space pulls for the de-structuring of the ego, which in turn then allows for contact with that which is seeking to come into awareness. See Eliade.

With the piercing of the encapsulation, a direct, re-experiencing of the wounding becomes possible; the image and affect scene/picture of the whole-body-being-torn-in-two, the primary split, comes into view.

The experience of the relaxing of the typically decades long defense against re-membering the reality of the wound already suffered, is usually accompanied by a profound sense of relief, as one finally gets to consciously know what one has always known. This coming home to one’s self is the felt experience of re-establishing the connection with one’s lost self.

It is the completion of the incomplete initiatory experience.

*This link connects to a short essay I wrote about my divided self complex and includes references to Kalsched’s work in Trauma and the Soul, Kalsched, D. (2013) London: Routledge.

Thinking About Microfractures (Again!)

April 25, 2019

In am bringing to the top page an earlier post titled: Microfractures in Communication: So What’s the Big Deal? Check out the post and take a moment to go to the Wilkinson link for the description of the importance of the rupture, repair, and reconciliation cycle. This is as good as it gets in terms of recognizing the importance of getting triggered.

One of the most important concepts to get working in your own language is captured in this single powerful quote within a  quote:

“… microfractures in communication between patient and analyst are vital because they allow the transference to become ‘the engine of analysis, by contributing raw material from the patient’s internal world and history’.” See  Wilkinson on Microfractures

This observation applies to the transference arising in our personal relationships as well. We all need a way to recognize the raw material which will find a way to present its bill, as Alice Miller observed.

Emotionally charged reactions to what might normally be considered small breakdowns in our communication point directly to the raw material of unfinished emotional business.

In a blur moment, the hurt or offense taken by one or both parties at some level can be understood or seen as an out-picturing of an experiential state scene.

The quote suggests these unintended ruptures, in letting the raw material into the space we hold together, become the engine of the analysis. These are the grist for the mill. While we can always try to do our best, planning for the inevitable microfractures that will show up allows us embrace the blur with awareness and curiosity, not negative judgement. What can we learn about ourselves, each other? (see discussion on getting one’s buttons pushed)

This is another way to understand the positive aspect of “healing only occurs in the blur.” We need to support the necessity of going there with enough consciousness to gain our freedom from the unconsciousness driving the re-enactment of the wounding.

From the Author of “It’s Not Always Depression”

March 1, 2019

While attending the Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy (AEDP) Immersion training last month, Hilary Jacobs Hendel’s book It’s Not Always Depression was identified as a very important offering reflecting the fundamentals of how AEDP works to address transformative change. She apparently has been able to strike a nerve in the collective, helping lay people and professionals alike understand the importance of identifying core realities about family of origin issues, including neglect, trauma, etc.

I did attend a presentation years ago by a mental health managed care company orienting primary care physicians to the importance of helping patients recognize their depression or anxiety profiles as biological, setting up the primary intervention as biochemical. For me, the unintended(?) consequence of this was it discouraged physicians from believing in the importance of their role in standing in for the good enough ritual elder, who, in caring about your life and your troubles, helps you believe in your goodness, and your resources, in finding a way to better manage life’s joys and sorrows. I knew at the time this was message was just plain wrong and said so. It was a spirited debate, but, alas, many good people, providers and patients alike, continue to believe in the need to treat depression as a disease, not a reaction to human life situations.* (see comment below) I do appreciate the important role medications can play in the mobilization and recovery process, but we all are in need of support to recognize our life trajectory, and create a narrative which strives to hold the joys and sorrows which are both our ancestral inheritance and the source of enlivenment and meaning.

I just received an email from the AEDP list serve from Hilary and at first glance, find her blog to be chock full of helpful information. A recent posting demonstrating how she works with the change triangle is very clear and concise. See:

Poking around, I see she has a series of four posts discussing “Getting to Know Your Three Brains”. See: These are very focused daily process guides to correcting one’s one-sidedness, in the direction of hearing from our minds, emotions, and bodies. She identifies the Self as the core consciousness which can function as the Maestro in the orchestra of the three brains: mind, emotion, and body.

With response ease in mind, I wanted to post these resources and encourage you to check out her work. She seems to be an embodied translator of the AEDP process work, with very accessible applications for self-guiding this work.

Once again, it is curious to me about the way this model identifies the role of Self without any explicit cross referencing to Jung’s original work with Self, ie: ego-Self axis. I find this fascinating and exciting, in that it suggests to me an intersection of depth processes. In the mid 1990’s when I attended an update on self-psychology with my early psychoanalytic mentor Rowe Mortimer, I was delighted to hear him describe how the psychoanalytic schools think about internalized others, ie: mother, father, as “active, dynamic, willing entities. This language seemed a perfect, yes, I said PERFECT bridge to what I had been learning about Jung’s complex theory. It is just this bridge that is at the center of my explorations here: the interface between the experiential state‘s self-other-affect, and the nuclei of a trauma complex, reflecting the archetypal layer evoked by the emotional overwhelm. See:

From my work, the archetypal layer and realm of the complexes contributes a depth which speaks to the possibilities of just how episodic memories of trauma get stored and are indeed waiting to be re-discovered by ego consciousness, in the service of healing original wounds. To be continued.

