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  • Rudy Bauer

Existential Phenomenological Psychotherapy –“Working with Internalizations” Part 2

By Rudolph Bauer, Ph.D., Diplomate in Clinical Psychology, A.B.P.P.


Rudolph Bauer, Ph.D., Editor, Elizabeth Ebaugh LCSW-C, Editor


All in all, one is the other making contact with this aspect of one’s representational life. One is trying to bring the representation out of the analytic mind, into the experiential – and then into the field itself through dramatic interaction.  By pulling it into the field itself, a lot more is going to happen.  Our experiential focus is always, first, on the field.  It doesn’t mean we are using that language with people, but you are focused on the field.  You feel the potential of that arising in people.  You want to sense it.  Then the second is the internalization.  If you focus first on the internalization, the internalization is going to configurate the dimension.  This is not always possible, but more often than not, if you can stay focused on the field in the session, in the group, in the experience and secondarily on the internalization that is being played out, then it is more indicative of some sort of change taking place than not.  Awareness is first.  In that particular couple, awareness opened up.  When people are not in awareness, they are not in psyche.   There is no psyche there.  It’s an external thing.  This couple was in a trial, in superior court, a Swann St. trial and I’m the judge.  What is real here?  Couples work is like that Chinese story of thievery and a rape and it’s told 3 different ways.  Same story is told 3 different ways. 

So even when you are working in a triad you want to hold the field.  We’ve experienced working in the field.  Once you are located in the field you can start bringing in internalizations - start bringing in stories, but holding the field.  If you get seduced by the  

story, you will then be in the story with the people.  You will be identifying in that configuration.  It will configure you.  Another way is simply witnessing, experientially, the conflicted parts or events from within the field - another method of experiencing internalizations.  Sometimes internalizations are very powerful as you enter into them, like sado-masochism, you just touch them and you are in it.  So sometimes it’s good to witness it from afar.  To be in the awareness state and witness it, with certain types of abusive moments, you don’t want to enter it too soon.  You want to see how much of it is possible to assimilate as you witness it, but you learn to witness it from the field.  The field is what lets you sense how much can be assimilated.  How much can a person hold?  When you do witness it, it first becomes mental.  That is good, at least now I have a picture of it.  Now that I have a picture of it, I can then, out of that solid picture, I can start to bring it into awareness.  Sometimes there is a drama going on that is so confusing so I start to witness it and by witnessing it I can get a mental picture.  This is good.  I now have a mental picture of it and I can talk about it, think about it, and analyze it.  It’s useful, but doesn’t necessarily transform it, but now I have a picture.  Once I have a firm picture, a clear internalization, I can then bring it forward.  Just like when we walked through the family systems, you may not have had a picture of that in your mind as you walked through it.  More or less with some degree of intensity, you experienced some intensity, you assimilated it; you got a boundary with it.  You got more mental clarity.  In order to work with that, with that mentally clear picture, you then pull that in and start amplifying it again; raising degrees of intensification depending on how much a person can assimilate. You are always watching assimilation.  One of the first laws of learning – how much can this person assimilate of the information and make an accommodation, how much can they use it?  Even in the field you have to assimilate because the field itself is infinite in its horizons and can really blow you out of the water until you really assimilate a certain amount of it. 

If you can’t read all the books I’ve suggested, I’d read Michael Eigen.  Some of his books are The Sensitive SelfToxic Nourishment and Damaged Bonds and Ecstasy.  The style is not the best, but he translates this very well.  He also has a paper called ‘Disillusionment and Faith.’ The field is faith. 

