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Opening the Doors to the Self: Relationships and Regression Therapy – Isa Gucciardi (Is.17)

Isa Gucciardi, Ph.D.

Isa Gucciardi, Ph.D., has appeared in the Journal’s pages before. She is exploring the many connections between hypnosis and past-life regressions, and the diversity of effects both of these therapeutic modalities have on clients. In this article she examines some relationship problems that had roots in past lives.

Recently I heard an interview on National Public Radio’s program, Fresh Air, with the Dalai Lama’s official translator. The interviewer, Terry Gross, asked him if there were ever western concepts he had trouble translating into Tibetan. The translator said the hardest concept he had ever tried to convey emerged from a conference on Buddhism and psychology held in the United States. He had enormous difficulty trying to translate the words which described the concept of self-loathing. It took him almost half an hour to find the words to help the Dalai Lama understand this concept. The Dalai Lama was unable to believe that anyone could be so separated from the self that he could loathe it. In his mind, this was utterly unthinkable. In his exploration of the human psyche through the context of Tibetan Buddhism, this was a concept utterly unknown and foreign to him.

This is the most common element I find at the root of dysfunction people come to my practice for help with. This self-loathing, so foreign to a Tibetan living on the planet at the same time as we do, is pandemic in the United States. It is also almost universally unacknowledged in most bastions of mainstream culture, including many psychotherapeutic models. Indeed, I was shocked to hear a well-known, Harvard-trained psychiatrist mention that he had been in practice for twenty-five years before he realized that the lack of love could make someone crazy.

The dynamics of this lack of self-love, this self-loathing most of us struggle with, can be most readily explored in the relationships we have with other people. Often, our dislocation from ourselves is mirrored in the dislocations we find in relationship with others. We can most easily learn about the phenomena which separate us from ourselves at a soul level by examining our relationships with others through hypnosis. It is true that many types of dysfunction can be ameliorated without the wide-eyed examination of this phenomena. But for the realization of the true alchemy of the self for which hypnosis is such a potent tool, this aspect of our relationship with ourselves cannot be overlooked.

Understanding the messages contained within our relationships with others helps us understand the core issues within ourselves we must address. Often, it is only through the difficulties we experience in our relationship with others that we discover what we need to integrate within ourselves to become more whole. By using the issues we find in our relationship with others, we can shine a light onto the issues which keep us separate from ourselves at a soul level. As we begin to perceive the dynamics of these issues, we begin to understand the damage they can cause.

It is sometimes hard to tell whether the dynamics of the external relationship create disharmony in our relationship with ourselves at a soul level or if it is the other way around. My clinical experience leads me to believe that we all have certain issues which keep us separate from ourselves at a soul level. We bring these issues with us as we incarnate and these issues dictate what relationships we choose. The dance of two individuals finding each other with complimentary issues which will trigger awareness in both is repeated thousands of times each day. It is stunning to see how accurately people attract others who will act as a depth charge to bring to the surface those issues they need to examine in order to integrate more fully. Generally, this depth charge is experienced as pain.

Through compassion and understanding, we can allow ourselves to see and accept the dynamics this dance creates. We can allow ourselves to admit how we have hurt others and to see how we perpetuate and internalize the damage and hurt that others have caused us. It is important to remember that all this hurting is a way of teaching ourselves and each other about the issues we need to look at to integrate into a larger understanding of the self.

If we find ourselves embroiled again and again within the same emotional state from relationship to relationship, it is a safe guess that we are grappling with that particular aspect in our relationship with ourselves. Or, if we refuse to enter into relationships with others, we can learn about our relationship to our selves by exploring the nature of the block preventing us from creating relationships. By fully integrating and understanding these repeated patterns or blocks, first in our relationships with others, and then in our relationship with ourselves, we are able to continue our evolutionary path toward wholeness.