Finding our way: Trauma Complexes

December 2, 2018

Catching up with old friends over the weekend, I found myself trying out the frame “trauma complex” as a way to describe what I’ve been working on in terms of my resource blog. My apical meristem if you will.

I am using the term trauma complex to suggest split off, encapsulated, episodic memories, memories which when viewed in their experiential state form, image and associated affect, were likely to have evoked archetypal layer resources. Jung’s complex theory suggests the nucleus of a complex is composed of two elements: the image of the scene of the wounding and it’s associated evoked archetypal node/energy/affect.

In my Getting Back Into the Boat post, speaking to the level of emotional intensity sufficient to trigger the episodic memory system, I noted:

“From the conceptualization of the ego-Self axis, such wounds symbolically knock the 110 voltage wired ego temporarily out of the boat of consciousness, and drop down into the deep waters of total psyche, in the realm of the Self. Here, they remain as if in suspended animation until the conditions are favorable for their re-integration. These are the original encapsulated episodic memories which form the nuclei of our complexes. On a side note “suspended” is misleading in terms of these are not energetically inert bundles of split off trauma. Their energies are not diminished by time and space.”

If I were to diagram this evolving detail, I could try just representing the experiential state complex image contained within a capsule. This highlights the encapsulated trauma complex’s functioning as a bundle. Let’s try this:


Note the the experiential state, including the red C ComplexSymbolpngdesignating it is also the nucleus of the complex, all contained within a capsule. The encapsulation detail helps us remember the importance of recognizing the partial cure as a solution which must be mortified. The dissociative defenses maintaining the partial cure will not allow direct, healing contact with the original wound episode. Until we can drop the partial cure defenses, we will continue to be locked out.

Gazing upon the image, I must say it also looks a bit like a bandage!

Here my emphasis is the trauma complex is a more or less effective container for binding and containing an episode of this-world-relational-failure, with, importantly, it’s associated evoked mythological/archetypal image and affect. I proposed this in my Musings on Metamorphosis: the Complex as Chrysalis post.

This system for managing the original split off trauma relies on encapsulation of the original wounding, like the oyster’s ability to create a pearl.

Next time around I want to talk about this from the perspective of dueling partial cures.

DuelingEncapsulatedExperientialStateComplexes12.2.18Yours? Mine? Shall we dance?






Mystery and Complexity versus Nuts and Bolts?

November 21, 2018

Perhaps like the alchemists of old, I continue to have energy for trying to find the keys to open the locks to all that would bind us. In practical terms. In everyday life sound bites.

The band The Moody Blues recorded a couple of songs on their 1969 album “To Our Children’s Children’s Children” that I have always loved. Their titles are “I never thought I’d Live to Be a Hundred” and “I Never Thought I’d Live to Be a Million.” In the first, they reflect:

“I never thought I’d ever have my freedom. An age ago my maker was refusing me the pleasure of the view.”

This morning, early, I am feeling gratitude for this life and this view. May we all be blessed with the gift of the questions which keep on coming.

So, the work goes on: How can/will I describe the ineffable, today?


The Importance of Getting Triggered

September 15, 2018

Thinking about my conceptual frame Couple Experiential State Complex as Activated Threshold, I have been struck this week by the importance of focusing on tracking when we, self and others, get emotionally triggered.

By using the word triggered, I am hoping to tap into our collective, universal sense of knowing we are getting hijacked by something intensely emotional. As in getting one’s button(s) pushed.

A classic extreme example referenced in the early diagnostic manual for PTSD is if you were raped in an elevator, just seeing an elevator can evoke or trigger intense emotional and physiological reactions.

I have been making the case a spike in emotional intensity is the simplest indication we are activating/activated, announcing to all who can perceive, the presence of the blur.

From this perspective, if/when a microfracture in communication pulls us into a blur state, how can we recognize the conflict as meaningful? Might this really be an unbidden, spontaneous opportunity for healing? What if there is no such thing as fighting over little stuff?

Fred Kaufman has a post on LinkedIn Every Emotion Is A Love Story. I find this to be a great opener. If we can trust the emotion is right, but our consciousness of context and setting may be confused, we can turn our energies towards trying to drop into the deeper story. As Rumi advises in A Night Full of Talking: Everything has to do with loving and not loving. If we try on making the case the emotion is correct, how can we access the trauma complex driving the blur? Under what circumstances is this present overwhelming emotion appropriate?