There is no one technique and this is really up to your own inventiveness.  This is an introduction to a way of thinking, to a view.  So we were talking about witnessing.  Another technique is the capacity to bracket.  This is a really good one.  Innate boundaries around certain compelling ego states and experiences can be helpful. We need this capacity in order to have psychic space to cultivate a stronger sense of the awareness field, especially around earlier primitive and disturbing states of mind, chaotic states, anxiety states, fusion states, abandonment states and psychotic like states, which are in all of us.  Do not think you are exempt.  You are normal, you are not the exception.  Or as Christopher Bollas would say, you are ”normonic”.  You have good manners.  You make a good presentation of yourself.  We’re going to talk about that.  You want to understand that and feel it in your bodies.  So…Say I’m in psycho therapy, this is the fourteenth year, 4 days a week and there is the past.  You want to know your past, make no mistake about it.  But, once the door opens to the past, it can be illuminated and assimilated, however, you really don’t want to live in your past.  You don’t want to confuse knowing the past with living in the past.  And sometimes you want to live in the past to assimilate the past.  But really and truly some neighborhoods you don’t want to go back into because they can knock you off again.  I want to know they exist, I want to know where they are at, if I turn right I’m in dog shit, if I turn left I’m in the good neighborhood.  I want to know where to go.  Same thing with the past – I want to know the neighborhood.   Certain aspects of the past you want to know about, enter them just enough so you can assimilate them.  If they are not able to be assimilated, too much going on in your life, you want to know how to bracket.  You want to have good mental health, you want to have brackets.  Bracketing is putting boundaries up.  Some people are very heroic; they go any place, anytime in order to experience salvation.  There is a certain fusion we can have with the past.  We think fusion is going to be, well, therapists say know the past… that is all we talk about, so I’m going to know the past.  I’m a brave person.  Through the past is salvation.  Know the past and I’ll be free.  Now I’m not swimming in the water of the field, I’m swimming in the shit of the past.  It’s very powerful.  The seeds of entrainment are there and I’m just going back into it and back into it.  When I’m not into it, you know what it is?  It is denial.  While we call it bracketing, certain people are going to call it denial.  The past becomes more and more present, not just in the therapy room, but in the pervasiveness of my life and I’m drowning in shit.  It takes a long time to change.  You have to have some carefulness and some artistry with this particular question of learning how to bracket certain states of mind and certain states of experience that should not be touched directly.  This is for everyone.  Bracketing is a fantastic skill - how to close a door, bracketing is like closing the door on old friends whom are really not good for you.  You just can’t quite do it at times.  It’s so exciting and so dangerous and you survive it over and over again, maybe.  The best way to think about bracketing is closing the door, not necessarily on friends, but companions, gang members that may not be useful for you.  They are always there; you learn how to bracket it.  You could move uptown… the past is always there, good past, bad past and sometimes things can be assimilated and dissolved, but sometimes you have to close the door on it and seal it, bury it.  Then maybe sometime in a very good week or time, you might think about it metaphorically.  Work on it metaphorically or see when you get older, the same sensation around another situation, and close the door on that situation.  Learn how to close doors.  It’s not a cowardly thing to do.  It’s like the water is coming into a submarine, let’s close hatch #3.  There was a psychologist named Paul Federn, he was one of the first people to speak about fields.  The capacity to bracket experience – is the ability to say enough is enough.  There are certain experiences that will never be assimilated and don’t have to be.  Does that rob you of the good life?  It maybe robs you of the analytical life.  But there are certain experiences that arise, that of their essence are confusion, of their essence are chaotic.  It’s not that the confusion can’t be cleared up regarding that experience.  You can be unconfused.  Your awareness can be unconfused; your mind can be unconfused.   However, the state is essentially confusing and will never be clear because its very nature is confusing.  That is some good judgment.  That is artistry.  That is not easy, but you want to know that.  Certain primitive states, certain early states, certain states of mind that were never thought about when they took place need to be bracketed.  They could never be thought then.  The equipment wasn’t there, or it was unthinkable.  To be able to consciously bracket, which is, I’m not going to hang around with you anymore is useful.  The same thing happens in certain relationships that are intrinsically confusing, and then you say, “hasta la vista” and you close a door.  It’s not easy because you are leaving an organizing principle of your life.  You are walking away from it.  You have enough awareness to walk away from it.  If you don’t have enough awareness, it is more compelling than anything else in your life.  That is why the cultivation of awareness is useful.  If you don’t have awareness, you cannot bracket.  As you develop awareness, you can bracket.  Bracketing is suspension, epoche… You learn how to suspend and close the door.  Sometimes it may feel arbitrary.  You are going to feel that meaning is entering that because the human spirit is completely hopeful. 

