By Aylee Welch, LICW founder & Director Seattle School of Body-Psychotherapy
Holy Moly! Every day in this country seems like a roller coaster ride and you know what, a part of me welcomes this new wave, especially the “bad” and “ugly”. Some people think it’s being exaggerated since our new administration took office but that isn’t so, the status quo is now merely being exposed. I see this as a good thing.
America must awaken to sexism, classism, heterosexualism, and unsustainable ecological practices. Beyond obvious prejudice, behind superficial masks of equality, beside our continued denial of rights to the vulnerable and the disenfranchised, we must openly acknowledge insidious issues that have been both denied and accepted as long as human beings have been alive. Exposing what has been obscured is essential to facilitate change.
In the past it was easy for white middle-class people to rationalize our values and place in society, to give a little money here and there and pat ourselves on the back. But now that the misuse of power is more blatant and obvious, we have a chance not just to react to what is going on around us, but to look at our own complicity.
In Core Energetics, the underlying theory we utilize at Seattle School of Body Psychotherapy, we look at a person’s early developmental experience and understand that each stage has a specific need to be met that gives us essential tools to negotiate the next stage. When that need is not met we compensate, creating an unstable ground and altering our ability to reference from our true self.
This is a literal paradigm arising from the work of Wilhelm Reich (1973) who was able to ascertain that life force moves from the center of the body out to the periphery and then out into the world. When our impulses and reactions are thwarted the energy is stopped in the system through our muscular skeletal body (with early wounding, the nervous system is more directly impacted than the muscles). Think of a child being told “no”. When that happens, we experience an authentic emotional reaction such as anger or shame, feelings that are literally chemical reactions suspended in saline. Then we learn that these feelings are unacceptable and should be hidden. Thus, we form a personality mask that denies our feelings, our “unacceptable” instincts and reactions; we cover it over with an attitude, leading to personality structure, that is socially palatable.
But the energy from the impulse connected to these early experiences, the feelings, remain in our system. The pressure of that energy, underneath our mask, leaks out indirectly and insidiously. The need to hide the disavowed feelings affects our thinking, our behavior, our relational patterns, and even our body structure; coloring our perceptions of the world and how we fit into it, into adulthood.
We call this trapped energy the lower self. In Core Energetics we work to develop the capacity to perceive and to penetrate the superficial mask-self to reveal the lower self. Through movement, expression, acceptance, and compassion for the original situation and our responses, we make room for new and more authentic experiences. We begin to free ourselves from reacting to past situations that are no longer present. Through awareness and the expression of those old responses, we make space to create a different reality and begin to experience more pleasure and freedom, to begin to take in the good that exists around us.
In these times our societal lower self is front and center, and we must face it one way or another. What doesn’t get exposed will never be healed, and will, in fact, maintain problems even if we form a mask over them. Democracy has demonstrated this repeatedly. Hopefully the process of exposing the real depth of our problems, our bias’s and inequities, will not spurn us to become defensive or drive us to blame while clinging to a false personal righteousness. May it lead us to take a searing look at our own personal responsibility, to become humble and open and take action towards transformation.
For example, on a personal level I can say that it is only recently that I began to grasp the high degree of comfort that I have, just from being white skinned; a comfort that so many others don’t share. And my false belief that I understand racism, that I am not racist, from this viewpoint, is arrogant and literally impossible. I see that I participate in subtle and implicit racism that continues to shape our country behind a superficial mask of striving for equality. I admit that I feel uncomfortable in an environment that is not predominantly white, that I say things in ignorance that are highly offensive. I must stay in this discomfort, put myself in new environments, and above all, begin to learn and to forge a different sense of community in real time.
I believe that, ultimately, we will find answers to our social problems through working locally in our neighborhoods through building personal relationships and seeking to understand others’ experience; relying less on government funding and focusing on local resources that are sustainable and finding solutions through acts of care and connection.
In concert with these basic concepts of Core Energetics, I believe that understanding what blocks us, looking our own personal evil in the eye, will unearth that which is done in direct conflict with actions of love. And through first acknowledging and then transforming the “not love” in ourselves, we will find possibilities and new direction. Any moment that we think we are “good” people we are in our mask-self because it takes us away from the present. Without awareness of where we are in the moment it is impossible to perceive if we are “good” are not, as each moment is different from the next.
Again, many are in great fear and despair over our current government and the actions that are tearing apart our public and treatied lands, our workforces, our very planet. More and more people are vulnerable and disenfranchised; there is real suffering. But this has always been happening. My belief is that exposing what has been obscured is essential to facilitate change. I hope that we can begin to see the true barriers under our partial democracy, the once hidden forces of power. To me that feels like life moving forward.
To act in loving ways and helpful ways to all of those around us, to have compassion and care for others, we must be able to feel all our feelings, to not be afraid of our hearts breaking or of standing in our own discomfort and fear. Expressing our rage and hatred, our humiliation and fear, not by acting them out, but by owning our hidden experience and being curious about it, by letting our deep impulses move out of us responsibly and therapeutically so that we can acknowledge it and move on. We must be able to feel even our unacceptable feelings so that we can look at and comprehend the results of our own arrogance and ignorance. I think that many hope for a gentle “positive” movement “forward”. I ask you to consider embracing the difficult times by understanding that all things must come to the fore to be effectively transformed.
Aylee Welch LICW is the founder and director of the Seattle School of Body-Psychotherapy (SSBP), where she created and offers her Body-Psychotherapy/ Somatic Therapy certification program. She is an independent clinical social worker, licensed in Washington, California and Oregon and is certified in Core Energetics and Core Soma; SSBP is an active member of the International Association of Core Energetics Institutes. Aylee has worked with people in therapeutic environments and has been teaching since 1989.
Reich, W. (1973). The breakthrough into the biological realm (p250). In Reich, The function of the orgasm: Sex-economic problem of biological energy. Volume 1 The discovery of orgone. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Photo by Fred F. on Unsplash: think different
Photo by Matteo Paganelli on Unsplash: racism