There’s a new sheriff in town!

When I was growing up in the 60’s, my best friend was in a blended family; a regular occurrence today but very rare back then. Further, his dad had converted to Catholicism to marry his first wife, and then his second wife and her child converted before their marriage! Their family was very Catholic, the oldest son eventually becoming a priest, and I remember my mother saying folks that convert to Catholicism usually are more devout than those of us raised Roman Catholic.

Since then, I have found this to be true of most people in most things. When my mother stopped smoking, she did her best to convert every smoker into quitting. When she began to smoke again, she may not have tried to convert anyone, but she was scathing with anyone that said something to her about her smoking. Most folks that make life-changing decisions, addicts, religious, political, etc., are passionate in their conversion; one of mine is the subconscious. I chuckle now when remembering in my late twenties/early thirties saying to my ex, “If you think my actions are controlled by some hidden part of my brain, you are crazy!” Now, I would postulate that there is very little we do every day that is NOT influenced by our subconscious. Studies show that when meeting someone for the first time, subconsciously our minds have already taken in their posture, shape of their body, and evaluated the position of each of the 43 muscles in their face to pre-judge how we think they will act!

Likewise, in every situation we find ourselves, the subconscious immediately references past circumstances that were similar, influencing how we will react today, including when most memories, both conscious and subconscious, are formed, before we are seven years old. One psychologist I know describes this as, “Every five year old knows the unspoken rules in a house, most of which deal with not pissing off their parents!” And the memories just keep on coming, by 21, we have stored more information than is in most encyclopedias; like an iceberg, the conscious memories are only the tip!

Those “unspoken rules” are implicit memories, those that are subconscious. Most all think of memories as held in the mind; conscious memories are called explicit, mental, or declarative with implicit memories being deemed unconscious. Somatic psychotherapists differentiate implicit memories as not only mentally subconscious but somatic, meaning held in the body; these implicit memories somatically reveal themselves in what we call “character structures” or an “adaptive self.” In her book, Body Psychotherapy, Tree Staunton stated, “We have to remember that character structure is a defense—a defense against contact and relationship now as much as a defense against experiencing a past injury.”

As I have noted in other blogs, I attend a quarterly relational somatic workshop; initially, it included both somatic psychology instruction for a couple of days and then deep therapeutic sessions for each participant. After ten years, it has evolved into primarily the deep work, including the two facilitators, with the teaching piece coming from all of us after a therapeutic session. This past workshop, I started with my wanting to be more disciplined in my commitments, both physical like exercise and yoga, but also mental, like getting these blogs out more timely!

We found the cause behind the symptom of being undisciplined to be a very early implicit memory, which I will call, “What’s the use?” My early life until three years old was basically safe because we lived with my grandparents, but I did not feel safe around just my mother. As a raging co-dependent, I tried hard to please her, but nothing worked; so along with my consciously trying even harder, I subconsciously knew nothing would ever work, so why even try? In my deep process work, we found a dead area surrounding my heart.

Somatic memories are formed in a relationship, so it takes a relational somatic effort to access them and release them. Since the way out of an issue is through the issue, the other participants worked on my body while talking to me and then I had the inspiration to have one of my fellow somatic therapist pound on my chest, to the point of almost bruising it. Just as pushing on the chest can restart a physical heart, my emotional heart reawakened with his pounding!

The following morning, I had a dream where I saw someone dressed as law enforcement. When I asked him who he was, he replied, “I’m the new sheriff!” At first, I felt sad as I have had too many authoritarians in my life and told him I did not want another. He replied, he was “Sheriff Alive!” Wow, what a confirmation of the work I/we had done!

As in most deep therapeutic healing, the old personality has been fighting this new change; after all, it kept me safe for 60 years and has no frame of reference in how to live with this new aliveness. Slowly, however, my old defenses are succumbing to a new paradigm, and I am exploring the new freedom of living as I was meant to live, being fully alive. Indeed, there is a new sheriff in town!

Continue Reading

I’m Back!