Hope is not always a good thing.  Hope sustains people in sado-masochistic life.  Faith is good.  Charity is good, but I’m not so sure about hope.  Certain types of relationships, whether in the real, fantasy or history, are intrinsically confusing and destructive, not good.  You learn how not to go there.  If you have awareness it’s really active, if you have energy, which is a bit of freedom, at that moment you are not so determined, you can close the door.  You want to know about it and have a sense about it, but you may not assimilate it.  In fact, no one may be able to assimilate it. 

You want to touch it or work on it.  Some form of work can bring you into the metaphorical on a very good day and a very good time when you really feel awareness and the field.  Bracketing is really useful.  You have a particular problem arising and you are rolling your mind in it all the time, like a dog rolling in shit, you should think that this is not bracketing.  Haven’t you ever done that?  Rolled your mind in shit?  It’s very compelling!  It smells so bad and you are going why?  The need to know is very tricky.  Like the need to know who is right or wrong, the need to know where the truth is at.  The truth is not always a function of knowing the facts or that which uplifts or moves us forward. 

Woman #1 “Earlier there was the notion of internalizations carrying in them, energies… and it could be that those things that cannot be assimilated might carry a lot of energy because they are so huge that they would explode the energy because they are so huge, so my question is, it’s somewhat like declaring defeat?”

Yes, you are absolutely right.  You are declaring defeat, just like with certain people in your life or situations, you leave it because it is intrinsically defeating for you.  Up goes the white flag of courage and you move on from that situation.  Also, certain very powerful states are not private, they are generational.  So sometimes there is very, very bad energy that cannot be assimilated, not all of the time, around demonic cults or that sort of thing.  You have to be very careful…

Woman #2 - “How do you distinguish between what should be bracketed and trauma that needs to be processed?”

Ask that for yourself… How do I decide to move on from that situation? How have I worked with it?  How much awareness do I have?  How much strength do I have?  Do I dissolve every time I touch it?  How intrinsically destructive is this for me?  How much does it benefit me?  How useful is it?  Is it an enormous distraction?  Is it the anti-life libidinal?  Some things are strictly anti-life… Some things are intrinsically murderous.  Close the door.  Move on.  Know it enough – where the neighborhood is.  There are states that are not able to be assimilated.  What you said about being defeated, it will stop you from being defeated.  You are only defeated when you go on the enemies territory.  By not going over there, you will not be defeated. 

Woman #1 again – “”What is the price you pay for the compromise?  That energy component will still be there, it won’t be released?”

The energetic component may not be released and you may pay a price, but there is always going to be a price and the price has to be weighed.  I will tell you; the delusion is that it is only in the ego states and not in the field.  If you gain enough energy by being in the field, you gain expertise, you lose nothing. 

Your body won’t care.  You lose care.  The power of these early states is that they compel us with care, with interest.  The very nastiness… surely you’ve been compelled by a nasty state?  You become indifferent.  It loses its pull.  Most ego states are internalizations or disturbances of the field.  I’m talking in a more unified level.  They are configurations of the field itself so when you open them up you have more field phenomena.  However, sometimes by gaining these strong fields, the energy self is strained.  It no longer has interest.  All those kids doing yoga are working on trauma, but in an indirect manner.  With that particular teacher whom has field phenomena and is not doing it mechanistically or perfectly or they are moving their toes this way or that way, because then you are back in the same system again.

Man #1 “My question is the same as the previous one… How do you know when you bracket traumatic past experience, that you are not building a time bomb?  You can walk away from a relationship, if it’s something that is like a past experience that is in you, you really walk away, so how do you know it’s not going to catch you by surprise at one point.”

