by Garrett Oppenheim, Ph.D.
One of my most challenging cases of resistance was that of a young man of executive fiber who appeared to be well motivated, and whose regressions were both vivid and interesting. However, these regressions seemed to have nothing to do with his presenting problem, which was a profound fear of speaking in front of an audience. We worked under pressure because he had allowed only a few weeks to deal with this problem before giving an important talk which, if successful, would clinch a promotion to a higher executive position in his company.
My patient, Monty, had regressed to lifetimes as a prostitute in Algeria, a farmer in southern England, and a caveman in some unknown locale, but the one life to which he kept returning was that of one Harry Dixon, an American infantryman in World War II. Again, none of these regressions seemed pertinent. During one battle scene Private Dixon hoped to distinguish himself for bravery but didn’t. In another, he made love with a pretty girl in France, and the two planned to stay in touch after the war, but soon afterward he was killed by a booby trap. Nothing we uncovered seemed connected to his phobia.
All through these sessions I grumbled to myself, “Resistance! Resistance!” However, I also experienced a growing inexplicable discomfort and began to realize that perhaps this word “resistance” was my own cop-out, one that enabled me to place the blame for failure on the shoulders of my patient, rather than dealing with it myself.
Many patients evince some degree of resistance to past-life therapy—or any therapy for that matter—and for all sorts of reasons. One patient is afraid to look at a previous incarnation in which he suffered great pain or committed shameful acts. Another feels that the concept of reincarnation goes against the teachings of his church. Still another is terrified of getting well, having to look for a job and work for a living instead of being taken care of while incapacitated. Sometimes it is difficult to separate the patient’s resistance from the therapist’s failure to make a breakthrough.
Freud taught us that overcoming resistance is an essential part of the therapist’s work. What that boils down to is the realization that we can’t excuse ourselves for a patient’s failure to make progress, simply by blaming it on his or her resistance. Our job is to help him recognize and overcome the resistance so that he (or she) can face up to the problem and get rid of it.
It became clear that my job was to nudge Monty into some fruitful archeological digging, but how? Our time was running out—only three days remained before he had to get up in front of an audience for the most important speech of his career. Logic told me that his World War II lifetime provided the most likely ground for archeological digging because he kept returning to that life as though looking for something there and my hunches advised me that incarnation held some scene that he remained unwilling to confront. Did his resistance serve to protect him from whatever that something was?
During his hypnosis I suggested that he go back to that lifetime and find himself in a gripe session with his fellow infantrymen. I placed a hand on his forehead.
Therapist: Let me know when you’re there.
Client: (After a short pause, speaking as Dixon) Okay.
Therapist: Where are you now?
Client: In the barracks. Five or six of us are getting ready to turn in for the night.
Therapist: What are you talking about?
Client: About the drill sergeant. One of the guys is telling us that he spent 30 days in the brig because he forgot to shine his shoes. Another guy got ten days for failing to salute in the proper manner. Seems we’ve all got something to say about Old Fustyguts—something not too nice!
Therapist: How about you? Have you got a gripe?
Client: (After a long pause and speaking weakly) I guess…
Therapist: What is that gripe?
Client: (After another long pause) I dunno.
I felt certain that I was on the right track, and I explained to Monty that I wanted him to do something different.
Therapist: I want you to be Old Fustyguts, just for a little while. Put yourself into his body now and begin to feel his feelings and think his thoughts.
(Another long pause)
Therapist: Where are you?
Client: (As Fustyguts) I’m on the parade grounds conducting a drill. Where the hell else would I be at this hour?
Therapist: What’s going through your mind?
Client: These men are acting like a bunch of lily-livers. How in hell are we ever gonna win this goddamn war with a gaggle of fags like that! (Raising his voice) Come on, you fags! Lift up your feet and look alive!
Therapist: Any particular man you’re looking at?
Client: Yeah. That jerk Dixon. He’s looking at me funny. (Raising his voice again) Okay, at ease! (In a more normal voice) Yeah, that Dixon bird is coming up here. He’s gonna ask me something, I’ll bet. Yeah, he’s starting to ask me something. (Raising his voice to a very high volume and presumably addressing himself to Dixon) Don’t speak until you’re spoken to!