The goal of the work we do in hypnosis is to gently lead ourselves back to the river of feeling which is generated in our relationship with others. We can then allow ourselves to drink again the full emotional experience of whatever we have relegated to the unconscious. We generally refuse to remain conscious to that which we believe causes or could cause us pain. There are many situations, especially when we were children, when it truly may have been unsafe to feel the full impact of the betrayal or neglect of another. As children, and even as adults, we may lack resources or alternatives; often our only recourse is to ignore or forget what is unacceptable. But that which we choose to ignore or forget does not go away, it simply takes up residence in the unconscious. When we allow ourselves to revisit what we were unable to fully feel or what we found unacceptable in relationship with another, we take another step toward understanding what it is within ourselves that we find unacceptable. By revisiting the emotions generated in relationship in a safe and protected situation like a hypnotherapy session, we can safely examine what it is we find unacceptable in ourselves. By allowing ourselves to cross the boundaries we have created in order to experience the unacceptable in ourselves, we often find compassion and understanding for ourselves. This same compassion and understanding may not have been available or evident to us in the external relationship in which the feelings were generated.

One of the little tricks the self at the personality level plays is: don’t experience the impact of this relationship fully, because I am all there is and if I experience this fully I will be destroyed, then you, the larger self, will be destroyed. This perception by the personality that it or its defenses to full integration with the greater self can be destroyed through fully feeling is actually true. What is destroyed is the personality at a surface level. By allowing ourselves to fully enter into the experience of relationship, vulnerable to any and all of the emotions it contains, we always find the path home to the self at a soul level and to wholeness. This is the part of the self that cannot be destroyed. When this part of the self is in contact with experience, the personality is no longer needed as an exclusive arbiter of reality.

Unfortunately, the core fear of self-immolation in feeling fully which most westerners carry is the driving force behind almost all relationship interactions. What the personality didn’t tell us is that the unfelt feelings don’t go away, they just hide in the subconscious. And they drive all of our relationship interactions because ultimately we do need to consciously feel them in order to approach wholeness.

The emotional response relationships with others generate is almost always the issue which needs to be dealt with internally in our relationship to ourselves. If fear comes up in approaching intimacy with another, then I must consider what it is I fear about entering into that state of wholeness with myself. If anger comes up again and again in my relationships with others, it is likely I need to look at what I am angry at myself about.

The task of identifying emotions and entering into them fully is not straightforward. Our relationships with one another and with ourselves are extremely intricate. They weave one set of emotions in one person through another set of emotions in the other. The resulting, observable interactions of the relationship often masquerade as something quite different than the core emotional issues. These core emotional issues are those each person has entered into the relationship to resolve. We find ourselves tangled in a web of skirmishes over territory, control, fear of intimacy or any number of other surface presentations without ever understanding how we got there.

It is remarkable how we manage to find others with mirror images of our own psychic defenses to help us break through the barriers we have created for ourselves. Unfortunately, because few people realize this is the basis of their relationship with others, they continually create more pain and more defenses. This is especially true when the mirror images begin to reveal anything about the real pain at the base of the interaction.

Whenever this happens, relationships generally break down. This is because we do not realize that the authentic experience of the pain the relationship generates in us is actually the path back to the original context in which that pain was generated. If we can reach that original context, we can straightforwardly and honestly grapple with and resolve the emotions held within it to reveal ourselves at a soul level. This is an experience which is always available to us if we allow ourselves to journey to the other side of the web of unresolved emotion we have woven for ourselves.

This encounter with ourselves at a soul level is precisely what we are all longing for, whether we articulate it in these terms or not. Most of us can only dimly imagine what it would be like to be able to interact not only with ourselves at this level, but to know and understand others at this level through our relationships with them. What a different definition of relationship!

We need to re-enter these situations, times, or circumstance in such a way that allows us to completely re-experience the relationship and the emotions it engenders. Hypnosis and age regression, combined with the tools of inner child work and soul retrieval, are excellent ways to accomplish this task. It is only by sailing fully into the storm of the relationship where the emotional experience was abandoned that we can reclaim that experience. We can then bring it home to the self at a soul level for greater self-understanding.

We must compassionately define and understand the defensive mechanisms with which we have littered the distance between feeling and ourselves. This task must be accomplished before we can fully re-enter the relationship and the emotions it contains. This is an important part of the process, because the defenses must be assured that it is safe to dissolve. We must be sure that it is only the defenses that are dissolving and not our essential being, no matter what our fears and lack of trust tell us.