It may catch you by surprise.  You have to ask yourself… How old were you when it took place?  How traumatic was it for you?  How much support do you have in your life now?  How is your body now?  Can you process that experience at all right now?  Do you have the field?  If you have no awareness, you will not be able to process it. You will live it again.  You will think you are processing it, but you are re-eating it one more time.  That is the story of a lot of so-called trauma therapy and that is what a lot of research shows.  You have to ask yourself where I am now in my life.  Where did this take place in my life?  How much awareness do I have, how much self?  If you have field capacity you can assimilate.  This is not against assimilating memory or traumatic experience, but it is knowing when you can’t do it.  Every time you try to assimilate it, the supports aren’t enough, awareness isn’t enough and you are in a fugue state.  You are wandering around in a world dissociated because that experience could not be known.  That is why working on rituals of awareness, working some of these things metaphorically, but not necessarily trying to re-integrate everything.  The older you are, the more mind you have and the more awareness you have, the more capacity you have to assimilate it.  I will give you a little Green Beret special service story. 

I used to take sailing lessons from a person who was a special service person.  I spent a lot of time with this person, sitting waiting for the wind.  In the special services, they would go into Vietnam, or even Thailand and Cambodia and do very bad things… for good reasons, but they would do very bad things and have very bad things done to them.  They were trained as a group and would go in as a group, they would do it as a group - shared responsibility, they’d come out as a group, be processed as a group, de-briefed as a group, work it over as a group, supported as a group.  Then there would be a big space before they’d go back in, then they’d go back in as a group.  The trauma rate among these men, there was some, but it was significantly different – this guy was also a psychologist and they also tended to be a little older – and it was significantly different than the young guys who went in individually who experienced the trauma individually and went out individually.  So trauma is a very big word and the kind of trauma.  There is a certain way that bravery and courage means assimilating all traumas, but I don’t think that is true.  The older you are, the more mature, the more awareness you have… at times when you have field phenomena, you have a built –in experiential difference between you and the trauma.  You are actually experiencing it, but you are not having the same implications.

Woman #3 “Talking about bracketing and trauma… I have a client who bracketed her very severe trauma as a child by becoming D.I.D.  My question is, how do I help her find a new way to bracket so that she doesn’t have to lock up those secrets in a completely different personality that is very dysfunctional in her life.”

That is a very big question and I think one of the first things is that I would start to have her… I would wonder, was she ever in awareness in one time in her life.  Was she ever in a spot?  I know of a person who thought the mother was going to kill her.  Her mother would strangle her.  She would go into the light, not because she was dead, but she would go into the luminous state.  The luminous state was being bracketed for her.  She would experience energy, space and light in those moments when bad things were done; she knew the way to go into luminosity.  She grew up, bracketed the whole thing, she went into therapy, she is very strong, so she could go back to the trauma of her mother strangling her and she discovered that this whole other dimension was available to her.  So she started going to that dimension, integrating that dimension and she could then integrate what else took place for her.  Some people are more blessed than others.  Some people are closer to this.  I’m not trying to just give a brief answer to that question, but when was the self available to a person.  Sometimes it is around traumatic events.  There is this space that is open for the person. 

So, think about bracketing and how do you bracket.  Think about it for yourself, not your clients.  Do you know how to suspend a problem in your mind purposefully, not by simply not knowing and blanking out?  Blanking out is not bracketing, not closing the door.  Bracketing will come from a second order change.  It will not come from the mind closing the mind.  Bracketing comes from awareness closing the mind.

Inaudible question… 

That is absolutely true.  That is why the better get better.  You have to have a certain degree of awareness to bracket.  If your mind is shutting down, that foreclosure of experience, not the same phenomena.  Some experiences are repressed, not known and that is not what I’m talking about.  By being in awareness, awareness allows you to close the doors because it’s a higher order, like in family therapy – first order, second order change.  There is a second order change.  The mind is not closing the mind because it is frozen, terrified, you are closing the door because you have the field at your availability.

Woman #4 “Would the task with a client be to help them get to that higher order of awareness in order to bracket?”

Yes, the first thing you focus on is awareness, is there field phenomenon here?  If you are trying to use this methodology…  you can integrate other methodologies into this one, but this is a very powerful thing when you have it.  If you don’t have it, you can work to get it.  This is taking Winnicott’s transitional space and deepening it as a field phenomenon.  If you don’t have transitional space available to you, you are going to suffer immensely in this world.  If you have transitional space open to you, change is possible.  A lot of times psychotherapy doesn’t recognize awareness, it means absolutely nothing.  It’s a big if.  The big if is… potential space!  If you don’t have that gift, you don’t have possibility.  Then it is foreclosed, it freezes.  That freezing locks it. 