Preparing oneself to enter into such a healing moment includes learning to see the power struggle as a co-created complex. From this perspective, the ritualistic elements reflect what we think of as repetition compulsions or re-enactments of the wounding. In alignment with Bromberg’s description of co-created dissociative enactments, these serve to bring the essence of the original wounding, with it’s associated transference and countertransference dance, palpably into the present moment.

In his discussion of the complexes, in their favorable aspect, John Perry observes: “The repetition compulsion, as has been pointed out so often, provides the ego the occasion again and again to encounter these rejected components of development in order finally to assimilate them in some happy moments….” My sense of what he means by “rejected components of development” is simply the recognition the absence of an elder presence allowed the violation to overwhelm the vulnerable child or adult, necessitating the activation of archetypal layer defenses, ie: a trauma complex. What was needed at the time to understand and work through the emotional overwhelm is still needed. I have played with this in thinking about the function  complexes serve in my Musing on Metamorphosis: the Complex as Chrysalis post. I have to confess for me, teleology is a big word! But, I believe it works!

In closing, I have included the graphic above to highlight the Participation Mystique &/or Trauma Portal detail.  We are all involved all of the time with some deeper level of consciousness, a multiplicity of self-states if you will, which wants to inform us about what more is going on. Because I tend to think about getting hijacked into negative emotion enactments, I find the idea getting triggered serves the blur’s function in opening a portal into the associated trauma. The repetitive couple complex enactments do seem to provide a portal into our most painful relationship failings.

Clearly, we need each other to approach going there. What is needed may be as simple, and as difficult, as dropping into the original scene, so that we may feel all of it, within relationship, bear witness together, and get the story told. (See Sandner and Beebe for an articulation of what it takes to heal a split.) This reflects the conceptual notion traumas, until they can be suffered consciously in the service of re-integration, are incomplete initiatory experiences. Creating the conditions, essentially accessing a consciousness that can bear to suffer the wounding without splitting, is the work.

If we can only hold onto the here and now, this world enactment – what you/he/she/they did or did not do to uphold our loving – we are doomed to continue with our co-created dissociated enactments.

Why not make a dedicated effort to sit with our deeper selves? We have to find a way to get to what was my part in initiating or participating in the dissociation just now? Can we strive to bear to feel as vulnerable as we may be feeling? To be continued…

Philip Bromberg on Self – States

June 19, 2018

Source quote plus comment:

“If an analyst is listening carefully he will often be aware that a sudden change in ‘topic’ is accompanied by a change in self-presentation, including affect but by no means limited to it. From my frame of reference, what is taking place is defined neither by the change in topic nor the change in affect but a switch in self – states and in the respective realities that organize them. One’s clinical ear hears the voice of another part of self and has the opportunity to invite it into relationship by accepting it in its own terms rather than talking about it as though the part that has just emerged is simply a change in mood. For those who are not yet totally at home with how the concept of self – state is different from a shift in affect or mood, let me offer a one sentence clarification: Self – states are highly individualized modules of being, each configured by its own organization of cognitions, beliefs, dominant affect and mood, access to memory, skills, behaviors, values, actions, and regulatory physiology. (Chuck’s bold)

When all has gone well developmentally, each self – state is compatible enough with the modes of being that are held by other self – states, to allow overarching coherence across self – states, which in turn creates the capacity for sustaining the experience of internal conflict. In treatment, however, when proactively protective dissociation is operating, self – state shifts are most likely to reach the analyst’s perceptual awareness if he is able to freely engage his patient with the stance of participant – observer. Or so I contend. Why should this be the case? Because the shifts may be discerned initially not as something in the patient, but as a destabilization of the analyst’s own mental processes, an awareness of discomfort that he does not immediately recognize is a discomfort that is linking him to his patient through a dissociative enactment that is taking place while they are participating at a verbal level.” Page 72-73.

Comment: I will be creating a separate page for this source quote at some point. For now, I wanted to get it posted in anticipation of commenting on it from the perspective of more language and theory about others, entities, agents, archetypes, components making up experiential state scenes, figures populating the nuclei of complexes, and the images and affects associated with invarient organizing principles. My interest in the blur reflects my tracking of the importance of finding a way to embrace these less conscious beings that keep trying to show up in the service of winning back as much of our lost selves as humanly possible.

Reading that last line above and my choice in using the language “less conscious beings” I am struck with the need to clarify “from who’s perspective?” The challenge is recognizing that these beings have their own consciousness. It’s more of a question of how much awareness, on a continuum, might we have in a given moment of their presence or influence. Something like that. 

Philip Bromberg, The Shadow of the Tsunami and the Growth of the Relational Mind. 2011.