I haven’t written a blog in quite a while; in fact, I haven’t written much of anything for several months. First, it was just a general malaise that I was able to work somewhat through, but not completely solve. The body-mind has a way of insuring that what needs attention or to come out does and so I then tweaked my lower back while exercising. Some kind of pain, mental, emotional and/or physical, happens to us if we don’t try to track down the emotional signposts given to us, but that was not the case for me; nothing was revealed despite working the issue for a couple of weeks. However, when I did not follow through, my back began to spasm.

I have not had a part of my body hurt this bad in a long time. Normally, I have an agreement with my body to give me a not-to-severe wake-up call, but this time I quit working the issue. When it struck again, I couldn’t stand or sit for very long and was reduced to tears a couple of times. Needless to say, exercise and yoga were out, and my limited movement and pain put a real damper on Thanksgiving. Nothing like hurting and not being able to even stretch to help the situation!

Luckily, my relational somatic psychotherapy workshop, where we do exceedingly deep work, was scheduled in the first week of December. There, I got in touch with the issue and was able to work through it. Between a couple of massages, cranial sacral sessions, and chiropractic appointments, both before and after the workshop, I was also able to release the stored trauma from my body.

This brings me to a video I have seen lately on Facebook, which says quit blaming your parents, environment, and other external factors for the choices that you make. This is one of several lines of simplistic conservative thought that is akin to yelling at a panhandler, “get a job.”   They can be both correct and incorrect at the same time; in the latter example, the panhandler might be searching for a job while at the same time feeding his family.

A simplistic liberal line of thinking would be to offer assistance and provide some government service, a Band-Aid for the present moment, but does not address the underlying issues. As long as any assistance is temporary while also encourages the participant to move back towards being self-sufficient, that support is beneficial. As shown in these two examples, they both “feel good” and ultimately do not help.

Going back to the video, I agree that, as adults, we have to begin to make choices that are positive for us notwithstanding any situation in our past. Simple enough, but can be very difficult to accomplish. I know this stuff, and it still took almost four weeks for me to find the issue that developed before my being 18 months old. While I was not blaming anyone for my circumstance, I was also unable to extract myself from it on my own.

To suggest that we are not affected by what happened around us from conception through about seven is absolutely not true. Our “choices” back then are determined for us, and without intervention, we will slavishly hold onto them; this usually is because we were punished for making the “wrong” choice as children and while we may not consciously remember the incident, the subconscious does. Then we add judgments to those not make our same “choices” to justifying our choices.

Unfortunately, the subconscious is just like water to a fish; it is all we have ever known! We keep making the same “choices” because a part of the subconscious that does not want to be punished again. However, the subconscious also remembers wanting to make the other choice before we were punished and so replicate the original issue, again and again, to help the adult grow beyond what the child knows to be true. We will continue to be constricted our by the past until we allow new information to change our thinking.

So while I do agree with the video that blaming our parents, etc. as adults is not healthy, I disagree with it because it takes some type of intervention as adults to obtain new information to free us from that subconscious constriction to make another choice. If we seem not to be able to make a different choice despite wanting to or begin to feel negative about the choice we made or what comes from that choice, use that emotional signpost to begin to discover why we are stuck making the same selections over and over. As what happened with me, the subconscious will continue to ramp up the hurt, be it mental, emotional, and/or physical, to push us to become more authentic. Unlike me, do not wait until the pain is excruciating!

Continue Reading


I have always enjoyed Halloween, both as a child on the receiving end and now as an adult in handing out treats! As a somatic psychotherapist, Halloween has taken on a whole new meaning for me. This blog is a bit late as Halloween has already passed, but is still pertinent.

In somatic psychology, we talk about how everyone in the world is wearing social masks. That is, do to events that happened in our early childhood, we have had to adapt who we wanted to be, first to fit our into family rules, and then to conform in school cliques, amongst different groups of friends, in the workforce, and then full circle to our adult family dynamics. We have had to become someone other than our authentic self. Some of us recognize that we seem to take on different personas when in various social situations while others switch their social selves without any awareness.