It is important to fully participate in the dissolving of these barriers to the experience of emotion in our relationship with others. This process is often a mirror image of the barriers we maintain in relationship to ourselves at a soul level. By understanding this process of dissolution in relation to others, we can be more confident when it comes to the more threatening process of dissolving the mirror image of these barriers within ourselves. Much is to be learned here and applied at the next stage of integration with the essential self at a soul level. Once we have negotiated these barriers and once the fully-felt experience of the relationship with the other has been reclaimed, we can begin to understand what this dynamic has to show us about our relationship with ourselves.

Let me relate an example of this process. A woman I will call Karen came to me for help with a series of physical symptoms which caused her great turmoil. They had been found to have no organic cause through exhaustive tests by physicians. Psychiatrists had given her a label and some pills, which were of no help in alleviating her distress. As we began to explore the various physical symptoms, a pattern of unexperienced emotions to what she unconsciously considered intolerable situations emerged.

This information, the nature of the emotion she could not tolerate in the experience of her relationships with others, was an affront to her all-competent, “in control” conscious behavior. Hypnosis was definitely in order to breach these conscious adaptations to this behavior. First, we negotiated the terrain of her defenses. The main defense she had developed was the mask of confidence and control. This maintained the distance between herself and her unfelt experience. It is important to restate again that these defenses were placed there for a very good reason. In this case they afforded protection from what she could only perceive to be a very hostile environment in the abuse of her childhood.

Once we arrived at her unfelt experience, she was able to go through a series of regressions. She re-entered the primary relationships where she had made the decision not to feel. And she breached those decisions to embrace the feelings that lay embedded in the relationships. We unwound a long-standing, repeating pattern of abandonment and the pain it generated in relationship after relationship. We followed this trail through her psyche to all the different situations and relationships where she had attempted to resolve the emotions behind the abandonment. And she was able to see how she had never allowed herself to fully experience these same emotions in the attempt to contact them by repeating the abandonment. She saw how she had, unfortunately, in each situation, only added more mortar and brick to her “competent, unfeeling and in control” mask. This happened as each relationship gouged the intolerability of experienced emotion deeper within her psyche. Finally, because she was unable to resolve these issues by feeling them on an emotional level, her higher self forced the issue by making the pain manifest on a physical level. She was forced to deal with the emotional pain in a physical way because she had managed to evade experiencing the pain on an emotional level. Her magnificently-wrought control defenses precluded any hope of this. When she could no longer move parts of her body, she realized she had to confront what was keeping her immobile: the unfelt emotions.

We traveled through layer after layer of anger, sorrow, despair and anguish. These emotions arose from the experience of having been abandoned at birth by her mother, living in several foster homes as an infant, and finally being put up for permanent adoption. And she was adopted into a family where she never felt that she was permitted to show any negative emotion about anything at all, much less about any of the events which brought her to that family.

But the ultimate issue was abandonment. It was not until she had explored all the ways in which she had been abandoned by others in her relationships with them and felt all the emotions she had tied up in the physical symptoms that the physical symptoms began to disappear. But, in my mind, the most important learning she experienced was all the ways she had abandoned herself by not allowing herself to feel and experience. And this central theme, the abandonment of the self, emerged as the core issue she brought into this life. Her lesson was to see the nature and dynamic of this abandonment and to allow herself to re‑unite with the self fully and integrally. The dawning of this insight and the profound nature of the learning she had chosen in this life could never have been experienced or understood had she not allowed herself to return to all of her unfelt emotion frozen in sometimes ancient relationships. If she had accepted the pain killers and labels her physicians and psychiatrists had handed her to deal with her problems, she never would have had the profound, spiritual unfoldment and understanding which lay on the other side of her pain.

Another example of how experienced emotion can lead us back to the self can be observed in the case of a man I’ll call Rick. He came to me after having seen a succession of psychologists, psychiatrists, physicians and other hypnotherapists over a period of 10 years to help him reduce a problem which had been labeled sexual compulsive/obsessive disorder. He had seen a behaviorist who taught him to imagine he was indulging in his compulsions just when a policeman or other authority figure entered the picture. This did help in reducing some of his behavior for a short time, but he was still left agitated and seeking some outlet for his agitation. A psychiatrist had prescribed a drug for him that helped him somewhat by reducing his desire to act out his compulsions, but the drug was very expensive and left him feeling very tired. Another hypnotherapist gave him suggestions to help him enter a trance to divert his attention to a pleasant scene whenever he felt his compulsions getting out of control. This helped some of the time.