Often the process of working with internalizations is making them experientially explicit and articulating these states of mind out of the awareness state, which is a transitional space.  Sometimes a person will have a sensation.  That sensation becomes a word or has a vague feeling and then it’s named or personified or described metaphorically.  If I have a vague feeling, sense, like doom, if I go into my associative mind and then I think I am doomed because of this or that, that is not a creative space.  It may not be transformative.  It is a repetition of the assumption imposed on experience.  Even therapists interpretations can be imposed on the experience.  If I can stay and just pull that experience into the awareness state and stay with that awareness of the experience, the vague feeling, the word begins to come.  Language begins to come, or the body is now in the dialogue.  It’s like going down rather than up.  Some of us go up into our mind and impose the association on the experience.  That will not be transformative.  If I can stay with the experience and pull it into the field, it is more probably that it will become unpacked phenomenologically and I’ll be able to articulate the experience.  That is why such things as EMDR are very helpful because they hold people in the awareness state and they keep you in the experience and that intensely keeps the person out of the associative mind.  Then transformation can take place with those traumas.  I think it is an excellent devise for holding people in awareness and working in the power of the awareness state.  When people are doing EMDR you can feel field phenomena arise.  Does someone experience that in EMDR work?

Woman #5 “ I don’t really understand how EMDR works but hearing you talk about it I’m wondering if it has nothing to do with the eye stimulation, but working in the awareness—“

I used to do Qigong in 1985, and we’d do clearing.  The Qigong master would go… (doing a gesture)… and I’d feel better!  It intensifies awareness; something neurological comes in and field phenomena...

Dialogues are ultimately actions.  When you hear a dialogue going on between mom and kid, there is an action there.  You can take out mom and take out kid and you have an action.  The positions or players are means of holding the collage.  Sometimes we really think it’s the mom or the kid, then we make it inner mom and sometimes that is useful as a metaphor, but actually it is the action that is internalized.  Sometimes it is going directly to the action that gets you a lot more mileage without praise or blame.  I’m not saying not to do that, but for instance the action of the field, the energy, the drama of the field like mother force-fed me and I forced back with a no. I work on my mother, but the action is forcing, and that is what I play out in my mind… Sometimes focusing on the action, bringing that action into the field of awareness, can be more directly cutting through and more dissolving.  Sometimes there is less associations to the action.  It may start out mother and me, I pull that into the field, and by focusing on the action the blame dissolves and it is no longer in the current moment and the action that I took becomes the focus. Forcing organizes the personality.  Ultimately the release of an internalization is a release from the action.  The characters are part of the drama but not essential.  Giving voices to the unspoken, to what is unsaid… if one side does all the speaking, what else is there to be said?  At times you may be listening and what is unspoken needs to be given voice.

When you are hearing these dialogues going on, you want to consider them fundamentally existential and how to bring them into existential moments.  If you understand it existentially, you won’t give more grace to history or more grace to the present or more grace to the metaphor. 

There are 3 levels of experiencing:  The real, the imaginary and the symbolic.   The imaginary is internalization or past relational life internalized.  For example, the real is, John’s father died when he was 3 years old.  Metaphorically that can be, at the imaginal level, I’m a boy without a father.  I might be 30 years old, but I’m a boy without a father.  It’s a metaphor.  Symbolically, I have a hole in me.  The historical is real; the imaginal can be I’m a boy without a Dad, that is an internalization.  They are like a dream.  The symbolic is, at a functional level, I have a hole in me.  The maternal metaphor and paternal metaphor can be lacking.  I might clear up the internalization, but the symbolic function is still not activated yet.  So I’ve come to terms with the real.

The mother becomes my mother, the symbolic function.  The mother becomes the mother for me.  Before, when I was in the real, I had no mother.

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