How interesting that while most of us never recognizing the social masks that we are constantly cycling through, we are fascinated with a holiday that glorifies wearing masks and pretending to be someone we are not. Even in countries that do not celebrate Halloween, costume balls are big events, and there’s a whole profession of actors who daily put on the “masks,” literally or figuratively, of characters when performing. So how do we learn which social mask to put on?

Somatic psychologists have put forward the theory that, when an infant or a child encounters a “No” of any kind, and this “No” always occurs within some social relationship, if that “No” is not resolved then and there, then it can result in a physical and emotional block. The child will pull back from the painful experience and adapts to continue to get a limited version of what she wants without incurring that painful experience again. The cause of the block can range from simply not getting a new toy, through many levels of active abuse, to abandonment: again, all these occur in relational settings.

Depending on when, and the extent to which, the developmental blocks occur (and are reinforced over time), the resulting contraction (or contractions) leads to the formation of particular adaptive selves, character structures, or social masks. A great book on the subject is Stephen M. Johnson’s Character Styles. I remember a dynamic, comptent, and confident estate attorney in his mid-30s telling me had to go home due to his father’s death. He was, of course, expected to handle all the legal aspects surrounding his father’s death, but because he was the baby of the family, he was still treated as the “baby” in every area except when he was handling his father’s estate!

Have you ever missed several high school reunions and then showed up to find you were treated by everyone just like you were that student back in high school, even though you are now 40 and a different person? How about not following the career path your parents always considered “best” for you? While some families encourage individualism in their children, it is usually not the families that had a career picked out for a child and those families are not really happy when he exerts his independence! It is said that a child knows by the age of three all the unspoken rules within a family system.

The good news is, our authentic self truly wants to discard the adapted self, to rid itself of the various social masks it has learned to employ. The bad news is, as Einstein states, “Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them.” Further complicating the solving of this problem of inauthenticity, is that our social masks were formed in a relationship and it takes another relationship to undue that inauthentic self. While this can be worked out within our families of origin, that is usually not the case (Einstein’s quote)! Luckily, there are somatic psychotherapists who are well aware of how the social masks or character structures are formed and know that the way out of the inauthentic self is working back through that false self, that social mask, to reconnect with the authentic self!

Continue Reading

Non-Sexual Touching

I was at the United States Association of Body Psychotherapy conference in Providence, RI, a couple of weeks ago and this year’s theme was “Sexuality, Spirituality, and the Body; The Art and Science of Somatic Psychotherapy.” I always enjoy going to conferences, getting reacquainted with classmates, professors, and peers and then meeting new people! Some of the offerings at conferences do not interest me, but most do; unfortunately, too often two or more sessions I want to attend are presented at the same time!

At this stage in my continuing education, I have found that what I learn at conferences and workshops tend to follow a normal distribution or bell curve. The left tail represents information I knew, but had forgotten; the left half of the curve, the information I remember, but rarely utilize, so it is nice to have a refresher. And then the right half of the curve is information I know and use, but presented in a new manner that opens up new possibilities, and finally, the right tail represents new information!

I was surprised to find so many breakout sessions at this conference that did not expound on the theme past what I learned in school. Probably the best was a pre-conference, half-day session entitled, “Is Our Access To ‘God’ Sourced In Our Loins? The spiritual call of sexuality and death.” What a mouthful! Had that session not been taught by a mentor and now friend, I might have gone to the other half-day just based on the title!

However, I anticipated that his way of teaching the session would make it fascinating, and I was not disappointed; the session was more tantric based, the spiritual and meditative branches of tantra, much of the time an excellent juxtaposition of dance movement and quiet meditation. There were several experiential exercises thrown in, most we did ourselves, but three of the exercises required a partner.

My friend asked us to find someone to work with early in the session without telling us what the exercises would be; the woman next to me and I agreed it was just easiest to choose someone close. My partner shared that she recently moved to the Denver area (where my dad lives) from Europe, was married, and starting a coaching business (another area of mutuality). As it turned out, the exercises we did were very intimate and sensual!