After our initial interview, it seemed pretty clear to me that all of this behavior was a compensation for a sense of powerlessness. I gently questioned him around this subject and, although the idea he ever felt powerless first seemed utterly impossible to him, he eventually confessed to having felt powerless in his early relationships. Again, we negotiated the defenses to the experience of powerlessness through hypnosis and entered into these early relationships. He entered many different situations and relationships and allowed himself to feel the anguish and shame at the debasing abuse by his early family members. By doing this, he was able to transform his relationship to his sense of powerlessness through fully feeling. He was able to find some peace from his compulsions.

But the most important learning from this process of re-entering into relationship to experience unfelt emotion was, again, the understanding he gained about his relationship to the authentic power of the self. It was not until he allowed himself the full range of emotion he felt in feeling powerless at the hands of others that he was able to see the ways in which he disempowered himself. He did this by separating himself from the experience of his power even as he separated himself from what he perceived to be intolerable emotions. As he was able to restructure his sense of self based on this understanding, he was able to experience the authentic power and courage he had not allowed himself to touch. For he had separated from his power even as he had separated from the intolerable emotions. When he was able to allow himself to bridge this separation by going through the pain of powerlessness, he was able to touch his power again. And his compulsions diminished permanently.

One last example of the way we seek to flush out the feelings we have either refused or been unable to experience in prior relationships can be found in the dance of fear and hope between two people I will call Peter and Jane. They came to me seeking help in understanding the fiery dynamics of their relationship through past-life regression. Through one lifetime after another of incompletely experienced emotion, an interesting dynamic emerged. Based on each person’s pool of unexperienced emotion, each had a different, yet utterly complimentary set of emotions he or she was seeking to flush out and experience in relationship with the other. The striking complimentarity of their issues brought them together and had kept them together; locked in a dance of strife and turmoil they could not find their way out of.

By identifying the underlying patterns from their subconscious through hypnosis, the conscious manifestation of those patterns began to take on a more coherent form. This pointed to the issues each of them had with their own, separate issues of individuation in this incarnation. Jane’s relationship lesson with herself involved learning to trust her connection to herself at a soul level. Peter’s relationship lesson with himself involved learning to have more compassion and less judgment of his anger in order to resolve his deep-seated anger with himself at a soul level. Both were looking for triggers to the experience of the emotions around these core issues in life after life and in relationship after relationship with one another.

These triggers could be found in the quotidian tasks of the day, such as shopping, where a simple decision over what to make for dinner took on cosmic weight. The basic pattern underpinning all these day-to-day interactions is as follows: Jane fears (but unconsciously seeks) connection Peter seeks (but unconsciously fears) connection Peter establishes a connection. Jane begins to trust the connection, but feels she has to be in control of the connection in order to continue to trust. She begins to make more and more impossible-to-meet demands to test the connection. Peter resists the control she is exerting by failing to meet simple promises. This gives him a reason to not only try to re-exert control, but to prove he is right to be angry with himself for having failed to keep his obligation. This gives Jane a reason not to trust him and an excuse to break the connection. This gives Peter a reason to vent his anger. This proves to Jane that connection is dangerous. This proves to Peter that his anger is unacceptable and so he is unacceptable. They are both sent back to their opposite corners. Jane fears (but unconsciously seeks) connection Peter seeks (but unconsciously fears) connection until the next dance begins.

Allowing ourselves to feel is actually a very simple method of resolving many manifestations of imbalance. Sometimes, I think my whole practice is just helping people feel again. The amount of fear we carry with us from relationship to relationship is staggering. Our society has become a massive exodus from this fear: buy this car, wear these clothes, marry this rich guy, and you will be never have to feel anything but happy again. But this diminished acceptance of feeling just compounds the cruelty and abuse we tolerate in our relationships. Because we are blinded to our feeling of distress by following the dictates of material culture, we cannot imagine the level of distress we inflict on others. And so the cycle begins again. We reel from relationship to relationship, hoping and yet fearing that the dynamics of the relationship will finally touch all the feelings we have banished to the subconscious. If we can just learn to allow ourselves to be in the authentic experience of emotion, we can allow the understanding which emerges from it to lead us home to the self. And our self-loathing will be gone.