A bell clanged somewhere in my mind.
Therapist: Okay. Dixon. You can get out of Old Fustyguts’ body now and back into your own. I want you to find yourself out on the parade ground for drill. You’re walking up to Old Fustyguts to ask him a question. What happens?
Client: I hardly open my mouth when he snaps at me, “Don’t speak until you’re spoken to!”
Therapist: How does that hit you?
Client: I feel squashed.
I took Monty out of the scene and directed him to a high summit, far above time and space.
Therapist: From this summit you can look down your left and see all the scenes of that life you lived as Harry Dixon. On your right you can see all the scenes of the life you’re living in the present. Now, looking from left to right and right to left, I’d like you to see if you can make out lines or bands arching from scenes on the left up over the summit and down to scenes on the right. Can you see those connecting lines?
Therapist: Good. Now just print those lines on your memory and take yourself down from this summit to some beautiful place where you can relax in safety and security and feel at peace with the whole world and with yourself. Feel yourself relaxing into this place, where you can reflect comfortably on your life as Private Dixon. You never forgot, did you, what that sergeant said to you—not to speak until you were spoken to?
Client: No, I never forgot. Those words followed me into combat and right up to the moment of Harry Dixon’s death.
Therapist: I bet you obeyed that order, too, didn’t you?
Client: Yeah, I guess I did.
Therapist: And you’re still obeying it, aren’t you?
Client: (After a long pause) What do you mean?
Therapist: I mean that you’re still afraid to speak until you’re spoken to. Monty, that’s why, when you get up in front of an audience to give a talk, you get petrified.
Client: (In amazement) That’s right. That’s exactly what happens. I’m petrified as long as the audience is silent. As soon as the questions start, I begin to feel okay again, and I’m on my feet.
I explained that the problem went a lot deeper than one sharp put-down by a sergeant. In the meantime we had to assure that Monty’s talk wouldn’t be a washout.
Therapist: What you need when you give this talk, Monty, is a confederate, and I am bringing one to you now. His name is Ike, and I would like you to invite Ike to make himself comfortable inside you. Would you invite him in now?
Client: (Mumbling) Come on in, Ike.
Therapist: Good. Now I’m going to give Ike some instruction on how to help you when you give your important talk. And Ike can answer me through your voice if that’s okay with you.
Client: That’s okay.
Therapist: All right then. Ike, can you hear me?
Therapist: Ike, are you willing to help Monty make a big success of his talk next Saturday?
Client: (As Ike) Yes, I like to be helpful.
Therapist: Then, here’s how you can help him. After he’s been introduced, in that awful moment when he faces a silent audience waiting for him to speak, you’ll say to him, speaking softly so no one else can hear you, “Monty, you’re going to make a big success of this talk.” Will you do that for Monty?
Client: (As Ike) Yes.
Therapist: Thank you, Ike. You can rest now until Saturday. Monty and I will be counting on you for help then.
With Ike gone I spoke directly to Monty again.
Therapist: That’s it. You won’t have to speak before you’re spoken to on Saturday. Ike will speak to you first. You will definitely hear his voice, and then you’ll have no problem getting into your talk.
Monty came in the following week with a broad smile on his face. “It worked!” he told me. “Ike was right there on the job, and the speech was a big success and I’m getting that promotion, too.”
I congratulated him but told him that he didn’t want to depend on Ike the rest of his life. I proposed that we get to work on the more basic problem of why the sergeant had such an effect on him. We have unearthed an abusive father in this life and several terrifying authority figures in other lives. Apparently these factors were triggered into potency by that drill sergeant’s one remark. But where it started we do not yet know.
The strategy of having Monty become the drill sergeant is an offshoot of the familiar role reversal. But the purpose here was not to understand Old Fustyguts’ point of view; it was to dilute Monty’s resistance to a confrontation with that traumatic scene. In the sergeant’s role it was easy enough for Monty to relive that scene, since it now fell entirely under his control. And he worked off most of the terror that it held for him.
The introduction of Ike was an emergency measure to bring about the symptom relief that was so vital to the success of Monty’s talk. My next step was to explain to Monty that we still had to get at the root of his problem so we could make the change a lasting one, a process we are now pursuing through more conventional techniques.