There were three practices towards the end of the day, the first in which we washed each other’s hands. We were in an unused area of the hotel, so whether the group was same-sex or co-ed, we just chose a restroom and shared a couple of sinks. Having someone else wash my hands, something most of us do several times a day, helped me to be much more mindful of the process. This exercise was an excellent example of awareness; how often do we engage in repetitive tasks throughout the day without staying present and bringing our full attention to what we are experiencing?

In the second exercise, we twice sat cross-legged with foreheads touching for five minutes; the first time, just feeling the other’s presence within our “personal space.” Starting again, we explored our thoughts, bodily feelings, and deeper emotions rather than just noticing having someone so close. As a body psychotherapist, I have done this type of intimate touching many times, but not foreheads; I remarked that I did not believe I had ever had my lips so close to another’s for that long and not ended up in a kiss!

For the last exercise, we gently stroked the other’s face for five minutes as we saw the Buddha in them, and then received the stroking; we were encouraged to have our eyes closed and drop into our feelings, but our eyes could be open if we were uncomfortable. If the first two exercises were intimate and sensual, this last one was on steroids! I received first, and while it was very pleasurable and relaxing, it was nothing compared to giving. For me, this was partly because my eyes were closed in the first when receiving, so I did not have any visual clues of what my partner was feeling, and partly because I am a giver, rather than a receiver, and so the second iteration was more significant to me.

When I was doing the stroking, I felt so blessed just to be with another and offering love without any thought of getting anything in return; pure, unconditional giving and love. It seemed profound to my partner as she cried throughout her receiving. I say “seemed” because, unfortunately, other than a general discussion about how powerful the exercises were, we did not delve into how they affected us. Then, for the rest of the conference, without being rude, she seemed very distant.

I am grateful that, with all my work, I have embraced a healthy internal locus of control (psychology-speak for holding myself responsible for my thoughts, feelings, and actions). I took the exercises for what they were and relished the experiences without taking any responsibility for any outcome; further, I never had the chance to ask if my perception of my partner being distant was true.

One of Don Miguel Ruiz’s four agreements is not to take anything personally. If indeed she was distancing herself from me, it was her choice and had nothing to do with me. All that being said, as a recovering co-dependent, my tendency is for my mind to take off exploring possible reasons despite trying to remain internally focused, despite knowing that my observation may not even be her truth!

Maybe she was afraid of that much intimacy with a stranger. She hinted at this by saying after the last touching that she almost felt she was “cheating.” Maybe she deemed that level of sensuality and intimacy to be an invitation to make a sexual advance. Maybe my earlier remark seemed to be flirting! Maybe, maybe, maybe said my mind; what an exercise in futility and a total waste of precious time.

As I teach, any reason I might have conger up is based solely on my frame of reference and past conditioning which is different from hers. There are a million other reasons I would never come up with, assuming she was distant! So I had a fourth exercise from this pre-conference session – how to recognize my tendency to make meaning from an experience and to drop back into my core, releasing my thoughts, taking nothing personally, and returning to calm, peacefulness, and the present moment. What strange creatures we are; when experiencing anything hints of sexuality, whether real or imagined, that strangeness is highlighted!

Continue Reading

Stored Body Emotions

As you can see from my website, one of my specialties is Somatic Psychology, how issues are held in the body. Emotions are separate from our physical and mental bodies in that they are signposts that provide a window into our inner psyche, but that are also intimately connected to both the physical and mental bodies.

This is somewhat easy to see for the mental construct, if we experience strong negative emotions about something, we will label it “bad” and try to not place ourselves in a position to experience those same emotions again and the opposite is true for positive emotions. Less well understood is how emotions are held in the body.

I explain this by saying to imagine we are talking and, with no warning, I lunge at you. Naturally, your limbic brain will perceive this as a threat and before your cortex can interject that maybe I am playing some joke on you, your body will respond in a flight, fight, freeze, or feign death response, usually the former two unless the threat is perceived as too huge to even respond.

Another example that I sometimes use is when we round a corner and a child jumps out and yells, “boo!” Either way, your body will tense up to either move away from or to absorb the seemingly eminent assault. Because the threat was not real, we will either end up laughing about it or you will get angry and yell at me; both responses involve releasing the pent up energy that momentarily flooded your body, dissipating it and the adrenaline and cortisol that was released into your body. Watch two dogs or cats after they engage in play fighting; they will shake to release that same energy from their bodies.

When energy from some trauma is not released, it is stored in the body. This is easily seen in what we call big “T” trauma, a sexual or physical assault that causes the person to freeze in the presence of the perpetrator. It can also be seen after a major car accident where the driver is frantically checking their rear view mirror or side windows searching for another possible vehicle about to hit him or her. Less noticeable, but just as present in the body, are small “t” traumas, such as constant minor bullying.

In a somatic psychotherapy session, this pent up energy from some small traumas can be easily released with various techniques, but that energy can also be released by physical movement, such as a massage, yoga, running, etc. Ask any long term massage therapist or yoga teacher and they will be able to tell you of a client/student that begins to softly weep during a session. It has happened to me and did so again the other morning.

Since I believe the passage in 1 Corinthian “For we are the temple of the living God,” I take care of my body, along with eating healthy, I usually exercise three time a week and practicing yoga three or four times. I believe in an earlier blog I related that eating healthy, moderate exercise, and eight hours of sleep could almost match the healing of any psychotropic drug prescribed for mild cases of depression, anxiety, etc.

So yesterday I was doing weight lifting for the chest, and a song came on the radio, “Friends in Low Places” by Garth Brooks. This was one of my best friend’s favorite songs, along with “Time to Say Goodbye” by Andrea Bocelli/Sara Brightman, and probably more mine than his, “Friends For Life” by Gary P. Nunn. The two country songs we would sing together whenever on the radio/CD or when attending a concert. Not only was “Friends in Low Places” playing while exercising, but it was a live recording, so extra long and included audience participation; both the length and hearing others sing along did me in!

Michael died about ten years ago, the brother I never had, and all these songs have been tough to hear and not cry, but I have gotten better at not bawling in public with time passing. Further, his passing came at a time when I was committed to really living life, to stop being a middle of the roader. That way of living was safe, never having to experience real pain, but it also blunted any real happiness. Really opening up to what I felt when Michael died was excruciating, and it also helped me relish all the good times.

As the old saying goes, time heals all wounds, but an extended live version, coming in the middle of exercise concentrating where my heart resides, it was too much; grief overwhelmed and I lost it. Even with all the releasing of that trauma around his death that I have done over the years, there is still a hole in my heart that I can fall into ten years later.

Further, here I was presented with a diametrically opposing conflict, my authentic-self wanting to grieve and the social mask of “be a man,” “don’t cry in public,” and, worse, in front of someone I only know only in a business setting, my personal trainer half my age! Luckily, I defaulted to my authentic-self, although I was helped somewhat by the fact that we were alone in a back room! Even while tearing up, I could still feel the battle going on between letting it out and conforming to social norms. I was grateful that I honored Michael, all our shared experiences, and myself. I am also grateful that my trainer was aware of how powerful shared auditory experiences during concentrated exertions can bring forth a release of stored emotions and that he honored my loss.

Continue Reading


I’m not sure why, but I have always liked this word! It originally meant giving a human form to something inanimate, such as showing a cloud shaped as a human face blowing wind from its mouth or giving a deity like Zeus a human body. When I first heard it, anthropomorphism pertained more to giving human traits and/or characteristics to animals. This could either be literal, such as Mickey Mouse and other cartoon animals acting as humans or regarding something a pet does as being “just like a human.”

I am in my early sixties, so I grew up on Saturday morning cartoon (imagine having just two station until ABC and PBS came on and, as far as I was concerned as a child, PBS didn’t count as Sesame Street was a couple of decades away), ahh, Wiley Coyote, Bugs, and all the Warner Brothers’ characters. I confess I am also somewhat a snob and think they and their contemporaries as being much superior artistically and having much greater personalities than most cartoons that followed until the first Pixar movie!

Notwithstanding my nostalgia for Disney and Warner Bros., I’m not really a fan of talking animal cartoons any longer. I can appreciate the quality and the story of newer animated films like Ice Age and Rio, however they grate mainly because they present animals not being true to their nature. I recently read about a fellow that was just livid at the portrayal of the geese in Charlotte’s Web, stating that real geese are not sociable and, he maintains, they would never have befriend Wilber; I didn’t quite understand his focus on the geese and never mentioned a talking spider, pig, etc.! I do not think I am that anal, but I have moved away from pigeonholing animals into anthropomorphic roles. That said, I loved all the Toy Story and Monster’s Inc. films, but I digress.

Before continuing, let me also mention that while I like animals and pets, I just do not want to be their primary care giver; unlike some girls and ladies I know, the two best days of my horse ownership were the day I purchased Winrock and the day I sold him! I thoroughly enjoyed my ex’s and daughter’s cats and now have two wonderful male Labradoodles courtesy of my wife’s love of dogs, but if I were on my own, I would not have a pet.

This brings me to the crux of this blog, the interesting juxtaposition of anthropomorphic verses real emotions in animals. Watching our two dogs, half brothers, mature through my somatic psychology “eyes,” I have seen first hand many traits that are supposedly only human while, at the same time, absolutely keeping in mind their canine traits and behaviors to maintain order.

I have seen attachment mannerisms in both, outright scheming and trickery, and emotions from jealousy to love, however one defines that term. I have watched the older dog, jealous of the bone the other has, deliberately jump up and run barking to the door. Naturally, the other jumps up and heads to the door, only to have the older dog circle back and grab the bone! One of the first self-help books I read was The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck and I remember he did not think animals could love; observing our two dogs, I can categorically state that is not true. My wife and I do not treat them as our “fur children,” they are our animal companions. Because they are not human, whatever they and we experience as love between us is different from human love, but I would argue it is still love.

On the other hand, our dogs are trained and well behaved not only to insure they do not mug guests (they are 90 pounds each!), but also because if we do not lead, one of them will try to become the alpha in the house. This is simply in a dog’s nature. A psychologist once told me when my daughter was growing up that smart children will constantly test their parents and, being intelligent , our dogs are like human children and test us in their dog ways. We have forgotten to mimic an alpha dog every now and then, like clockwork, the youngest will begin to get aggressive to both us and to the other dog in order to fill the perceived vacuum. While acting consistently within their dog nature, they test our resolve like human children might and, again like children, our dogs are definitely less stressed when they have clear, consistent rules to follow.

Even though we have to respect their animal nature, that does not mean animals cannot feel the same emotions we humans do, after all, they are mammals and we share the same mammalian brain as they do. While their brains are enhanced in some areas, such as processing smells, and less in others, like their prefrontal cortical functioning, we still share many traits. There is a neuroscientist, Jaak Panksepp, who is also a psychologist, a psychobiologist, and an animal behaviorist that has done many studies on evolutionary emotions and has a wonderful documentary, Why Dogs Smile and Chimpanzees Cry. His studies, much to the chagrin of his fellow psychologists, show that all mammals share the same feelings.

There is a wonderful YouTube video (Which guilty dog did this mess?) showing three small dogs at the top of the stairs when their owner finds a mess and calls out loudly “Which one of you did this mess?” Two of the dogs simultaneously turn to look at the third! Then, as the owner calls out their names, the guilty dog begins to back away to hide! Guilt, shame, remorse, or fear of getting in trouble, like their love, might not be exactly as humans experience those emotions, but the third dog definitely had them.

Not too many years ago, the brain was considered to be fully formed and inflexible when we entered adulthood. Now we know that the opposite is true; the brain is very plastic and continues to learn and change until we die. Similarly, what used to be considered anthropomorphism, might simply have been our observing emotions we didn’t think existed in animals!

Continue Reading